Front page of the first issue of The Wall Street Journal
, July 8, 1889
The first products of Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of the Journal, were brief news bulletins, nick-named "flimsies", hand-delivered throughout the day to traders at the
stock exchange in the early 1880s. They were later aggregated in a printed daily summary called the Customers' Afternoon Letter. Reporters Charles Dow, Edward Jones, and Charles Bergstresser converted this into The Wall Street Journal, which was published for the first time on July 8, 1889, and began delivery of the Dow Jones News Service via telegraph.
 In 1896, The "
Dow Jones Industrial Average" was officially launched. It was the first of several indices of stock and bond prices on the
New York Stock Exchange. In 1899, the Journal's Review & Outlook column, which still runs today, appeared for the first time, initially written by Charles Dow.
Clarence Barron purchased control of the company for US$130,000 in 1902; circulation was then around 7,000 but climbed to 50,000 by the end of the 1920s. Barron and his predecessors were credited with creating an atmosphere of fearless, independent financial reporting—a novelty in the early days of
business journalism. In 1921,
Barron's, America's premier financial weekly, was founded.
 Barron died in 1928, a year before
Black Tuesday, the stock market crash that greatly affected the
Great Depression in the United States. Barron's descendants, the
Bancroft family, would continue to control the company until 2007.
The Journal took its modern shape and prominence in the 1940s, a time of industrial expansion for the United States and its financial institutions in New York.
Bernard Kilgore was named managing editor of the paper in 1941, and company CEO in 1945, eventually compiling a 25-year career as the head of the Journal. Kilgore was the architect of the paper's iconic front-page design, with its "What's News" digest, and its national distribution strategy, which brought the paper's circulation from 33,000 in 1941 to 1.1 million at the time of Kilgore's death in 1967. Under Kilgore, in
1947, that the paper won its first
Pulitzer Prize, for William Henry Grimes's
In 1967, Dow Jones Newswires began a major expansion outside of the United States that ultimately put journalists in every major financial center in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia, and Africa. In 1970, Dow Jones bought the Ottaway newspaper chain, which at the time comprised nine dailies and three Sunday newspapers. Later, the name was changed to "Dow Jones Local Media Group".
1971 to 1997 brought about a series of launches, acquisitions, and joint ventures, including "
The Wall Street Journal Asia,
The Wall Street Journal Europe, the WSJ.com website, Dow Jones Indexes,
MarketWatch, and "WSJ Weekend Edition". In 2007
News Corp. acquired Dow Jones.
WSJ., a luxury lifestyle magazine, was launched in 2008.
A complement to the print newspaper, The Wall Street Journal Online, was launched in 1996 and has allowed access only by subscription from the beginning.
 In 2003, Dow Jones began to integrate reporting of the Journal's print and online subscribers together in
Audit Bureau of Circulations statements.
 In 2007, it was commonly believed to be the largest paid-subscription news site on the Web, with 980,000 paid subscribers.
 Since then, online subscribership has fallen, due in part to rising subscription costs, and was reported at 400,000 in March 2010.
 In May 2008, an annual subscription to the online edition of The Wall Street Journal cost $119 for those who do not have subscriptions to the print edition. By June 2013, the monthly cost for a subscription to the online edition was $22.99, or $275.88 annually, excluding introductory offers.
On November 30, 2004,
Oasys Mobile and The Wall Street Journal released an app that would allow users to access content from the Wall Street Journal Online via their mobile phone.
Many of The Wall Street Journal news stories are available through free online newspapers that subscribe to the Dow Jones
syndicate. Pulitzer Prize–winning stories from 1995 are available free on the Pulitzer
 web site.
In September 2005, the Journal launched a weekend edition, delivered to all subscribers, which marked a return to Saturday publication after a lapse of some 50 years. The move was designed in part to attract more consumer advertising.
In 2005, the Journal reported a readership profile of about 60 percent top management, an average income of $191,000, an average household net worth of $2.1 million, and an average age of 55.
In 2007, the Journal launched a worldwide expansion of its website to include major foreign-language editions. The paper had also shown an interest in buying the rival
The nameplate is unique in having a period at the end.
On September 5, 2006, the Journal included advertising on its front page for the first time. This followed the introduction of front-page advertising on the European and Asian editions in late 2005.
After presenting nearly identical front-page layouts for half a century—always six columns, with the day's top stories in the first and sixth columns, "What's News" digest in the second and third, the "A-hed" feature story in the fourth (with 'hed' being jargon for
headline) and themed weekly reports in the fifth column
 – the paper in 2007 decreased its
broadsheet width from 15 to 12 inches while keeping the length at 223⁄4 inches, to save
newsprint costs. News design consultant
Mario Garcia collaborated on the changes. Dow Jones said it would save US$18 million a year in newsprint costs across all The Wall Street Journal papers.
 This move eliminated one column of print, pushing the "A-hed" out of its traditional location (though the paper now usually includes a quirky feature story on the right side of the front page, sandwiched among the lead stories).
The paper stillhedcuts, introduced in 1979 and originally created by
 in addition to photographs, a method of illustration considered a consistent visual signature of the paper. The Journal still heavily employs the use of
caricatures, notably those of
Ken Fallin, such as when
Peggy Noonan memorialized then-recently deceased newsman
 The use of color photographs and graphics has become increasingly common in recent years with the addition of more "lifestyle" sections.
uses ink dot drawings called
The daily was awarded by the
Society for News Design World's Best Designed Newspaper award for 1994 and 1997.
News Corporation and News Corp
On May 2, 2007,
News Corporation made an unsolicited takeover bid for Dow Jones, offering US$60 a share for stock that had been selling for US$33 a share. The
Bancroft family, which controlled more than 60% of the voting stock, at first rejected the offer, but later reconsidered its position.
Three months later, on August 1, 2007, News Corporation and Dow Jones entered into a definitive merger agreement.
 The US$5 billion sale added The Wall Street Journal to
Rupert Murdoch's news empire, which already included
Fox News Channel,
financial network unit and London's
The Times, and locally within New York, the
New York Post, along with
WNYW (Channel 5) and
WWOR (Channel 9).
On December 13, 2007, shareholders representing more than 60 percent of Dow Jones's voting stock approved the company's acquisition by News Corporation.
In an editorial page column, publisher
L. Gordon Crovitz said the Bancrofts and News Corporation had agreed that the Journal's news and opinion sections would preserve their editorial independence from their new corporate parent:
A special committee was established to oversee the paper's editorial integrity. When the managing editor
Marcus Brauchli resigned on April 22, 2008, the committee said that News Corporation had violated its agreement by not notifying the committee earlier. However, Brauchli said he believed that new owners should appoint their own editor.
A 2007 Journal article quoted charges that Murdoch had made and broken similar promises in the past. One large shareholder commented that Murdoch has long "expressed his personal, political and business biases through his newspapers and television stations". Former
Times assistant editor Fred Emery remembers an incident when "Mr. Murdoch called him into his office in March 1982 and said he was considering firing Times editor
Harold Evans. Mr. Emery says he reminded Mr. Murdoch of his promise that editors couldn't be fired without the independent directors' approval. 'God, you don't take all that seriously, do you?' Mr. Murdoch answered, according to Mr. Emery." Murdoch eventually forced out Evans.
The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had artificially inflated its European sales numbers, by paying Executive Learning Partnership for purchasing 16% of European sales. These inflated sales numbers then enabled the Journal to charge similarly inflated advertising rates, as the advertisers would think that they reached more readers than they actually did. In addition, the Journal agreed to run "articles" featuring Executive Learning Partnership, presented as news, but effectively advertising.
 The case came to light after a Belgian Wall Street Journal employee,
Gert Van Mol, informed Dow Jones CEO
Les Hinton about the questionable practice.
 As a result, the then Wall Street Journal Europe CEO and Publisher Andrew Langhoff was fired after it was found out he personally pressured journalists into covering one of the newspaper's business partners involved in the issue.
 Since September 2011 all the online articles that resulted from the ethical wrongdoing carry a Wall Street Journal disclaimer informing the readers about the circumstances in which they were created.
The Journal, along with its parent Dow Jones & Company, was among the businesses News Corporation spun off in 2013 as the new
News Corp. In November 2016, in an effort to cut costs, the Journal's editor-in-chief, Gerard Baker, announced that layoffs and consolidation to its sections would take place. In the memo, the new format for the newspaper will have a "Business & Finance" section that will combine its current "Business & Tech" and "Money & Investing" sections. It will also include a new "Life & Arts" section that will combine its current "Personal Journal" and "Arena" sections. In addition, the current "Greater New York" coverage will be reduced and will move into the main section of paper.