Place of Publication: Washington, Washington County, Iowa
Volume and Issue Data: 1850-ca. 1854
Size and Format: “A folio with regular columns of ordinary size, tolerably fine pen type, published on the four sides of one sheet of cap paper”
Editor/Publisher: Nathan Littler and Richard B. McMillan
Title Changes and Continuation: None
General Description and Notes:
In his own Washington County history, editor Littler described The Washington Shark as “a folio with regular columns of ordinary size, tolerably fine pen type, published on the four sides of one sheet of cap paper.” The paper used pseudonyms frequently in its reports and the editors apparently tried to keep their own names a secret. Littler says the paper contained “general news and current literature,” market reports, advertisements and society news. The editor notes that it appeared only one copy at a time, so wide distribution did not occur. Instead, readership was limited to those who could meet in public gathering places.
The Shark was put into the mail box when none were present. It was directed to some one whom the editors felt would give it the widest publicity. Usually, when the paper came, its owner would go the most frequented store in town, and taking his seat on a stool or mail keg, would proceed to read to the crowd that quickly assembled, the contents, advertisements and all.
Littler claims the paper appeared frequently, and when it did it was the “sensation of the town until its contents became familiar to all the citizens.” If most “readers” were amused by the paper’s wit and satire, not all appreciated its occasional bite.
Some, however, to whom the jokes and caricatures fit most closely, were outrageously vexed and the only reason the editors were not punished corporeally at least, was the fact that they were safely incognito.
Littler says the Shark would attack “any and everything going on to which the editors were opposed or which was opposed to the best interests of the community.”
Apparently other handwritten papers were published in the area on the model ofThe Shark. Notes Littler: “Occasionally afterwards, other papers of a similar character came out, but none of them achieved the popularity of the Shark.”
Littler served as constable of Washington in 1850, the year the Shark first appeared. In 1852 he was elected justice of the peace and served in that post until he moved to the town of Richmond, Iowa. He returned to Washington in 1869 and wrote a history of the county which was serialized in the local paper.
McMillan (1823-1898) lived in Washington from 1846 to 1855. During that period he was a county assessor and township clerk. While editing the Shark, McMillan’s brother, Horace Greeley McMillan, lived with him. The year Richard died Horace purchased the Cedar Rapids Republican, and he eventually owned two Iowa dailies and a weekly farm paper.
Bibliography: Nathan Littler, History of Washington County, 1835-1875, ed. by Edna Jones (Washington, Iowa: Jonathan C. Clark, 1977), 186-187; Roy Alden Atwood, “Handwritten Newspapers on the Iowa Frontier, 1844-1854,”Journalism History, 7:2 (Summer 1980), 56-59, 66-67