Oldest paper in the U.S.? Whoops - it wasn't us

As recently as the 1970s, The Inquirer claimed to be the oldest daily newspaper in the United States.

It's not.

But for 13 years, that boast appeared on the paper's front page, a claim shakily balanced upon The Inquirer's connection to newspapers that had absorbed other, older, publications before being absorbed themselves.

These days, newspapers aren't so concerned about which of them is the oldest - they're more concerned with staying alive. But claims of longevity were once a way to boost status and solidity.

In 1962, The Inquirer commissioned and published a full-color magazine-style supplement - written by prominent local historian Nicholas Wainwright - to "document" its standing as the incarnation of a paper founded in 1771.

Actually, The Inquirer wasn't born until 1829.

But The Inquirer's history of consolidations and mergers included the Pennsylvania Packet, produced by a Philadelphia printer named John Dunlap. His weekly tabloid began operation in October 1771, each edition consisting of four pages.

The Packet went through a series of changes in ownership and name before being merged in 1840 with the North American. In 1925, the North American was absorbed by the Public Ledger, and in 1934, the Ledger was merged with The Inquirer.

In 1975, The Inquirer dropped the claim of "oldest" from its front page.

So which paper truly is the oldest in the country? There are two contenders.

The New York Post, established in 1801, is the nation's oldest continuously published daily newspaper. However, the Hartford Courant bills itself as the country's oldest continuously published newspaper - an accurate if qualified claim. The Courant started in 1764 as a semi-weekly, and didn't begin daily publication until 1836.