Interview With The Headline King, Lee Hanover

A while ago, I came in contact with a gentleman, Lee Hanover, who is even more interested in old newspapers than I am! His interest is not genealogical in nature, but more from a historical perspective. He specializes in newspaper headlines and other historical media. Lee was kind enough to provide answers to my interview questions. His approach is fascinating. Here is the interview that I recently conducted with him.

1. First of all, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I am fascinated by your several-decade interest in newspaper headlines. How long ago, and how did this passion develop?

My parents always encouraged me and my siblings to read our newspaper (Long Island’s Newsday). Sometimes for a big event, like the moon landings or the Nixon resignation, my father would buy all the New York Area newspapers sold at the time. I have been told that my grandfather, who was a New York City cab driver, read a dozen newspapers a day during World War II.

When I was in High School, my homeroom teacher would get the NY Times delivered every morning. She let the students read it. I noticed for big events that they had a banner headline. The school library had the NY Times on microfilm (microfilm is only the RAG edition-last edition printed) going back to the 1950’s so on my lunch hour I started looking up some big events to see the NY Times headline. I would print out the banner headlines.

When I went to college they had the full run of the NY Times on microfilm so over a few months I looked up every front page and printed out each front page.  In time I typed up a composite of all the banner headlines. Over the years on the E-Bay newspaper sale site Collectible Newspapers for sale | eBay I found hundreds of Pearl Harbor extras & morning editions, a huge number of JFK assassination weekend newspapers, Nixon resignation, the Challenger disaster, and both San Francisco earthquakes (1906 & 1989). etc.

I have come across many varied versions of banner headlines. I have also contacted the NY Times newspaper morgue collection at Duke University. A librarian agreed to look up many key dates to see if they had a different headline than the ones I had. The International Edition of the NY Times printed in Paris up until 1967, started printing their own front pages in 1964. Prior to that they just flew the rag edition plate to Paris to be printed there a day later. From 1964 to 1966, The Paris edition had 6 days of banner headlines on days that the NY Edition did not have one.

Over the decades I have dealt with libraries in all 50 states, Canada, and numerous other countries to get newspaper front pages of key events.

2. One of the interesting characteristics of old newspapers was the fact that multiple editions were published each day, especially as big stories emerged during that day. Do you have any stories where a significant change in editions during the day had a big impact?

Here are the three versions of Election Night 1916 in which the wrong winner was declared:


            | NOVEMBER 8,1916                           |

            | HUGHES ELECTED, WITH 290 VOTES PERHAPS 312 |



            | NOVEMBER 8,1916                         |

            | ELECTION CLOSE, HUGHES LEADING,248 TO 247|



            | NOVEMBER 8,1916                        |

            | ELECTION CLOSE, WILSON 264, HUGHES 251  |



3. I understand that you collect “banner headlines”. Can you define that for me? How is that different from normal headlines?

A banner headline is a headline that goes across the top of the newspaper’s front page. In the old days, newspapers only used a single column even for the most important events. In March 1888, the NY Morning Journal had a blizzard extra in which the word BLIZZARD was in large letters across the top of the page. By 1896, a few dozen newspapers had banner headlines for the Presidential victory of McKinley-Hobart. The use of banner headlines exploded during the Spanish-American War in 1898, such as Commodore Dewey’s taking Manila and the defeat of the Spanish Fleet in Santiago Harbor on the July 4th holiday weekend.

4. I know you have a special interest in headlines from The New York Times.  Can you tell us more about that?

The New York Times is the benchmark for newspaper banner headlines. They only give a banner headline for the most important events. Since 1912 they have had over 2,100; almost half during the two world wars.

5. Have you had any of the items in your collection made available to archives, museums, or the like?

During the Bush-Gore post-election court battle, there was a 20-day straight stretch of banner headlines.

I was quoted in Newsweek as a newspaper expert because the NY Times wanted to know about previous long-term stretches on continuous NY Times banner headlines. I had written a letter to the editors 10 years earlier complaining about why they did not give some important events a banner headline. The NY Times archivist and their head of research called me separately wanting to know if I could help with prior long stretches of banner headlines. I emailed my email lists and saved their jobs. They invited me to their headquarters on 12/01/2000.  I spent the entire day there meeting most of their staff. Newsweek had contacted their archivist about the banner headline issue with the 2000 election so they referred the writer to me. I was in the December 5, 2000 issue of Newsweek.

I have worked with the Fifth Floor Museum in Dallas, providing them with the newspaper front pages from over 95% of the over 1,100 daily newspapers printed in the United States in 1963.  

I have worked with the curator of Sagamore Hill to provide hundreds of front pages of key events in the career and life of Teddy Roosevelt.

I provided headlines to the Maritime Museum in Halifax – hundreds of newspaper front pages covering the Halifax explosion of December 6, 1917.(it blew up half the city and killed over 2,000 people).

6. Is there anything else that I haven’t mentioned that you can tell us about your hobby?

I have collected microprints of thousands of front pages from many historic events from English-language newspapers from all over the world.

I also have collected radio/television news broadcasts from historic events.

Thanks, Lee for the great information!

One reply on “Interview With The Headline King, Lee Hanover”

Very interesting interview of a man with a unique and fascinating hobby! Guess I’m lucky to have found an Ohio paper with a banner headline quoting an ancestor-in-law about his WWI experiences in December, 1918.

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