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Belfast Telegraph celebrates 140 years of publication

As the Belfast Telegraph celebrates 140 years of publication, Emily Moulton reveals 40 fascinating facts about the newspaper that has been at the very heart of life in Ulster for generations

1 The Belfast Telegraph, known then as The Belfast Evening Telegraph, was the brainchild of two Randalstown brothers, William and George Baird.

2 The new daily evening paper was meant to be launched on January 1, 1870 but was abandoned because of unforeseen circumstances. Nine months later on September 1, 1870 the first edition hit the streets — five days before a new rival paper, the Evening Press, was due to be launched. It also coincided with the day the French lost the Battle of Sedan and Napoleon III was captured.

3 The first copy of The Belfast Evening Telegraph was bought by Canon W E Smith for a halfpenny.

4 Originally, the newspaper’s headquarters were on Arthur Street.

5 The first edition featured a story of a fire in a cabinet warehouse on Great Patrick Street, an inquest into the death of a young man who died after becoming entangled in machinery at an Ormeau Road brick manufacturer, and the installation of two of the four lampposts at the corner of the pavement around Albert Memorial Clock.

6 By the late 1870s there were nine editions of the newspaper a day. The first edition hit the streets at 2.15pm, while the last was out at 8pm.

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7 Joseph Forbes Brock was the first editor of The Belfast Evening Telegraph.

8 The paper moved into its purpose-built Royal Avenue premises on June 28, 1886.

9 In the early days, the ground floor of the Royal Avenue building was occupied by small businesses, including a greengrocer’s, a men’s clothing store and a chemist where employees went daily for a ‘special magical elixir’ that supposedly cured hangovers.

10 Following on from the success of its daily evening newspaper, the company established by the Baird family launched the Ulster Saturday Night — a sports news sheet printed on pink paper on November 17, 1894. It was then changed to Ireland’s Saturday Night on January 11, 1896.

11 The Larne Times was also launched by the Bairds in 1891.

12 The newspaper was one of the first to break the news that the Belfast-built Titanic had sunk. Telegraphic messages of the fateful voyage only reached offices on April 16, 1912.

13 When WWI broke out in 1914, the newspaper dedicated most of its editorial content to stories concerning the conflict.

14 Because of escalating publication costs as a result of the war, the Telegraph was forced to increase its price to a penny on January 4, 1917.

15 In 1918 the paper’s named changed to its current form, the Belfast Telegraph.

16 The establishment of Northern Ireland in 1921 was the most significant story covered by the newspaper in the early part of that decade.

17 Following the death of William Baird in July 1886, his son Robert took over and went on to become a pioneer of the newspaper, responsible for some of the major changes which led to the paper’s success.

18 The newspaper did not support the 1926 Trade Union Congress strike.

19 The Belfast Telegraph opened its Fleet Street offices, Ulster House, in London in 1897. In 1927 they moved up the street and closed in the mid-1960s when it was taken over by its new Canadian owners.

20 It was the first Irish newspaper to be delivered by plane to Stranraer, Scotland.

21 Thousands of people lined the streets when Sir Robert Baird, the son of the Telegraph’s founder, died on October 8, 1934.

22 The Belfast Telegraph obtained the Irish rights to print articles written by Winston Churchill during WWII.

23 With the war looming, Major William Baird, managing director at the time, made arrangements to store newsprint in 14 depots around Northern Ireland, including his home in Carrickfergus, in case the offices came under attack.

24 In August 1940 the newspaper launched an appeal to raise £5,000 to purchase a Spitfire plane to help in the war. By May 1945 the newspaper, through the generosity of its readers, had raised £88,633 16s. 5d — enough for 17 Spitfires.

25 The Belfast Telegraph building was damaged during a German air raid on the city in April 1941. Two 500lb bombs were dropped on Royal Avenue, just metres from the office. Amazingly the newsroom and press hall were spared and production of the paper was not interrupted.

26 During the latter stages of WWII the paper printed ‘Stars and Stripes’ for American Troops stationed in Northern Ireland. US journalists were also given office space inside the Royal Avenue building to put together the newspaper.

27 In September 1961 the Telegraph was bought by Canadian newspaper magnate Roy Thomson.

28 The Telegraph was one of the first newspapers to report on the assasination of US President John F Kennedy in November 1963.

29 In August 1969 the newspaper launched an appeal to raise money for victims of severe rioting which had broken out sporadically throughout that summer. By the end of the month more than £35,000 was raised. And for the first time the British Government donated a sizeable sum to a newspaper appeal — £250,000. When the fund closed in October 1970 it had raised £324,527.

30 On September 1, 1970 the Belfast Telegraph celebrated its 100th birthday.

31 Following Mary Peters’ gold medal triumph at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Telegraph’s managing director Tom Willis organised a ticker-tape parade down Royal Avenue for the pentathlete.

32 The Telegraph also raised £100,000 to help build a running track in her honour.

33 On September 15, 1976 the Troubles arrived on the doorstep of the Telegraph. A bomb went off injuring 14 people. Joseph Patton, from the stereotype department, died four days later in hospital from his injuries.

34 The Belfast Telegraph front page on August 31, 1994, titled ‘It’s Over’, would have been the first time many in the province would have learned of the IRA ceasefire.

35 The Telegraph was the first newspaper to report on IRA disbandment in 2004.

36 On April 22, 1985 the first colour papers came off the presses, heralding a new era for the Telegraph and newspapers in general.

37 The Belfast Telegraph broke the story surrounding the financial scandal over the DeLorean affair which led to the collapse of the vehicle manufacturing company, whose two-door sports car found fame in the Back To The Future movies.

38 On March 22, 2005 the Belfast Telegraph launched its morning AM edition in tabloid format. The Telegraph became fully tabloid size on March 25, 2009.

39 The Telegraph is the biggest-selling daily paper in Northern Ireland.

40 The Belfast Telegraph is currently Newspaper of the Year.

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