By TIM O’NEIL
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
(ST. LOUIS, AP) — Nine copies of a little-remembered local business newspaper that was published in Spanish and English during the late 1800s have been donated to a growing media-history collection at the Central Library downtown.
The eight-page bilingual monthly newspaper called itself El Comercio del Valle (Commerce of the Valley), with a drawing of the Eads Bridge on the masthead. It was published here from 1876 to around 1890 and distributed in the United States and Mexico. John F. Cahill, its publisher, was Mexican consul in St. Louis and worked to promote trade with Mexico.
The St. Louis Media History Foundation obtained the newspapers from an undisclosed donor and gave them to the Central Library. The library’s special collections department maintains a growing inventory of old radio and TV broadcasts, publications and advertising materials. People can request to see them in the department on the library’s third floor, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/1tiMbZm).
The nine surviving editions are of publication dates scattered between April 1886 and April 1889. Cahill published it from his consulate at 216 North Eighth Street.
“This discovery speaks to the range and depth of publications in St. Louis during the 19th century,” said Frank Absher, a former local radio announcer and founder of the history foundation. “St. Louis had plenty of newspapers in other languages, especially German. This is the first one in Spanish we have located.”
El Comercio did have competition. An article in the Post-Dispatch says its rival was La Revista Mexicana. A city directory from 1888 also lists a publication called La Union de America, 520 North Third Street.
All told, the city directory lists more than 140 local publications, including five daily newspapers. Many of the rest were religious periodicals, but the list includes the American Celt, the Poultry Record, Whipple’s Daily Fire Reporter and Scholars’ Quarterly. One humble organ was simply called The Truth.
El Comercio printed articles in English and Spanish, although usually on separate subjects. Most of the front page is in English, including a healthy dose of Cahill’s opinions. Most of the inside pages are in Spanish, usually filled with news items from Mexico.
The advertisements are in Spanish. The Wabash Railroad called itself “La Gran Ruta” (the great route). The Lemp brewery was the “cerveceria occidental” (western brewery). The Colegio Santa Maria of St. Mary’s, Kan., sought students from both countries.
Many of the articles in English conveyed Cahill’s opinions. He urged city schools to offer classes in Spanish and drop German, a language he called “entirely superfluous” even though thousands of students were of German heritage. His newspaper stoutly defended government subsidies for shipping companies and promoted advances in shipbuilding.
The latter was one of Cahill’s interests. A Post-Dispatch article in 1910 describes Cahill’s dream of designing a ship that could navigate both the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, thus avoiding the expense of cargo transfers in New Orleans. (The fate of either Cahill or his hybrid ship isn’t in the Post-Dispatch files.)
One person who is delighted to hear about El Comercio is Cecilia Velazquez, editor of Red Latina (Latin Network), a Spanish-language bimonthly newspaper published in the Central West End. She is a native of Mexico who has lived in St. Louis since 1998.
“It’s nice to hear that Spanish-language newspapers that long ago were making history in this city,” Velazquez said. “With everything going to the Internet, maybe somebody will find copies of our paper in 100 years.”