Founded in 1866 by publisher Edoardo Sonzogno, Il secolo is a 4 page political daily that introduced many technological and thematic innovations in Italian journalism. In the space of a decade, it became the most widely read national daily across the country, reaching print runs up to 300,000 copies during the 1870s and 1880s. Its democratic, republican and anticlerical leanings made it an important voice of modernity in the Liberal years. The new century brought an increasing challenge in readership and political influence by the more conservative daily Corriere della sera. The paper was sold to the daily La Sera in 1927; La Sera-Il Secolo closed in 1945.
Il secolo was the first national newspaper to invest in an independent telegraphic service to gather news, so as to rely less on agency releases for national and international news. It also pioneered dispatching journalists to main urban hotspots (tribunals, hospitals, police headquarters) to provide first-hand accounts of local events. The journalistic style also attempted to be less staid and elitist, as is visible in some (not all) of its rubriche. Il secolo also conferred great importance to technological advancements in the printing business. Edoardo Sonzogno often travelled to France and imported new equipment (the “Marinoni” brand of printing press machines, in particular) to speed up and increase print output. Content-wise, Il secolo featured political articles, recurring rubriche on current events or historical recurrences, costume pieces, and dispatches and reportages from different Italian cities. It also featured, following the model of French newspapers, one or more feuilletons in each issue. Il secolo was directed by Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, future Peace Nobel Prize winner (1907), from 1867 to 1895. Among its contributors were Ernesto Torelli Viollier, future founder of Il secolo’s main competitor, Il corriere della sera, and Felice Cavallotti, a Garibaldian and a radical democrat. The overall political orientation of the newspaper was center-left. Edoardo Sonzogno was a moderate democrat, belonging to the upper echelons of the Milanese bourgeoisie (his mother was Teresa Crespi, part of the Crespi’s textile dynasty), and his editorial enterprises started as a moderate democrat’s commitment to spreading information and knowledge to the citizens of a recently unified country. After the brutal death of his brother Raffaele, in 1875 in Rome, though, Edoardo took upon himself to honor his more radical brother’s memory by imparting a more explicitly democratic line to his newspaper.
A political newspaper in format, Il secolo targeted wider audiences by publishing novels in installments in the bottom fourth of its front page, most often translations of French authors. This habit, modeled after French newspapers such as Le petit journal, found much favor among the audience. As a consequence, the newspaper started publishing more than one feuilleton per issue. For example, in 1885, on the first days of January appear Saverio Montepin’s La portatrice di pane, and Armando Lapointe’s I milioni della principessa. In the January 16, 1885 issue the first episode of Mario Uchard’s La signorina Blaisot is published along with additional installments of La portatrice di pane and I milioni della principessa.
For information on historical and scholarly sources on Il secolo and the Stabilimento, see our resources page.
The year 1885 was the first sampled on this website. Information on some of the coverage of that year, on missing issues or variations in the publication frequency is available at Notes on the 1885 material.