Journalist and press historian Henry Allen Brainerd, a native of Boston, migrated to Nebraska in the early 1880s. Trained to set type when a boy in Boston in the office of the Youth's Companion, he later roamed the country as a tramp printer. He lived and worked in a series of small Nebraska towns before settling in Lincoln after the sale of his Hebron newspaper in November 1915. Brainerd spent the last twenty-five years of his life as Nebraska's unofficial press historian. By the time of his death in 1940 he had collected a large amount of information and related photographs and memorabilia on the early press history of the state.
Some details of Brainerd's career are less than clear. His date of birth, November 4, 1857, in Boston is a matter of record. He spent much of his early life in Providence, Rhode Island, where he attended business college and Brown University, with a brief sojourn for school and work in Maine. He spent several years as a tramp printer before arriving in Nebraska in the early 1880s. He worked on newspapers in Lincoln and Omaha before settling in Milford about 1883. (With some hyperbole he claimed in 1923 that he had worked on every newspaper in Omaha during his brief stay in that city.)
In Milford Brainerd was associated with a country weekly, the Milford Nebraskan (previously the Milford Ozone). Other newspaper ventures followed in a succession of Nebraska towns, including Sutton, Bennet, Milford again, Chester, and Hebron. In addition, Brainerd sometimes supplied newspapers for smaller nearby communities by issuing them from his home office. The Pleasant Dale Quiz, for example, was published from the office of the Milford Nebraskan; the Panama Union from the office of the Bennet Union; and the Byron Herald from the office of the Chester Herald. His longest continuous associations were with the Chester Herald, 1896-1906, and the Hebron Champion, 1905-15.
After the sale of the Champion in November 1915, Brainerd moved from Hebron to Lincoln and resumed newspaper work there. Always a booster of civic and patriotic organizations, Brainerd was an enthusiastic member of the Lincoln Home Guards during the World War I era. Beginning in May 1919 several illnesses, including a bout with smallpox, left him temporarily blind. A partial recovery of his sight enabled him to resume some work, which then centered on collecting and compiling the state's press history. The Nebraska Press Association had elected Brainerd its president in 1914 while he was editor of the Hebron Champion, and made him unofficial press historian at a later date. He was the author of a history of the NPA, published in 1923.
Much of the material Brainerd assembled was displayed in the space allotted the Nebraska State Historical Society in the new State Capitol building, beginning in December of 1932. The Nebraska Press Association historical exhibit was in fact one of the first major displays to be installed and featured over three thousand items displayed on cardboard backing. There Brainerd filed and arranged his collection of press clippings, photographs, and other memorabilia relating to the state's press history. After his death on November 20, 1940, this material was acquired by the Historical Society.