The first issue of the Hattiesburg American appeared on 1 October 1917, but the paper originated in 1897 as the Hattiesburg Progress. William Henry Seitzler published the paper twice a week until 1899, when it began appearing every day and changed its name to the Daily Progress. In 1907 the paper became the Hattiesburg Daily News, and by 1923 it was headquartered in a three-story wood frame building on Front Street. It continued as the Daily News until Howard S. Williams acquired the paper in 1917. The new name, Hattiesburg American, was inspired by the US entry into World War I. The first issue of the Hattiesburg American had eight pages and sold for five cents. The circulation was 2,206, and twenty-two “carrier boys” serviced Hattiesburg and the army’s Camp Shelby, located just south of Hattiesburg.
In early 1923 Williams announced the sale of the paper to Rev. Gus Shaw Harmon for seventy-five thousand dollars. Williams wanted Harmon, a Methodist minister for the past two and a half decades, to use the American as a conduit for the ministry. The Harmon family owned the paper for the next thirty-seven years, with business manager Thomas St. John acquiring a partial stake. Circulation grew from 6,402 in 1926 to 14,795 in 1957.
In 1960 the Harmons and St. John sold the paper to Robert, Zach, and Henry Hederman, owners of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and Jackson Daily News. St. John stayed aboard as general editor until two months before his death in 1963. His role was taken over by his son, Larry, who had previously been the assistant general manager and had worked for the American in various capacities since he was eleven years old.
According to an interview with American editorial page editor Ben Lee, under the Harmons and Hederman, the paper’s basic editorial tenet involved “not opposing anything except forest fires and drownings, being in favor of everything else, making no one mad, rocking no boats, and endorsing no political candidates.” However, in the early 1960s, the paper became an outspoken opponent of the Republican Party, arguing that its development in Mississippi would benefit “the 920,000 Negroes who dwell here” and denouncing national party figures for their opposition to continued segregation. In 1972, the American moved to a building on Main Street that would serve as its home for the next four decades. Leonard Lowery served as a reporter and editor at the paper from 1938 until he succumbed to a heart attack in the American’s newsroom on Christmas Eve 1982.
In 1982 the Hederman brothers sold their daily newspapers in Hattiesburg and Jackson along with several weeklies to the Gannett Company. The sale led to major changes in the newspaper’s facilities as well as in its appearance and content. The newspaper’s Main Street headquarters underwent a $5.6 million expansion, almost doubling its square footage and increasing the press capacity by 75 percent. Gannett began printing USA Today in Hattiesburg.
In early 2006 the Hattiesburg American switched from afternoon delivery to morning delivery; the following year, its layout was redesigned and the paper began to emphasize local news. By 2013 the paper had a weekday circulation of sixty-five hundred and a weekend circulation of thirty-four thousand, though additional readers accessed the online edition via the American’s website.
In 2009 printing operations were moved to the Clarion-Ledger’s facility in Jackson, and the following year Gannett announced that the American’s Main Street building was for sale. In 2014 the paper’s staff moved to new offices on Mamie Street in Hattiesburg.
- Tim Doherty, Hattiesburg American (28 June 2014)
- Billy Hathorn, Journal of Mississippi History (November 1985)
- Hattiesburg American website, www.hattiesburgamerican.com
- Patt Foster Roberson, “A History of the Hattiesburg American” (PhD dissertation, University of Southern Mississippi, 1985)
- WDAM-TV website, www.wdam.com (6 October 2010)