The paper was founded by Lee Lumpkin in 1875 in the form of The Examiner. In the first issue of the new publication, Lumpkin pledged "to aid in disseminating truth and intelligence in persuading the masses to be true to their country and just to their fellowmen."
By 1864, when Thomas S. Pettit purchased the paper, it had changed its name to The Monitor. Immediately after taking control of the paper, Pettit published a series of items vigorously criticizing the Republican Party and its policies during the Civil War. On November 17, 1864, Pettit was arrested on orders from General Stephen G. Burbridge on charges of being "notoriously disloyal" to the Union. He was taken to Memphis, Tennessee, and transferred into Confederate territory. In May 1865, he returned to Owensboro and found his print shop and printing press had been destroyed by federal authorities. He traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to purchase replacement equipment and, on hearing the story of his arrest and subsequent travels, the equipment dealer extended him a generous line of credit, allowing him to purchase more sophisticated equipment than had ever before been used in Owensboro. With this new equipment, Pettit revived the Monitor and published his stories of wartime banishment, bringing him significant acclaim in Kentucky. Moreover, he also published editorials by future U.S. Senator Thomas C. McCreery, giving the Monitor further credibility and increasing its readership.
After many years of publishing the Monitor, Pettit sold the paper to Urey Woodson, who changed its name to the Owensboro Messenger. Woodson was editor of the Messenger from 1880 to 1929, when it was sold to the Hager family, who already owned the Owensboro Inquirer. That family maintained ownership of the paper until 1996, when it was sold to A. H. Belo. In 2000, Belo sold the paper to its current owner, Paxton Media Group.
Reputation and Awards
The Messenger-Inquirer has consistently been recognized as one of the top papers in Kentucky, winning first place in the Kentucky Press Association's Better Newspaper Contest in 1996 and 2000 and taking second place five times this decade. In all, the M-I news staff has taken home more than 80 state awards since 2004 while competing against the state's largest newspapers.
In 1989, the Messenger-Inquirer was chosen by the University of Missouri School of Journalism as one of the nation's top five small dailies. That same year, the American Society of Newspaper Editors named the M-I one of the nation's 14 best small dailies.