America has always had a strong regional and local press. At the peak of the newspaper industry in the early 1950s there were nearly 1,800 separate papers. To avoid wasteful duplication, and ensure that readers got national news, publishers would buy columns, features and even comics from agencies (the first agency was founded in 1865). This meant that successful writers and artists could make a lot of money if their work was used in papers across America.
Syndication could make people rich – witness the cartoonist Charles Schulz. While working for a correspondence school that taught drawing, Schulz had some minor success with a local newspaper with the cartoon series Li’l Folks.
Unhappy with the amount of money they were paying him, he tried to have the series syndicated. However, the agency United Feature Syndicate was more interested in a slightly modified version that they named Peanuts, to avoid confusion with a popular cartoon strip called Li’l Abner. Peanuts debuted on 2 October 1950 in nine newspapers.
Peanuts would run nearly continuously for 49 years, with the final original strip running the day after Schulz’s death in February 2000. By then it was appearing in 2,600 papers in 75 countries.
While Schulz’s royalties from the first nine customers would be only $90 a week ($1,230 in today’s money), by 1953 he was earning $30,000 a year ($358,000). In the last ten years of his career he was receiving $30m-$40m annually from all sources, including merchandising, books, TV specials and endorsements.
Also on this day
On this day in 1850, French eccentric Jacques Toussaint Benoît attempted to demonstrate a system of communication based on the telepathic abilities of snails. Read more here.