It was in 1882 that Charles Dow and Eddie Jones joined forces to report stock market news to New York bankers and brokers. They opened a dreary, small, unpainted office at the bottom of some wooden steps at 15 Wall Street. The information they gathered was handwritten with ivory-tip styluses on short white sheets of tissue paper separated by carbons - as many as 24 of them. Several times a day, these flimsies were run by messengers to subscribers. A day's service would rarely run more than 800 words - just a bit longer than the length of this book review.
The first edition of their Wall Street Journal didn't appear until July 8, 1889, priced at two cents a copy, or $5 for a yearly subscription.
Today the Wall Street Journal, with the aid of fast presses and satellite transmission, goes to more than 2 million subscribers. It has the largest circulation of any American newspaper. In 1981 some 19.1 billion pages rolled off its presses, using 108,000 metric tons of newsprint, enough to stretch around the world 273 times. Today the Journal has 17 printing plants scattered about the nation. And with the conservative and supply-side Reagan administration in power, it may well be the nation's most influential paper.
These two books were published late last year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Dow-Jones enterprise.
Businessmen, journalists, perhaps others may well be interested in these two histories of the Journal and of other Dow-Jones publications or services. But two books may be one too many for most, especially at the price. So here are some of the features that distinguish them.
Lloyd Wendt, a former newspaper reporter, is a better writer than Jerry Rosenberg, a professor of business at Rutgers University. So for the general reader, the Wendt book is more colorful and detailed. It's also longer but easier to read.
Rosenberg's book, however, is more critical and detached. Though full of praise for the Journal, Mr. Rosenberg has to some degree tried to report the negative along with the positive. He outlines some of the internal dissension within the Journal. Wendt's book was, to some degree, a project of the Journal and doesn't, shall we say, harp on any faults of the newspaper or other Dow Jones enterprises.
Both authors had the cooperation of Journal executives and editors. But Wendt clearly had either more time or more help from Dow Jones. The Rosenberg book, in its last several chapters, also offers extra information on the business side of the Journal and other Dow Jones activities, such as the failed National Observer , Barrons, the thriving Asian Wall Street Journal, its AP-Dow Jones news wire, and more. Thus it may be most useful to journalists. For history buffs, the Wendt book is more fun.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of both books is the story of the influence of the Journal's editorial writers on the Reagan administration through its strong advocacy of supply-side economics. One editorial writer, Jude Wanniski, became keenly involved in government affairs, even handing out political leaflets for New Jersey senatorial candidate Jeffrey Bell. The Journal disapproves of such involvement, and Wanniski resigned to become a private consultant and, eventually, a member of President Reagan's ''inner circle'' of advisers. Another editorial writer, Paul Craig Roberts, became an assistant secretary of the Treasury. That supply-side story is told more frankly in the Rosenberg book, but with greater background in the Wendt book.
The Journal has nearly always refused to choose between candidates in presidential elections, though it doesn't hesitate to take positions on issues. Mr. Rosenberg regards this stand as hypocritical because of the Journal's scathing attacks on Democrats and support of Republicans. He discusses how the Journal in a lengthy article exhumed Sen. Edward Kennedy's Chappaquiddick affair - and even ran photographs of the bridge and the road, although the Journal normally never runs photographs.
Overall, Mr. Rosenberg praises the Dow Jones company for its support of editorial principle. The Journal offers superb business coverage, and the story of how it has managed to do so and prosper could certainly be of interest to more than journalists.