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In 1905, Frank Petric and Joze Zavertnik began publishing in Chicago Glas Svobode ("Voice of Freedom"), a socialist newspaper intended for Slovene workers in the United States. A year later Petric and Zavertnik left the Svobode to publish Proletarec under the South Slavic Workers Publishing Co., becoming the first editors of a paper aimed at promoting socialism and the cultural values of the Slovenian population. Proletarec served the interests of the Slovenian members of the Yugoslav Socialist Federation (YSF), a political and cultural organization composed of Serbs, Croats, and other Slavic immigrants. Based in Chicago, Proletarec began circulation in January of 1906 as a monthly publication with only 100 subscribers. In 1908, Proletarec became a weekly publication under the direction of Ivan Molek, who acquired the position of editor-in-chief the previous year. In 1907, Proletarec increased its readership by publishing an additional section in Croatian, which effectively extended its ability to reach the Croat members of the YSF. Proletarec's conscious efforts to maintain and extend readership to immigrant Slovene socialists continued throughout its history.
Proletarec experimented with publishing a magazine format from 1918 to 1929, but reverted to newspaper format on April 4, 1929. Also on that date, the newspaper released the following statement: "Our aim: Education, organisation, cooperation, Commonwealth... Proletarec will publish regularly one or more pages of English reading matter for the benefit of our American born Slovene and other Yugoslav friends. This is especially for our youth." Printing in English enabled Proletarec to expand its readership to include second-generation Slovenian Americans. In re-centering their audience to a new generation, Proletarec began to focus on sustaining elements of Slovene culture through fraternal organizations, dances, and organized concerts.
By 1930, Proletarec had almost 3,000 subscribers spanning three generations, the majority of whom lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin, and New York. Outside of the United States, Proletarec had subscribers in Mexico City and in Slovenia, making it an international publication. Throughout its history, Proletarec seemed to have almost as many editors as it did subscribers. Following Molek's retirement in 1912, Leo Zakrajsek took over for a brief stint before he left the paper in 1913 due to a disagreement with Joze Zavertnik. The latter held the position of editor until 1916, at which point he left to edit another Slovenian-American newspaper, Prosveta ("Enlightenment"). Upon returning to Slovenia in 1916, Etbin Kristan took over for Zavertnik and held the position of editor until 1920. Frank Zaitz then took over editing Proletarec until it ceased publication in 1952.