TIME CAPSULE 1847 — Joseph Pulitzer, a famed American newspaper publisher, was born 171 years ago on April 10, 1847, in Mako, Hungary. 

Throughout his 20s, Pulitzer began to build a strong reputation as a journalist in Europe and eventually moved to the U.S.. In 1872, at age 25, Pulitzer was offered an executive position at the Westliche-Post, a German language daily newspaper in St. Louis, according to Pulitzer.org. By 1878, he was the owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

pulled from wikimedia commons

pulled from wikimedia commons

According to the biography “Joseph Pulitzer and His World” written by James Wyman Barrett, Pulitzer “worked at his desk from early morning until midnight or later, inserting himself in every detail of the paper.” Pulitzer’s editorial publications had mass appeal; he investigated corrupt politicians and busted gamblers and rich tax-evaders.The result of Pulitzer’s work was an increase in the Post-Dispatch’s circulation, which had been struggling in recent years. 

Pulitzer.org states that in 1883, Pulitzer’s health was beginning to fail and, instead of going on a doctor-ordered vacation to relax, he insisted on meeting with a financier named Jay Gould and purchasing The New York World, which was having some financial issues. Pulitzer built it up with techniques similar to the editorials he would write for the Post-Dispatch, but also employing new tactics such as events and ad campaigns. 

According to a publication by the National Parks Service about the Statue of Liberty, The New York World was extremely helpful in the completion of the pedestal on which Lady Liberty stands. In 1884, the statue was completed in France and ready to come to America, but the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty ran out of money for the construction of the pedestal, which was necessary for the statue to be placed once it arrived. However, through one of Pulitzer’s publications in The New York World, the committee received over $100,000 (equivalent to about $2,487,000 in 2018) in six months. Pulitzer’s editorial said, “We must raise the money! The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people- by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans- by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.” 

Pulitzer.org stated that, after his health declined even further in 1890, when he was 43, he retreated from the newsroom and directed the newspaper while traveling abroad searching for treatments for his ailments. 

But it was not an easy retirement. From 1896 to 1898, Pulitzer got caught up in a heated circulation battle with William Randolph Hearst, a rival newspaper owner and known as the founder of “yellow journalism” according to biography.com. While Hearst was forming his own newspaper empire, comprised of The San Francisco Examiner and later the Morning Journal and Evening Journal, he developed a dramatic style of journalism which involved speculative and exaggerated stories and punchy headlines. During the Cuban War of Independence, Hearst used this brand of “yellow journalism” to sell papers with headlines and stories about the war in an effort to beat-out The New York World. 

After the war ended, Pulitzer stopped practicing “yellow journalism.” In 1909, The New York World a $40 million fraudulent payment to the French Panama Canal Company from the U.S.. Although Pulitzer was indicted for allegedly libeling President Roosevelt and banker J.P. Morgan, The New York World continued it’s investigation into the payment and the courts eventually dismissed the indictments. 

Pulitzer died on his yacht on Oct. 29, 1911, at the age of 64. In the years before his death helped form the Columbia School of Journalism and in his will he donated over a million dollars to fund the school, offer scholarships and awards. One such award became known as the Pulitzer Prize and there are several awarded each year to recognize great achievements in American journalism, literature or music.   

Pulitzer.org stated in May, 1904, writing in The North American Review in support of his proposal for the founding of a school of journalism, Pulitzer said, “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.” 

Abbygail Vasas can be contacted at avasas@kscequinox.com

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