Over 150 years after its formation in 1848, the Associated Press is still the dominant cooperative news gathering organization in the United States.
History, Theory and Practice of the Electric Telegraph, George B. Prescott, 1860, pages 385-387:
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS OF THE UNITED STATES.
The telegraphic news reports of the American press have, by their remarkable accuracy, and the enormous amount of matter daily presented in them, excited the surprise of the press of all other countries. A single issue of many of our metropolitan journals often contains three or four columns of telegraphic news, which, at the usual rates of tolls, would amount to at least $500, --- a sum quite beyond the ability of even the leading London newspapers to pay daily. By what arrangement, therefore, is the press from Maine to Texas supplied with every important event which transpires in any part of our vast country within a few minutes of its actual occurrence? Some ten years since the leading journals in New York associated themselves together for the purpose of collecting, and sharing the expense of telegraphing, the most important items of news from all parts of the world. A general agent was appointed to superintend the practical operations of the system to be introduced, whose head-quarters are in New York. Other agents are located in all the principal cities of the United States and British America, and in some of the European cities. Subsequently to the formation of the New York association, nearly all the daily newspapers in the United States became associated with it. Everything of interest occurring in any part of this country is telegraphed at once to the general office in New York, copies being dropped at all intermediate points on the route, and the other parts of the country being supplied from the central office.
The annual expense of the press reports for the United States is about $200,000, of which the New York press pays about one half, and the remainder is divided among the different members of the association in other sections of the country, --- the larger cities paying the bulk of the expense, while the country papers are only taxed some $30 or $40 per month each.
The larger share of the press reports comes over the wires during the night, --- commencing about 6 o'clock P. M. and concluding generally about 1 o'clock A. M., but not unfrequently continuing as late as 4 o'clock, and sometimes all night. We have sometimes been occupied in sending press news when the sun descended below the horizon and when it arose the next morning, having continued at our post during the entire night. During the sessions of Congress the reports are the fullest, and towards the period of adjournment the wires are occupied until a late hour every night in transmitting their doings.
One of the earliest feats, after the extension of the telegraph lines west to Cincinnati, was brought about by the agency of the New York Herald, before any regular association of the press was formed in New York.
It became known that Mr. Clay would deliver a speech in Lexington, Ky., on the Mexican war, which was then (1847) exciting much public attention. From Lexington to Cincinnati was eighty miles, over which an express had to be run. Horses were placed at every ten miles by the Cincinnati agent. An expert rider was engaged, and a short-hand reporter or two stationed in Lexington. When they had prepared his speech it was then dark. The expressman, on receiving it, proceeded with it for Cincinnati. The night was dark and rainy, yet he accomplished the trip in eight hours, over a rough, hilly country road. The whole speech was received at the Herald office at an early hour the next morning, although the wires were interrupted for a short time in the night near Pittsburg, in consequence of the limb of a tree having fallen across them. An enterprising operator in the Pittsburg office, finding communication suspended, procured a horse, and rode along the line amidst the darkness and the rain, found the place and the cause of the break, which he repaired; then returned to the office, and finished sending the speech. The expense of forwarding the speech by express and telegraph amounted to about $500.
By the rules of the Associated Press, no journal can receive an exclusive despatch from any other points than Washington and Albany. The propriety of this arrangement is obvious, for if each member of the press were allowed to receive exclusive telegraphic despatches, there would be a constant rivalry to see which would outstrip the other; the result of which would lead to the breaking up of the association.