If you’re like me and occasionally find yourself lying in bed endlessly scrolling though BuzzFeed quizzes and pop culture articles, then you are no stranger to the modern-day dad joke. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I like to define a “dad joke” as a cheesy and often predictable pun told by (but not limited to) a middle-aged man. One of the most classic examples of a dad joke is when a son or daughter tells their father, “I’m hungry,” and he replies, “Hi hungry, I’m Dad. Nice to meet you!” Jokes such as this one have become such a staple amongst young Millennials and Gen Z’ers that it’s almost impossible not to come across one on Twitter, Facebook or any other online social platform. But what exactly do dad jokes posted on the internet have in common with the American Antiquarian Society and, more specifically, old newspapers?
Over the past few months I have started the slow (but extremely entertaining) process of going through every amateur newspaper held at AAS to make sure the entire collection has been scanned and digitized. Most simply put, an amateur newspaper is a periodical that is written, edited, and published by teenagers or young adults. Arguably, most of these papers were created for the love of the craft and not for profit; consequently, many publications were small in size as well as short-lived. Although amateur journalism saw its heyday in America during the latter half of the nineteenth century, one of the earliest papers held at AAS dates from 1805.
In total, our collection has over 3,900 titles from every state except Alaska and Hawaii, so I was a bit overwhelmed when first starting this project (so far I’ve made it through 550 titles and I am currently looking at amateur newspapers from Iowa). However, much to my delight, I’ve found that every paper has something fun and unique to add to the world of amateur journalism—one of these things being the nineteenth-century version of a dad joke! Although dad jokes are sweeping their way through the internet today, they are certainly not a new phenomenon. Even then, people my age and younger were drawn to the groan-worthy jokes of their fathers, and one of best ways to spread that cheer was through their version of the internet—amateur newspapers.
Here are some of my favorite nineteenth-century dad jokes!
I hope that at least some of these puns gave you a light chuckle! I know that they’ve certainly provided me with much needed laughter during these cold winter months. I’ve barely scraped the surface of AAS’s vast collection and I already have several more topics that I’d love to share with you. But in the meantime, let me know if you have any questions about our collection or feel free to leave some of your best “antiquarian” dad jokes down in the reply section!