Joseph Pulitzer, Today's New Yorker Birthday: Innovative Publisher & Founder of the Pulitzer Prize.
Born on April 10th, 1847, Joseph Pulitzer was an American journalist and publisher who created, along with William Randolph Hearst, a new and controversial kind of journalism. Pulitzer supported organized labor, exposed political corruption and
was responsible to a large extent for passage of antitrust legislation and regulation of the insurance industry. He was also committed to raising the standards of the journalism profession. Pulitzer was the founder of the Pulitzer Prize the most prestigious award in American journalism, along with the Columbia University School of Journalism which opened in 1912.
He was born as Pulitzer József (name order by Hungarian custom) in Makó, about 200 km southeast of Budapest in Hungary, the son of Elize (Berger) and Fülöp Pulitzer. The Pulitzers were among several Jewish families living in the area and had established a reputation as merchants and shopkeepers. Joseph's father was a respected businessman, regarded as the second of the "foremost merchants" of Makó. Their ancestors emigrated from Police, Moravia to Hungary at the end of the 18th century.
Pulitzer arrived in Boston in 1864 at the age of 17, his passage having been paid by Massachusetts military recruiters who were seeking soldiers for theCivil War. Learning that the recruiters were pocketing the lion's share of his enlistment bounty, Pulitzer the recruiting station and made his way to New York. He was paid $200 to enroll in the Lincoln Cavalry on September 30. 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, Pulitzer learned little English until after the war, as his regiment was composed mostly of German immigrants. After the war, Pulitzer returned to New York City, where he stayed briefly. He moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts for the whaling industry, but found it was too boring for him. He returned to New York with little money. Flat broke, he slept in wagons on cobblestone side streets. He decided to travel by a freight boxcar to St. Louis, Missouri. He sold his one possession, a white handkerchief, for 75 cents.
His first jobs included working as a mule tender, waiter, and hack driver before he studied English at the Mercantile Library. In 1868, Pulitzer was recruited by Carl Schurz for his daily paper, the Westliche Post, published in German. 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 frequented a German bookstore where many intellectuals hung out.
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 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.
In 1872, Pulitzer 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 of the Republican Party, switched to the Democratic Party. He served as a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention in 1874, representing St. Louis; and in 1876 gave nearly 70 speeches in favor of Presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden.
He became a leading national figure in the Democratic Party and was elected congressman from New York. He crusaded against big business and corruption, and helped keep the Statue of Liberty in New York.
In 1878 at the age of 31, Pulitzer married Katherine "Kate" Davis (1853-1927), a woman of high social standing, from Georgetown in the District of Columbia. They had seven children.
In 1883, Pulitzer purchased the New York World for an estimated $300,000. He promised to use the paper to expose fraud, fight all public evils and abuses, and battle for the people with sincerity. He used one of his artists, Richard F. Outcault, to create cartoons depicting life in the slums. They were extremely popular with the readers; sales reached 600,000, making it the largest-circulating newspaper in the country.
Pulitzer worked with Nellie Bly, who pioneered investigative reporting by writing articles about poverty, housing, and labor conditions in New York City, along with her famous expose of the conditions at the Women’s Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (1887)/ by going undercover as mentally ill patient.
In the 1890s the fierce competition between his World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal caused both to develop the techniques of yellow journalism, which won over readers with sensationalism, sex, crime and graphic horrors. The wide appeal reached a million copies a day and opened the way to mass-circulation newspapers that depended on advertising revenue (rather than cover price or political party subsidies) and appealed to readers with multiple forms of news, gossip, entertainment and advertising.
In 1909, The World exposed a fraudulent payment of $40 million by the United States to the French Panama Canal Company. The federal government lashed back at The World by indicting Pulitzer for criminally libeling President Theodore Roosevelt and the banker J.P. Morgan, among others. Pulitzer refused to retreat, and The World persisted in its investigation. When the courts dismissed the indictments, Pulitzer was applauded for a crucial victory on behalf of freedom of the press.
In May 1904, writing in The North American Review in support of his proposal for the founding of a school of journalism, Pulitzer summarized his credo: "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."
Following a fire at his former residence at 10E. 55th Street in midtown Manhattan, Pulitzer commissioned Stanford White to design a limestone-clad Venetian palazzo at 11 East 73rd Street; it was completed in 1903. Pulitzer's thoughtful seated portrait by John Singer Sargent is at the Columbia School of Journalism.
Joseph Pulitzer died aboard his yacht in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor, in 1911. He was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. In 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded, in accordance with Pulitzer's wishes. More than 2,000 entries are submitted each year; only 21 awards are normally conferred.