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1 January 2012

On this day in history: First edition of The Times published, 1785

In 1781, a wealthy London coal merchant called John Walters joined Lloyd's insurance company only to be left bankrupt by series of disasters. Undeterred, he decided to try his hand as a printer. In 1782, he purchased the patent for a new method of printing using parts of words rather than single letters. He developed this technique and two years later he acquired a printing office in Blackfriars.

Walters started by printing books using his new method. Then, on 1st January 1785, he published the first edition of a daily newspaper called The Daily Universal Register, which he also edited. After three years, he changed the name of the newspaper to The Times.

Like many other newspaper proprietors, Walter supplemented his income with payments from the Treasury to print articles favourable to the government. This arrangement may have been more trouble than it was worth when he was found guilty of libel for publishing an attack on the royal dukes written by Thomas Steele, the joint secretary of the Treasury. After serving eighteen months in Newgate, Walter received a pardon from the Prince of Wales, and in 1795 he retired from the active running his printing business.

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