Le Petit Journal

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This article is about the newspaper. For the online news resource, see lepetitjournal.com.
Le Petit Journal
Konstantin Soitzner Le petit Journal.jpg
Konstantin Stoitzner (1863–1934):
Le Petit Journal
Type Daily newspaper
Format Broadsheet
Owner(s) Moïse Polydore Millaud
Publisher Moïse Polydore Millaud
Founded 1863
Political alignment Conservatism
Ceased publication 1944
Headquarters Paris
Circulation 1,000,000 <1890s> Daily
ISSN 1256-0464

Le Petit Journal was a conservative daily Parisian newspaper founded by Moïse Polydore Millaud; published from 1863 to 1944. Together with Le Petit Parisien, Le Matin, and Le Journal, it was one of the four major French dailies. In 1890, during the Boulangiste crisis, its circulation first reached one million copies. Five years later, it had a circulation of two million copies, making it the world's largest newspaper.[1]


Early years[edit]

In 1899 the Journal claims 5 million readers.

The first issue of the Journal appeared on February 1, 1863 with a printing of 83,000 copies. Its founder, Millaud, was originally from Bordeaux and had begun as a publisher of financial and legal newsletters. For a few years, he was the owner of La Presse, an early penny paper. The first printing ran to 83,000 copies; a large printing compared to the other serious newspapers.[1] For example, Le Siècle typically had a press run of 50,000 copies.

Within two years the Journal was printing 259,000 copies, making it the largest daily in Paris. By 1870, it had reached 340,000 copies; twice the figure for the other major dailies put together. Much of this progress was made possible by the rotary presses that had been designed by Hippolyte Auguste Marinoni in 1866 and installed at the Journal in 1872.

Despite its apparent successes, the Millaud family found themselves in financial difficulties and, in 1873, sold their interests in the company to a group headed by Émile de Girardin. In 1882, Marinoni took control of the Journal, succeeding Girardin. In 1884, he introduced the Supplément illustré, a weekly Sunday supplement that was the first to feature color illustrations. This became so popular that, in 1889, Marinoni developed a color rotary press that could print 20,000 sheets per hour. By 1895, one million copies of the supplement were being produced every week and the Journal had a press run of two million copies, 80% of which went to the provinces, making it France's predominant newspaper.[1]

Later years and decline[edit]

Dreyfus in prison;
20 January 1895

By 1900, the paper's growth was slowing considerably. Many of its readers had gone over to Le Petit Parisien because that paper had avoided taking sides in the Dreyfus Affair, whereas Ernest Judet, the Journal's editor, was staunchly Anti-Dreyfus. Soon after, Le Petit Parisien became France's best-selling newspaper. By 1914, the Journal's printing run had decreased to 850,000. By 1919, it had fallen to 400,000.

In 1936, the Journal became the official organ of the French Social Party, with the motto, "Travail, Famille, Patrie", which was borrowed from the "Croix-de-Feu" league and later became the motto of the Vichy régime. Despite receiving support from many notable figures, including the press magnate Raymond Patenôtre, its decline continued and, by 1937, the typical press run was only 150,000.

Its headquarters were moved to Clermont-Ferrand in 1940. During its final years, it received a monthly grant from the government, and François de La Rocque became Chairman of its Board of Directors, but the paper could not be saved and the final issue was published in August, 1944.

Description and contents[edit]

Timothée Trimm, the first Editor of the Journal.

Part of the Journal's attraction was its low price. Thank to its printing methods, it could be sold for only 5 centimes, as opposed to 15 centimes for the typical daily. It came in a convenient format of 43×30 cm (17×12 ins.), did not require a subscription and, in addition to the news, offered feature stories, serials (including the popular detective stories of Émile Gaboriau), horoscopes and opinion pieces. It was officially (if not actually) apolitical and could be sent without postage. Also, it was distributed in the evening, so it could be hawked to workers leaving their shops and factories.

One of the Journal's major innovations, that made a substantial contribution to its popularity, was the publishing of detailed minutes from sensational trials, beginning with the Troppmann Affair in 1869. The exploitation of this affair enabled the Journal to almost double its readership. It was also one of the earliest instances of a publication's journalistic ethics being called to serious account.[2]

Promotional events[edit]

Charles Terront pictured on the front page of the 20 September 1891 edition of Le Petit Journal after his Paris-Brest et retour victory

Paris–Brest–Paris cycle race[edit]

In 1891, Le Petit Journal created the Paris–Brest–Paris road cycling race. Its editor Pierre Giffard promoted it as Paris-Brest et retour in his editorials which he signed "Jean-sans-Terre". It is now established as the oldest long-distance cycling road event. Le Petit Journal described it as an "épreuve", a test of the bicycle's reliability and the rider's endurance. Riders were fully self-sufficient, carrying their own food and clothing and riding the same bicycle for the duration. The public response to his articles was so phenomenal that he had to change the rules and start charging five francs entrance, as 300 riders including 7 women signed up, although the women were later refused entrance. Each bicycle was given an 'official seal' at a two-day ceremony in front of the offices of Le Petit Journal. The 280 sealed machines included ten tricycles, two Tandem bicycle, and one Penny-farthing.[3]

Participation was restricted to French men[3] and 99 of the 207 (or 280)[3] participants finished. Michelin's Charles Terront won in 71 hours 22 minutes after passing Dunlop's Jiel-Laval as he slept during the third night. Both had suffered punctures in their pneumatic tyres, but still enjoyed an advantage over riders on solid tyres.

The first race was a coup for Le Petit Journal and the organisers decided to run it every ten years. The second race in 1901 was again organised by Pierre Giffard but on behalf of Le Vélo.

Special 'Paris-Belfort' edition of Le Petit Journal from 18 June 1892

Paris-Belfort running race[edit]

On 5 June 1892,[4] Le Petit Journal organised a foot-race from Paris to Belfort, a course of over 380 kilometers, the first large scale long distance running race on record. Over 1,100 competitors registered for the event and over 800 started from the offices of Le Petit Journal, at Paris Opera. This had also been the start point for the inaugural Paris–Brest–Paris cycle-race the previous year.[4] Newspaper circulation dramatically increased as the French public followed the progress of race participants, 380 of whom completed the course in under 10 days. In Le Petit Journal on June 18, 1892, Giffard praised the event as a model for the physical training of a nation faced by hostile neighbours.[4] The event was won by Constant Ramoge in 100 hours 5 minutes.[5]

Albert Lemaître classified 1st in his Peugeot 3hp. Bicycle manufacturer Adolphe Clément-Bayard was the front passenger.

Paris–Rouen. World's first motor-race[edit]

In 1894, Pierre Giffard organised what is considered to be the world's first car race, from Paris to Rouen.[a] Sporting events were a tried and tested form of publicity stunt and circulation booster. The paper promoted it as a Competition for Horeseless Carriages (Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux) that were "not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey". Thus it blurred the distinctions between a reliability trial, a general event and a race, but the main prize was for the first across the finish line in Rouen. 102 people paid the 10 franc entrance fee.[6]

On 22 July 1894, 69 cars started the 50 km selection event that would show which entrants would be allowed to start the main event, the 126 km race from Paris to Rouen. The entrants ranged from serious manufacturers like Peugeot, Panhard and De Dion to amateur owners, and only 21 were selected for the main race.[6]

The race started from Porte Maillot and went through the Bois de Boulogne. Count Jules-Albert de Dion was first into Rouen after 6 hours and 48 minutes at an average speed of 19 km/h. He finished 3’30” ahead of Albert Lemaître (Peugeot), followed by Auguste Doriot (Peugeot) at 16’30”, René Panhard (Panhard) at 33’30’’ and Émile Levassor (Panhard) at 55’30”. The official winners were Peugeot and Panhard as cars were judged on their speed, handling and safety characteristics, and De Dion's steam car needed a stoker which was forbidden.[6]

Paris Marathon[edit]

Main article: Paris Marathon

On 18 July 1896, Giffard organised the inaugural Paris Marathon on behalf of Le Petit Journal, although he was editor of Le Vélo, suggesting a co-operative commercial relationship.[4] The event followed on from the success of the marathon in the 1896 inaugural Olympics. Gifford started the race before a large crowd at the Porte Maillot, and it followed a course to Versailles and finished in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. The race and the 200-franc prize were won by Len Hurst, a 24-year-old brick maker from England.[7] It was the last marathon held in Paris until the mid-1980s.[4]

National Library of France – Gallica[edit]

All copies of Le Petit Journal are stored at the National Library France – Gallica. They can be freely accessed online at Gallica, Online Archive, Le Petit Journal Index


  1. ^ A previous motoring event had been held in 1887 but received only a single entrant. Georges Bouton and his passenger the Comte Jules-Albert de Dion had completed the two-mile drive from the Bois de Boulogne to Porte Maillot in a steam-powered vehicle of their own manufacture, the genesis of the De Dion-Bouton.


Further reading[edit]

  • William Howard Schneider, An Empire for the Masses: the French Popular Image of Africa 1870–1900 (Greenwood, 1982) ISBN 0-313-23043-9. An examination of the way French newspapers, and the Petit Journal in particular, shaped representations of imperialism in the French public mind.

External links[edit]