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Founded by Henry F. Donovan in 1889, the Chicago Eagle was issued weekly for sixty years. Donovan was the publisher and editor until his death in 1929 and was succeeded by his son, John M. Donovan.
Born in 1858 in Whitby, Ontario, Canada, Donovan moved with his family to Chicago in 1862. He began his career in journalism at the Chicago Evening Journal, and he later became political editor of the Chicago Times. He was a charter member of the Chicago Press Club. Along with publishing his newspaper, Donovan held a number of elected and appointed political offices: Deputy County Clerk (Cook County); President of the Cook County Board of Education; Superintendent of the Chicago Post Office; Inspector General of the Illinois National Guard; Gas Inspector for the City of Chicago; and member of the Democratic Party Central Committee for Cook County.
The Chicago Eagle has been incorrectly identified as an African American newspaper in numerous bibliographies, and one issue was included in the microfilm collection commissioned by the American Council of Learned Societies in the late 1940s, "Negro Newspapers on Microfilm," filmed at the Library of Congress. In fact, the Chicago Eagle was a Democratic Party organ devoted to municipal politics (although Donovan, who was Irish American, billed his paper as "independent in all things, neutral in none"). With its narrow focus on party politics, the Chicago Eagle was in reality so remote from the black press that it did not even report on the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. This confusion may have arisen because of the similarity of the title to the California Eagle, the prominent black newspaper owned and operated in Los Angeles by Charlotta Bass.
Donovan campaigned relentlessly against graft and corruption in local and state government, with a particular emphasis on working conditions in the department stores; the meat-packing industry; the emerging telecommunications monopoly; election fraud; bribery of public officials; and public safety issues. The standard front-page layout of the Chicago Eagle featured two leading stories above the fold, separated by a portrait of a public figure (who may have no connection to the reported news). Each of the leading stories bore a sensational headline that spanned two or three columns, depending on the size of the portrait. Typical examples of Donovan's headlines and sub-headings include:
"Building Law Defied: Marshall Field & Co. Appear to Have Easy Time in Violating Fire Ordinance"
"Phone Slavery: The People of Chicago Pay for Deliverance from the Group of the Awful Bell Monopoly"
"Meat Scandal Grows: Chicago is Not the Only City with Tuberculosis, Lumpy Jaw, and Cancerous Beef"
"Soak Taxpayer: Chicago Aldermen, Most of Whom Pay No Tax, Ask Governor to Help Them Increase Peoples Burden"
"Worse Than War: The Annual Slaughter of Chicago People by Automobiles is Arousing Public Sentiment"
"Beef Trust Tyrants Accused of Paying the Lowest Wages to the Employees, They Menace Public Peace"
"Red Cross Bunk: Using Red Cross Name to Buy Cigarettes or Paper Coffin Nails for Soldiers is the Limit"
"Disenfranchised: Over Quarter of a Million Chicagoans Will Lose Ballot Under New Illinois Law"
Donovan claimed for the Chicago Eagle the largest weekly circulation in the city and county of any paper published in Chicago,but in 1894, the circulation of 26,000 (as reported by the publisher) was dwarfed by the circulation of the Chicago Daily News (203,000) and the Chicago Inter Ocean (125,000). In later decades, Donovan revised his claim as the Largest Weekly Circulation Among People of Influence and Standing.