About Joseph (József) Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer April 10, 1847 – October 29, 1911), born Pulitzer József, was a Hungarian-American newspaper publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World. Pulitzer introduced the techniques of "new journalism" to the newspapers he acquired in the 1880s and became a leading national figure in the Democratic Party. He crusaded against big business and corruption. In the 1890s the fierce competition between his World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal introduced yellow journalism and opened the way to mass circulation newspapers that depended on advertising revenue and appealed to the reader with multiple forms of news, entertainment and advertising.
Today, he is best known for posthumously establishing the Pulitzer Prizes.
The first Pulitzers emigrated from Moravia to Hungary at the end of the 18th century. Joseph Pulitzer's native town was Makó, about 200 km southeast of Budapest. The Pulitzers were among several Jewish families living in the area, and had established a reputation as merchants and shopkeepers. Joseph's father, Fülöp Pulitzer, was a respected businessman and was regarded as the "foremost merchant" of Makó. In 1853, Fülöp was rich enough to retire and move his family to Budapest, where the children were educated by private tutors and learned French and German. However, in 1858, after Fülöp's death, his business went bankrupt and the family became impoverished. Joseph attempted to enlist in various European armies before he finally emigrated to America.
Pulitzer arrived in Boston in 1864, his passage having been paid by Massachusetts military recruiters, but learning that the recruiters were pocketing the lion's share of his enlistment bounty, Pulitzer sneaked away from the Deer Island recruiting station and made his way to New York, where he was paid $200 to enroll in the Lincoln Cavalry on September 30; he was 17. He was a part of Sheridan's troopers, in the First New York Lincoln Cavalry in Company L. where he served for eight months. Although he spoke three languages: German, Hungarian, and French, he knew only a little English and until after the war because his regiment was mostly composed of Germans.
After the war
After the war, he returned to New York City, where he stayed briefly. He moved to New Bedford for whaling, learned it was moribund, and returned to New York with little money. He was flat broke and sleeping in wagons on cobble-stoned side streets. He decided to travel by "side-door Pullman" (a euphemism for a freight boxcar) to St. Louis, Missouri. He sold his one possession, a white handkerchief, for 75 cents.
When he arrived to the city, he recalled, "The lights of St. Louis looked like a promised land to me." In the city, German was as useful as it was in Munich. In the Westliche Post, he saw an ad for a mule hostler at Benton Barracks. The next day he walked four miles, got the job, but held it for a mere two days. He quit due to the food and the whims of the mules, stating "The man who has not cared for sixteen mules does not know what work and troubles are". He had difficulty holding jobs; either he was too scrawny for heavy labor or too proud and temperamental to take orders.
One job that he held was that of a waiter at Tony Faust's famous restaurant on Fifth Street, frequented by members of the St. Louis Philosophical Society, including Thomas Davidson, fellow German and nephew of Otto Von Bismarck Henry C. Brockmeyer and William Torrey Harris. He studied Brockmeyer, who was famous for translating Hegel, and he "would hang on Brockmeyer's thunderous words, even as he served them pretzels and beer". He was soon fired after a tray slipped from his hand and soaked a patron. He would spend his free time at the St. Louis Mercantile Library on the corner of Fifth and Locust, studying English and reading voraciously. Soon after, he and several dozen men each paid a fast-talking promoter five dollars. He promised them well paying jobs on a Louisiana sugar plantation. They boarded a malodorous little steamboat, which took them down river 30 miles south of the city. When the boat churned away, it appeared to them that it was a ruse. They walked back to the city, where Joseph wrote an account of the fraud and was pleased when it was accepted by the Westliche Post, evidently his first published news story.
In the building was the Westliche Post, co-edited by Dr. Emil Pretorius and Carl Schurz, attorneys William Patrick and Charles Phillip Johnson and surgeon Joseph Nash McDowell. Patrick and Johnson referred to Pulitzer as "Shakespeare" because of his extraordinary profile. Patrick and Johnson helped him secure another job, this time with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. His task was to record the railroad land deeds in the twelve counties in southwest Missouri where the railroad planned to build a line. When he was done the lawyers gave him desk space and access to their library where Pulitzer studied law. On March 6, 1867, he renounced his allegiance to Austria and became an American citizen. He still frequented the Mercantile Library where he befriended the librarian, Udo Brachvogel, with whom he remained friends for the rest of his life. He was often in the chess room where another player, Carl Schurz, noticed his aggressive game play. Schurz was looked up to by Pulitzer. He was an inspiring emblem of American democracy and of the success attainable by a foreign-born citizen through his own energies and skills. In 1868, he was admitted to the bar, but his broken English and odd appearance kept clients away. He struggled with the execution of minor papers and the collecting of debts. Only in 1868, when the Westliche Post needed a reporter, he was offered the job.
In 1898, Pulitzer's older daughter, Lucille Pulitzer, died at the age of 17 from typhoid fever after four months of suffering.
Pulitzer displayed a flair for reporting. He would work 16 hours a day—from 10 AM to 2 AM. He was nicknamed "Joey the German" or "Joey the Jew." He joined the Philosophical Society and he frequented a German bookstore where many intellectuals hung out. Among his new repertoire of friends were Joseph Keppler and Thomas Davidson.
He joined the Republican Party. On December 14, 1869, Pulitzer attended the Republican meeting at the St. Louis Turnhalle on Tenth Street, where party leaders needed a candidate to fill a vacancy in the state legislature. They settled on Pulitzer, nominating him unanimously, forgetting he was only 22, three years under the required age. However, his chief Democratic opponent was possibly ineligible because he had served in the Confederate army. Pulitzer had energy. He organized street meetings, called personally on the voters, and exhibited such sincerity along with his oddities that he had pumped a half-amused excitement into a campaign that was normally lethargic. He won 209-147.
His age was not made an issue and he was seated as a state representative in Jefferson City at the session beginning January 5, 1870. He had lived there for only two years, an example of quick accomplishment of political power. He also moved him up one notch in the administration at the Westliche Post. He eventually became its managing editor, and obtained a proprietary interest.
In 1872, he was a delegate to the Cincinnati convention of the Liberal Republican Party which nominated Horace Greeley for the presidency. However, the attempt at electing Greeley as president failed, the party collapsed, and Pulitzer, disillusioned with the corruption in the Republican Party, switched to the Democratic Party. In 1880, he was a delegate to the Democratic national convention and a member of its platform committee from Missouri.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In 1872, Pulitzer purchased a share in the Westliche Post for $3,000, and then sold his stake in the paper for a profit in 1873. In 1879, he bought the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post and merged the two papers as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which remains St. Louis's daily newspaper. It was at the Post-Dispatch that Pulitzer developed his role as a champion of the common man with exposés and a hard-hitting populist approach.
At the age of 31 he married Kate Davis, an intelligent, compassionate woman of high social standing.
New York World
In 1883, Pulitzer, by then a wealthy man, purchased the New York World, a newspaper that had been losing $40,000 a year, for $346,000 from Jay Gould. Pulitzer shifted its focus to human-interest stories, scandal, and sensationalism. In 1884, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and served from March 4, 1885, until April 10, 1886 when he resigned on account of the pressure of journalistic duties.
In 1887, he recruited the famous investigative journalist Nellie Bly. In 1895 the World introduced the immensely popular The Yellow Kid comic by Richard F. Outcault, the first newspaper comic printed with color. Under Pulitzer's leadership circulation grew from 15,000 to 600,000, making it the largest newspaper in the country.
Charles A. Dana, the editor of the rival New York Sun attacked Pulitzer in print, often using anti-semitic terms like "Judas Pulitzer".
In 1895, William Randolph Hearst purchased the rival New York Journal from Pulitzer's brother, Albert, which led to a circulation war. This competition with Hearst, particularly the coverage before and during the Spanish-American War, linked Pulitzer's name with yellow journalism.
Pulitzer had an uncanny knack for appealing to the common man. His World featured illustrations, advertising, and a culture of consumption for working men who, Pulitzer believed, saved money to enjoy life with their families when they could, at Coney Island for example. Crusades for reform and news of entertainment were the two main staples for the 'World.' Before the demise of the paper in 1931, many of the best reporters in America worked for it.
After the World exposed an illegal payment of $40,000 000 by the United States to the French Panama Canal Company in 1909, Pulitzer was indicted for libeling Theodore Roosevelt and J. P. Morgan. The courts dismissed the indictments.
Pulitzer's already failing health (mainly blindness, depression, and acute noise sensitivity) deteriorated rapidly and he withdrew from the daily management of the newspaper, although he continued to actively manage the paper from his vacation retreat in Bar Harbor, Maine, and his New York mansion.
Frank I. Cobb (1869–1923) was hired as the editor of the New York 'World,' and resisted Pulitzer's attempts to "run the office" from his home. However hard the elder man might try, he simply could not keep from meddling with Cobb's work. Time after time, they battled each other, often with heated language. While they found common ground in their support of Woodrow Wilson as president, they disagreed on many other issues.
When Pulitzer's son took over administrative responsibility in 1907, Pulitzer wrote a precisely worded resignation that was printed in every New York paper except the World. Pulitzer raged at the insult but slowly began to respect Cobb's editorials and independent spirit. Exchanges, commentaries, and messages between them increased. The good rapport between the two was based largely on Cobb's flexibility. In May 1908, Cobb and Pulitzer met to outline plans for a consistent editorial policy. However, the editorial policy did waver on occasion.
Renewed battles broke out over the most trivial matters. Pulitzer's demands for editorials on contemporary breaking news led to overwork by Cobb. Pulitzer revealed concern by sending him on a six-week tour of Europe to restore his spirit. Pulitzer died shortly after Cobb's return; then Cobb published Pulitzer's beautifully written resignation. Cobb retained the editorial policies he had shared with Pulitzer until he died of cancer in 1923.
Once, Professor Thomas Davidson asked of Pulitzer in a company meeting, "I cannot understand why it is, Mr. Pulitzer, that you always speak so kindly of reporters and so severely of all editors." "Well," Pulitzer replied, "I suppose it is because every reporter is a hope, and every editor is a disappointment." This phrase became a famous epigram of journalism.
For a period of six months during 1907, the South African writer, poet and medical doctor C. Louis Leipoldt was Pulitzer's personal physician aboard his yacht, the Liberty. Going to Pulitzer's winter home on Jekyll Island, Georgia, the yacht stopped in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, for five days before his death. On October 29, 1911, Pulitzer's last words came while having his German secretary read to him about King Louis XI of France. As the secretary neared the end of the account, Pulitzer said his last words in German: "Leise, ganz leise" (English: "Softly, quite softly"). He is interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.
In 1892, Pulitzer offered Columbia University's president, Seth Low, money to set up the world's first school of journalism. The university initially turned down the money, evidently turned off by Pulitzer's odd personality. In 1902, Columbia's new president Nicholas Murray Butler was more receptive to the plan for a school and prizes, but it would not be until after Pulitzer's death that this dream would be fulfilled. Pulitzer left the university $2,000,000 in his will, which led to the creation in 1934 of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, but, by then, at Pulitzer's urging the Missouri School of Journalism had been created at the University of Missouri. Both schools remain among the most prestigious in the world.
In 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded, in accordance with Pulitzer's wishes.
In 1989 Pulitzer was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. A fictionalized version of Joseph Pulitzer is portrayed by Robert Duvall in the 1992 Disney film musical, Newsies. He is the main antagonist of that film.
There is also a school in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York named after Pulitzer.
-------------------- Namesake of the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzers were in the news and publishing business.
Joseph Pulitzer's Timeline
April 10, 1847
Makó, Makói, Csongrád, Hungary
June 11, 1879
October 29, 1911
Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, United States