Emigrant aid journal of Minnesota (Nininger, Minn.) 1856-1858  Browse the title

The first issue of the Emigrant Aid Journal of Minnesota was printed in Philadelphia (in spite of the masthead’s claim of Nininger City, Minnesota Territory) on December 1, 1856. A second issue of the newspaper did not appear until June 20 of the following year and was actually printed in Minnesota. The paper came out every two weeks until January 13, 1858 and continued to be published weekly until May 5, 1858. The entire run was 32 issues. While the editors of the first issue were identified as Ignatius Donnelly and Philip Rohr, subsequent issues claimed A. W. MacDonald as the editor. Rohr was a German speaking friend of Donnelly’s who translated his text so that the journal’s first issue had two pages in English and two in German.

Ignatius Donnelly was a multi-faceted man. He became the publisher of several other newspapers, the first lieutenant governor of Minnesota and a congressman for the state, a nationally-known reform politician--writing and speaking on behalf of all of the movements of the Agrarian Crusade--and a writer of novels and pseudo-scientific tomes. 

The purpose of the Emigrant Aid Journal was to promote the speculative land investment that Donnelly, John Nininger, and others had in the Mississippi River town of Nininger, situated between St. Paul and Hastings, Minnesota. The newspaper’s prospectus is clear: “A newspaper in the West is the voice by which the new town makes its merits and its claims known to the surrounding world… a herald in its prosperity and a stay in its adversity.”  The paper was distributed nationally and internationally, just one of many forms of advertisement Nininger’s investors used to market the town to potential residents. John Nininger was of German descent so German immigrants were specifically targeted. Another investor was George Robertson, a New York businessman with Scottish connections, so the town was promoted in Scotland as well.   

The paper’s large, beautiful masthead artistically represented all the bounties of the West: waterfalls, agricultural products, all forms of transportation, and long open horizons. Donnelly was skilled as a speaker and writer, so his role in this group of land speculators was to make Nininger City seem like the best of many options for people migrating west. His text for the newspaper denigrated other popular immigration and resettlement destinations, notably Illinois and Iowa, and touted the rich soil, healthy climate, and favorable laws of Minnesota. As a harbinger of Donnelly’s future career as a science fiction writer, the second issue of the newspaper included a fictional description of a visitor to America in the year 4796 A.D. who finds Nininger City slightly more populous than New York at nearly five million people. Donnelly also envisioned the Emigrant Aid Journal becoming the premier newspaper of the West.   

For a town that existed on paper more than in reality, Nininger’s newspaper was robust. Later issues carried an agricultural column, cultural events were noted, and even the son of William Lloyd Garrison, George T. Garrison, worked for the Emigrant Aid Journal.

In 1857 a rapidly deteriorating business climate created a financial panic forcing tightening credit and a virtual end of all real estate transactions. Paper towns like Nininger never came close to meeting their investors’ expectations. The town’s population peaked in 1857 at 100 homes and 1,000 residents. Ignatius Donnelly was a millionaire in July and broke by the end of August.

The Emigrant Aid Journal kept up its boosterism and tried to downplay the financial situation even while carrying notices of bankruptcies and foreclosures. The paper finally ended its run in May of 1858 when it seemed fruitless to continue to promote immigration to Minnesota and the town of Nininger City.