The Associated Press was formed in May 1846 by five daily newspapers in New York City to share the cost of transmitting news of the Mexican–American War. The venture was organized by Moses Yale Beach (1800–68), second publisher of The Sun, joined by the New York Herald, the New York Courier and Enquirer, The Journal of Commerce, and the New York Evening Express. Some historians believe that the New-York Tribune joined at this time; documents show it was a member in 1849. The New York Times became a member shortly after its founding in September 1851. Initially known as the New York Associated Press (NYAP), the organization faced competition from the Western Associated Press (1862), which criticized its monopolistic news gathering and price setting practices. An investigation completed in 1892 by Victor Lawson, editor and publisher of the Chicago Daily News, revealed that several principals of the NYAP had entered into a secret agreement with United Press, a rival organization, to share NYAP news and the profits of reselling it. The revelations led to the demise of the NYAP and in December 1892, the Western Associated Press was incorporated in Illinois as The Associated Press. A 1900 Illinois Supreme Court decision (Inter Ocean Publishing Co. v. Associated Press)—that the AP was a public utility and operating in restraint of trade—resulted in AP’s move from Chicago to New York City, where corporation laws were more favorable to cooperatives.
When the AP was founded, news became a salable commodity. The invention of the rotary press allowed the New-York Tribune in the 1870s to print 18,000 papers per hour. During the Civil War and Spanish–American War, there was a new incentive to print vivid, on-the-spot reporting. Melville Stone, who had founded the Chicago Daily News in 1875, served as AP General Manager from 1893 to 1921. He embraced the standards of accuracy, impartiality, and integrity. The cooperative grew rapidly under the leadership of Kent Cooper (served 1925–48), who built up bureau staff in South America, Europe and (after World War II), the Middle East. He introduced the “telegraph typewriter” or teletypewriter into newsrooms in 1914. In 1935, AP launched the Wirephoto network, which allowed transmission of news photographs over leased private telephone lines on the day they were taken. This gave AP a major advantage over other news media outlets. While the first network was only between New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, eventually AP had its network across the whole United States.
In 1945, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Associated Press v. United States that the AP had been violating the Sherman Antitrust Act by prohibiting member newspapers from selling or providing news to nonmember organizations as well as making it very difficult for nonmember newspapers to join the AP. The decision facilitated the growth of its main rival United Press International, headed by Hugh Baillie from 1935 to 1955.
AP entered the broadcast field in 1941 when it began distributing news to radio stations; it created its own radio network in 1974. In 1994, it established APTV, a global video newsgathering agency. APTV merged with WorldWide Television News in 1998 to form APTN, which provides video to international broadcasters and websites. In 2004, AP moved its world headquarters from its longtime home at 50 Rockefeller Plaza to a huge building at 450 West 33rd Street in Manhattan—which also houses the New York Daily News and the studios of New York’s public television station, WNET. In 2009, AP had more than 240 bureaus globally. Its mission—“to gather with economy and efficiency an accurate and impartial report of the news”—has not changed since its founding, but digital technology has made the distribution of the AP news report an interactive endeavor between AP and its 1,400 U.S. newspaper members as well as broadcasters, international subscribers, and online customers.
The AP began diversifying its news gathering capabilities and by 2007 AP was generating only about 30% of its revenue from United States newspapers. 37% came from the global broadcast customers, 15% from online ventures and 18% came from international newspapers and from photography.
In 2002, Britannica wrote that most news throughout the world came from three major agencies: the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.