William Oliver Fuller, Jr. was born February 3, 1856. He was the son of the very successful Main Street merchant William O. Fuller, proprietor of Fuller Cobb and Fuller Cobb Davis dry goods.

From an early age, William had ink in his veins. At the age of 15 he became an amateur printer with his own printing press. His junior year at Rockland High School he began publishing his own monthly newspaper, The Enterprise. The paper was devoted to editorials and short stories. He did the editing, set the type, and canvased for subscribers. His original columns of wit and humor were read “far and wide.” His flair for humor would be a hallmark throughout his life.

He graduated from Rockland High School in 1874 as salutatorian in his class of 15. His fellow classmate William T. Cobb would go on to become a successful businessman and governor of Maine. They would be lifelong best friends.

After his graduation, Fuller purchased the printing establishment of E.E. Wortman. He discontinued The Enterprise and “embarked on deeper waters” with The Rockland Courier, a four-page newspaper. In 1876 he enlarged the operation and moved to the Jones block (located where Bruce Gamage Antiques is today).

In 1878, Fuller was joined by A.H. Jones who had been foreman of The Free Press. Their operation became Fuller & Jones. Christmas eve 1881 a fire destroyed the Jones block along with the Glover and Ames blocks. Fuller was insured and got the next week’s paper out without interruption.

Meanwhile, Z. Pope Vose had a newspaper called The Rockland Gazette. He sold his interest to Fuller who consolidated the two papers into The Courier-Gazette. In 1886, W.O. Fuller sold his interest and left Rockland for Kansas. He entered the world of banking and real estate. In four years out west Fuller officiated as president of four banks.

In 1901 Fuller returned to Rockland and purchased The Free Press and its building on Limerock Street. He changed the name to The Tribune and filled it with his wit and humor. In 1893 The Tribune combined and co-existed side by side with The Courier-Gazette. Fuller continued to edit The Tribune and The Courier-Gazette, helmed by H.M. Lord. This continued through March, 1897 when the two papers became one.

W.O. Fuller composed a humorous lecture based on his adventures in Kansas titled “Banking in Kansas: How I found it and how it left me.”

He gave the lecture 100 times in Maine alone.

In the 1880s Mr. Fuller’s humor garnered a wider audience. His “After Breakfast” column appeared in the Boston Journal. By 1885 he was traveling the world sending back letters to The Courier-Gazette titled “Larks Abroad.” These Courier columns were shared the world over. In fact, Mr. Fuller was delighted to read one of his own columns in the London Press while visiting London.

He published a book of humor titled “Whatever happened to Wigglesworth.”

But wait, there is more!

His amazing gift of a weekly newspaper tradition going back 149 years is not all he created.

His personal or social column was the first in any newspaper in the United States.

His “25-Years-Ago” column made its first appearance in The Courier-Gazette in 1906. It was copied by newspapers across the country.

A devotee of Charles Dickens, Fuller built an imposing Tudor mansion along Lincoln Street, between Grove and Beech.

Lastly his famous Black Cat column of around town chat (overheard and reported by an observant feline) has continued off and on into modern times.

I have a message from W.O. Fuller to share with you.

Subscribe to my Courier-Gazette: 594 4401.

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

William Oliver Fuller Jr. Photo courtesy of Courier-Gazette archive