What Happened to HistoryBuff.com?
By the end of 2018, visits to the once-popular website HistoryBuff.com returned a simple 404 “Page Not Found” error. But at one time, this high-traffic site was central to a small group of hobbyists that collected newspapers. (One article in 2008, for example, put traffic at 500,000 pageviews per month.)
While new websites appear (and old sites disappear) every day, HistoryBuff is interesting for a couple of reasons:
- It survived about 22 years, pre-dating, for example, Google.com.
- In 2015 control of the site changed, from its roots as a niche hobbyist site, to a startup media company bent on becoming the next “History Channel”
Why, then, did it disappear?
HistoryBuff.com passed through two distinct phases, and apparently, owners:
- During its early years (from October 1995 to May 2015) the site was focused on newspaper collectors
- Beginning around June of 2016 control of the site passed to a media company that describes their plans for the site as: "BuzzFeed meets Smithsonian."
The Early Years
What distinguished the website from 1997 - 2015 was its fascination with history as told through first edition newspapers. Rick Brown, the site’s founder, bought an original copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1965 that related the capture and death of John Wilkes Booth after his assassination of US President Abraham Lincoln 100 years earlier. In a 2008 interview Brown said that this first newspaper taught him that “History is never more fascinating than when it’s read from the day it was first reported”.
In 1969, as he was purchasing and collecting as many old newspapers as he could find, Brown realized that he was running out of archival space. His next step? He became a collectible newspaper dealer, buying and selling newspapers through the mail.
In 1984 he founded the Newspaper Collectors Society of America, and launched a magazine called “Collectible Newspapers”. He published the magazine for thirteen years, until April, 1997. (source)
As Brown was winding down Collectible Newspapers, he discovered the internet, and in October 1995, he launched HistoryBuff.com.
HistoryBuff provided a wealth of historical resources that included: historic panoramas, newsletter archives, reference library alongside the much-loved newspaper collecting. The website featured history articles on a plethora of categories that included but were not limited to: Social Justice, crime, art and media, life, faith, science and exploration, world government, politics, film, animal, innovation, books, photos, TV, food, business, economics, us government, sports, military, and war.
The site described itself as a “non-profit organization devoted to providing FREE primary source material for students, teachers, and history buffs. This site focuses primarily on HOW news of major, and not so major, events in American history were reported in newspapers of the time. In addition, there is information about the technology used to produce newspapers over the past 400 years.”
HistoryBuff.com was given the non-profit status in 2003. Along with donations, Rick made money from advertisements -- both those that were targeted to newspaper collectors, and more general ads that targeted term paper and other academic essay writing services.
The Later Years (2015 - 2017)
Much of what we know about the transition of HistoryBuff from Rick Brown to its second owner comes from Archive.org. If you aren’t familiar with Archive.org the site sends bots out to visit websites, and then stores snapshots of the sites over time.
The latest snapshot of Rick Brown’s HistoryBuff was taken on May 26, 2015. The site looks essentially the same as it had for years.
On Sep 5, 2015 all the old navigation and content was replaced with a few words: "HistoryBuff.com has changed domain names. It has moved to HistoryReference.org”.
Finally, on Oct 18, 2015 a new snapshot of HistoryBuff appeared with a new tagline “HistoryBuff.com: The Future of History” and more mainstream historical articles, such as:
- The Kardashians of the 1850s
- How an Orphaned Bear Cub Became a Polish WWII Vet
- Donald Trump’s Grandfather Made His Fortune Selling Booze to Miners
One David Segura lists himself as the “Founder” of HistoryBuff.com on LinkedIn. He provides the following summary of the site: “HistoryBuff is a startup media company that can best be described as "BuzzFeed meets Smithsonian." We're demystifying history by telling stories in a relatable voice that's sometimes provocative, sometimes hilarious, and always fascinating. By leveraging our diverse team of journalists, videographers, and community contributors from around the country, we are well on our way to becoming this generation's History Channel.“
What Happened to HistoryBuff.com and why is it no Longer Available?
There are two mysteries for HistoryBuff:
- How did ownership change from Rick Brown to David Segura?
- Why did David Segura stop publishing the site?
What follows is nothing more than informed speculation. In Dec 2018 we reached out to Tim Hughes, the newspaper collector who interviewed Rick Brown in 2008, to ask if he had any idea what happened. He wrote:
"Rick and I were in touch several times a year over the past 40 or so years. About 2 years ago we had one of our catalogs to him returned marked "deceased". I called and got no answer. No one else knows what happened to him. I checked obits on-line and found nothing."
One potential explanation, then, is that Rick Brown died, and when he did not pay the registration fee for the HistoryBuff.com domain name, it was released for anyone to buy.
While that timeline roughly fits the snapshots from Archive.org, it doesn’t explain why HistoryReference.org was created. (Although we didn’t go into detail on HistoryReference.org before, the site ran from July 1, 2015 until at least Sep 13, 2017).
Perhaps a more likely (though still speculative) explanation is that David Segura bought HistoryBuff.com from Rick Brown before he died, and one or both of them worked together to migrate the old HistoryBuff.com content to HistoryReference.org
We have had no luck in determining why Segura stopped publishing HistoryBuff.com. We reached out to Arton Kukaj, a writer for the site. He said: “I remember writing an article, sending it to them for publishing and next thing I know, the site just no longer existed.”