Printer and newsagent Herbert Ingram moved from Nottingham to London in early 1842. Inspired by how the Weekly Chronicle always sold more copies when it featured an illustration, he had the idea of publishing a weekly newspaper that would contain pictures in every edition.
Ingram’s initial idea was that it would concentrate on crime reporting, as per the later Illustrated Police News, but his collaborator, engraver Henry Vizetelly, convinced him that a newspaper covering more general news would enjoy greater success.
Ingram rented an office, recruited artists and reporters, and employed as his editor Frederick William Naylor Bayley (1808–1853), formerly editor of the National Omnibus.
The first issue of the The Illustrated London News appeared on Saturday 14 May 1842.
Its 16 pages and 32 wood engravings covered topics such as the war in Afghanistan, a train crash in France, a survey of the candidates for the United States presidential election, extensive crime reports, an account of a fancy dress ball at Buckingham Palace, theatre and book reviews, and a list of births, marriages and deaths.
The newspaper also carried three pages of advertisements for items such as a taxidermy manual, Madame Bernard’s treatment for baldness, and Smith’s quinine tonic. Ingram hired 200 men to carry placards through the streets of London promoting the first edition of his new newspaper.
Costing sixpence, the first edition sold 26,000 copies. Despite this initial success, sales of the second and subsequent editions were disappointing.
However, Herbert Ingram was determined to make his newspaper a success, and sent every clergyman in the country a copy of the edition which contained illustrations of the installation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and by this means secured a great many new subscribers.
Its circulation soon increased to 40,000 and by the end of its first year was 60,000.
In 1851, after the newspaper published Joseph Paxton’s designs for the Crystal Palace before even Prince Albert had seen them, the circulation rose to 130,000.
In 1852, when it produced a special edition covering the funeral of the Duke of Wellington, sales increased to 150,000; and in 1855, mainly due to the newspaper reproducing some of Roger Fenton’s pioneering photographs of the Crimean War (and also due to the abolition of the Stamp Act which taxed newspapers), it sold 200,000 copies per week.
By 1863 The Illustrated London News was selling more than 300,000 copies every week, enormous figures in comparison to other British newspapers of the time.