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JOHN JAMES KIERNAN (1 Feb 1843 - 29 Nov 1893)
John J. Kiernan was a pioneer in the financial news industry and is considered the father of ticker-tape news. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, the eldest child of Irish immigrants Frank and Ellen Kiernan. In 1858 at age 15, John's first exposure to the news business was as a messenger boy for the Magnetic Telegraph Company (the first private telegraph firm, founded 1845).
Later as a young man in the early 1860s, John worked in the foreign news division of the New York Associated Press under Daniel H. Craig, who had been a dominant figure in news gathering for over 20 years. Before many telegraph lines had been established, Craig used carrier pigeons and horse-express to correspond his breaking news to Boston faster than his rival's steamer ships. During Kiernan's apprenticeship, Craig's latest scheme to scoop the competition was intercepting ocean liners coming in from Europe. Toward the end of their 10- to 14-day journey, ships often anchored off Newfoundland in Canada, before sailing down the coast to their final destinations of Boston or New York. The energetic Kiernan would row out to the ship in a life-boat to scan news from overseas papers, and interview ship's officers and well-informed businessmen on board. News was then telegraphed to the New York office, a day before the ships made port. The Western Union Telegraph Company bought and sold domestic news over their nationwide telegraph network, and had contracts to buy international news stories from the Associated Press, who relied heavily on Daniel Craig's team. But once the Trans-Atlantic Cable was completed in July 1866, Kiernan and Craig were no longer needed.
In 1865 Kiernan married Emily J. Morris, an Irish immigrant, and in 1866 he went to work for John Hasson, a former Associated Press Civil War correspondent, at the newly formed Hasson News Association. Hasson used the new and rapidly growing Atlantic & Pacific Telegraph Company to connect with large daily papers, which had been disenfranchised by the monopolies of the Associated Press and Western Union. They soon became the purveyor of news to over a hundred newspapers nationwide (Hasson's agency was reorganized as the American Press Association in 1870).
But Kiernan was itching to get out on his own. His years of training led him to two important facts: financial speculators paid the highest premium for breaking news, and foreign news demanded even more. With a stout frame and barely 5 foot tall, John took on the financial district by means of his winning personality and ever present smile. In 1869 John secured employment as a gold broker at 18 Wall Street, where he could gather and peddle bits of news on the side. (At the time, two firms in that building dealt in gold, so I'm not sure which he worked for: eitherDrexel, Winthrop & Co. or Marx & Co.) Kiernan called his little side venture "The Wall Street Financial News Bureau," but at first the subscribers were few. Much of the news came from his friend John Hasson and the American Press Association, until Kiernan rallied several foreign agencies into news-sharing agreements. He made headway everyday, and opened a small office at 15 Wall Street in late 1870.
Kiernan's news bulletins were hand-written on flimsies, as had been the practice on the Street for over fifty years, and delivered hourly by messenger boys throughout the business day. His foreign news was complete and reliable. It included intelligently condensed reports from all the stock exchanges of Europe, and the fluctuations of their general markets, with the opinions of well informed experts. His domestic news was concise, spirited and telling. Soon all of Wall Street was on his subscription list, and in early 1871 Kiernan began offering financial news service via a new stock ticker. He knew, by constant interaction with the Street, what news was most likely to be relished -- a failure, a race, a death, a good lively rumor -- and it rushed all over his ticker tape.
Also in 1871, Kiernan formed a limited partnership in Great Britain called the "Telegraph Dispatch and Intelligence Company" with news agencies in England and India. Besides sharing global news with each other, the firm provided discount telegram service to world-travelers, enabling steamship passengers to telegraph their safe arrival abroad to friends back home. They offered rates lower than the telegraph cable companies, using a system called "packing" which consisted of taking the plain language text from subscribers and encoding or abbreviating it into as few telegraphic "words" as possible, then packing all the encoded texts into a few generic messages for each foreign destination. The system was seen as illicit by many telegraph companies per the International Telegraph Conventions. But debates over this common practice lasted for decades, while the agency was sold for a tidy profit on 30 December 1872 to the Reuter's Telegram Company, Europe's largest news service.
When Kiernan began his ticker service, it set about a slight competition with theGold and Stock Telegraph Company. Originally Gold and Stock furnished only the official quotations of the New York Stock Exchange; however it was now compelled to supply some general news headlines in order to satisfy members of the Produce and other Exchanges. Still the two services were different enough that many subscribers found it beneficial to have both tickers. But after Gold and Stock's merger on 25 May 1871, Kiernan found himself in opposition to Western Union's Commercial News Bureau. Though not unwilling to fight, Kiernan found it advisable to cease any antagonism. He was too wise to carry on war against his own interests, and didn't want to end up like poorHenry L. Davis. Gold and Stock secured a strong hold on the financial houses, and Western Union had contracts with the big press agencies. But no one in their Commercial News Department actually collected and reported on the news; it was merely bought and sold as is. Kiernan had a way of adding informative commentary which people enjoyed, while compacting storylines into a short narrative. Simply put, his news was better for the medium of tickertape and Western Union wanted it.
Luckily for Kiernan, his little business niche serving mostly Wall Street brokers and bankers was still considered a bit peculiar, especially to a giant corporation like Western Union. This allowed him to negotiate great privileges that seemed trivial at the time. But no one could foresee the information boom which would result from the New York Stock Exchange's recent changeover from a call market to a continuous market. After a mutual consultation, it was proposed that Kiernan's Wall Street Financial News Bureau furnish its foreign news to Western Union's Commercial News Department for use by Gold and Stock tickers and nationwide newspaper publication. In exchange they would assign to Mr. Kiernan a tiny portion of New York City within which he could carry on his business, without molestation. He was granted all of Lower Manhattan south of Canal Street, which included Wall Street and New York's entire financial district. Kiernan could only lease tickers from Gold and Stock, but they must always be the most approved and best improved instruments. Furthermore, Western Union had a contract giving them exclusive use of all "foreign financial news" from the Associated Press for the space of thirty minutes after its receipt. They would arrange for the Associated Press to send their foreign financial dispatches directly to Kiernan, who would have exclusive rights for the first fifteen minutes before Gold and Stock distribution. The offer was accepted and a four-year contract signed on 10 January 1872. It was just what he wanted, and all of his subscribers were furnished with Western Union's new Phelps ticker, which Kiernan renamed "The Financial Instrument."MORE TO COME...