John Walter (1739-1812), a former coal merchant, founded The Daily Universal Register on January 1, 1785. After over-speculating in London's Coal Exchange, he switched entreprenuerial interests. He purchased a patent for logography, a new printing process using words and groups of letters instead of individual letters, and ultimately bought a printing business and started publishing books in 1784. Shortly afterward, he realized the potential of printing a tabloid, and thus The Times was born. Three John Walkers, in succession - founder, son, and grandson - managed the paper. It was owned by the family until 1908.
The Daily Universal Register evolved into The Times on January 1, 1788. Since then, it has become a publication known for its journalistic integrity, although John Walker, the founder, was found guilty of libel several times for the opinions he voiced in his columns, resulting in fines and some time spent in Newgate Prison. John Walker, the son, began managing the paper in 1803. It was he who turned it from a gossipy tabloid into a respected periodical.
Learn more about "The origins of The Times" in an online article at the Times Online website.