Joseph Pulitzer

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Joseph Pulitzer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1885 – April 10, 1886
Preceded by John Hardy
Succeeded by Samuel Cox
Personal details
Born Pulitzer József
(1847-04-10)April 10, 1847
Makó, Kingdom of Hungary, Austrian Empire
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Charleston, South Carolina, United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Katherine "Kate" Davis (1878–1911; his death; 7 children)
Occupation Publisher, philanthropist, journalist, lawyer
Religion Judaism
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Union Army
Years of service 1864–1865
Unit First Regiment, New York Cavalry
Battles/wars American Civil War

Joseph Pulitzer (Listeni/ˈpʊltsər/ PUUL-it-sər,[2] [ˈpulit͡sɛr] in original Hungarian; April 10, 1847 – October 29, 1911), born József Pulitzer, was a Hungarian-born 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. 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 the 1890s the fierce competition between his World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal caused both to use yellow journalism for wider appeal; it opened the way to mass-circulation newspapers that depended on advertising revenue and appealed to readers with multiple forms of news, entertainment and advertising.

Today, he is best known for the Pulitzer Prizes, which were established in 1917 by money he bequeathed to Columbia University to recognize artistic and journalistic achievements. The prizes are given annually to award achievements in journalism and photography, as well as literature and history, poetry, music and drama. Pulitzer founded the Columbia School of Journalism by his philanthropic bequest; it opened in 1912.

Early life

He was born as Pulitzer József (name order by Hungarian custom) in Makó, about 200 km south-east of Budapest in Hungary, the son of Elize (Berger) and Fülöp Pulitzer.[3] 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 Moravia to Hungary at the end of the 18th century.[4]

In 1853, Fülöp Pulitzer was rich enough to retire. He moved his family to Pest, where he had the children educated by private tutors, and taught French and German. In 1858, after Fülöp's death, his business went bankrupt, and the family became impoverished. Joseph attempted to enlist in various European armies for work before emigrating to the United States.[5]

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 the long American Civil War. Learning that the recruiters were pocketing the lion's share of his enlistment bounty, Pulitzer snuck away from the Deer Island recruiting station and made his way to New York. He was paid $200 to enroll in the Lincoln Cavalry on September 30.[6] 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 because his regiment was composed mostly of German immigrants.[7]

After the war

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 "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 Pulitzer arrived at the city, he recalled, "The lights of St. Louis looked like a promised land to me". In the city, his German was as useful as it was in Munich because of the large ethnic German population, due to strong immigration since the revolutions of 1848. In the Westliche Post, he saw an ad for a mule hostler at Benton Barracks. The next day he walked four miles and got the job, but held it for only two days. He quit due to the poor 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."[8] Pulitzer had difficulty holding jobs; he was too scrawny for heavy labor and likely too proud and temperamental to take orders.

He worked as a waiter at Tony Faust, a famous restaurant on Fifth Street. It was frequented by members of the St. Louis Philosophical Society, including Thomas Davidson, the German Henry C. Brockmeyer, a nephew of Otto Von Bismarck; and William Torrey Harris. Pulitzer 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".[citation needed] He was fired after a tray slipped from his hand and a patron was soaked in beer.

Pulitizer spent 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 good-paying jobs on a Louisiana sugar plantation. They boarded a steamboat, which took them downriver 30 miles south of the city, where the crew forced them off. When the boat churned away, the men concluded the promised plantation jobs were a ruse. They walked back to the city, where Pulitzer 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 where the Westliche Post was co-edited by Dr. Emil Pretorius and Carl Schurz, the attorneys William Patrick and Charles Phillip Johnson and surgeon Joseph Nash McDowell also worked. Patrick and Johnson referred to Pulitzer as "Shakespeare" because of his extraordinary profile. They helped him secure a job with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.[9] His work was to record the railroad land deeds in the twelve counties in southwest Missouri where the railroad planned to build a line.[10] When he was done, the lawyers gave him desk space and allowed him to study law in their library to prepare for the bar.

On March 6, 1867, Pulitzer renounced his allegiance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became a naturalized American citizen. He still frequented the Mercantile Library, where he befriended the librarian Udo Brachvogel in what became a lifetime relationship. He often played in the chess room where Carl Schurz noticed his aggressive style. Schurz was admired 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, Pulitzer 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. That year, when the Westliche Post needed a reporter, he was offered the job.[11]

Newspaper career

A chromolithograph of Pulitzer superimposed on a composite of his newspapers.

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. Among his new group of friends were Joseph Keppler and Thomas Davidson.[12]

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. 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.[13]

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 in 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. In 1880, he was a delegate to the Democratic national convention and a member of its platform committee from Missouri.[13]

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 the following year. In 1879, he bought both the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post, merging the two papers as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It continues as St. Louis' daily newspaper. With his own paper, Pulitzer developed his role as a champion of the common man, featuring exposés and a hard-hitting populist approach.[13]

Marriage and family

In 1878 at the age of 31, Pulitzer married Katherine "Kate" Davis (1853-1927), an intelligent, compassionate woman of high social standing from a wealthy Mississippi plantation family, who were slaveholders before the American Civil War. She was five years younger than Pulitzer and a distant relative of Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederate States of America.

Of seven children, five lived to adulthood: Ralph, Joseph Jr., Constance Helen (1888-1938), who married William Gray Elmslie, D.D.[14] Edith (1886-1975), who married William Scoville Moore,[15] and Herbert, eventually his brother Ralph's partner at the Post. On December 31, 1897, their older daughter, Lucille Irma Pulitzer, died at the age of 17 from typhoid fever . Their other daughter, Katherine Ethel Pulitzer, died of pneumonia in May 1884.

Pulitzer's grandson, Herbert Pulitzer, Jr. was married to the American fashion designer and socialite Lilly Pulitzer.[16]

Following a fire at his former residence, Pulitzer commissioned Stanford White to design a limestone-clad Venetian palazzo at 11 East 73rd Street in the Upper East Side; it was completed in 1903.[17] Pulitzer's thoughtful seated portrait by John Singer Sargent is at the Columbia School of Journalism that he founded.

The family continued to be involved in the operation of the St. Louis paper for several generations until April 1995, when Joseph Pulitzer IV resigned from the paper in a management dispute.[18]

New York World

Editorial cartoon by Leon Barritt. Newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, full-length dressed as Yellow Kids (a popular cartoon character of the day), each pushing against opposite sides of a pillar of wooden blocks that spells WAR. This is a satire of the Pulitzer and Hearst newspapers' role in drumming up USA public opinion to go to war with Spain. First published 29 June 1898.

In 1883, Pulitzer, by now a wealthy man, purchased the New York World from Jay Gould for $346,000. The newspaper had been losing $40,000 a year. To raise circulation, Pulitzer emphasized human-interest stories, scandal, and sensationalism.

In 1884, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New York, and served from March 4, 1885, until April 10, 1886. He resigned due to 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 in color. Under Pulitzer's leadership, circulation grew from 15,000 to 600,000, making it the largest newspaper in the country.[19]

Charles A. Dana, the editor of the rival New York Sun, attacked Pulitzer in print, often using anti-Semitic terms like "Judas Pulitzer".[20] In 1895, William Randolph Hearst purchased the rival New York Journal from Pulitzer's brother, Albert. The two embarked on a circulation war. This competition with Hearst, particularly the coverage before and during the Spanish–American War, linked Pulitzer's name with yellow journalism.[21]

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.[22] Crusades for reform and news of entertainment were the two main staples for the 'World.'

Despite this 'knack', Pulitzer along with William Randolph Hearst were the cause of "the newsboys' strike of 1899, a youth-led campaign to force change in the way that Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst's newspapers compensated their child newspaper hawkers".

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.[23]


Pulitzer's health problems (blindness, depression, and acute noise sensitivity)[24] caused a rapid deterioration, and he had to withdraw from the daily management of the newspaper. But, he continued to manage the paper from his New York mansion, his winter retreat at the Jekyll Island Club on Jekyll Island, Georgia, and his summer vacation retreat in Bar Harbor, Maine.

After he hired Frank I. Cobb (1869–1923) as the editor of the New York World, the younger man resisted Pulitzer's attempts to "run the office" from his home. Time after time, they battled each other, often with heated language.

When Pulitzer's son took over administrative responsibility in 1907, Pulitzer wrote a carefully worded resignation. It was printed in every New York paper except the World. Pulitzer was insulted, but slowly began to respect Cobb's editorials and independent spirit. Their exchanges, commentaries, and messages 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 but it wavered on occasion.

Pulitzer's demands for editorials on contemporary breaking news led to overwork by Cobb. Pulitzer sent him on a six-week tour of Europe to restore his spirit. Cobb continued the editorial policies he had shared with Pulitzer until he died of cancer in 1923.[25]

In a company meeting, Professor Thomas Davidson had said,

"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."[26]

This phrase became a famous epigram of journalism.[26][citation needed]


For six months during 1908, C. Louis Leipoldt, a South African doctor, writer, and poet, was Pulitzer's personal physician aboard his yacht Liberty.[27] While traveling to his winter home at the Jekyll Island Club on Jekyll Island, Georgia in 1911, Pulitzer had his yacht stop in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. On October 29, 1911, Pulitzer listened to his German secretary read aloud about King Louis XI of France. As the secretary neared the end, Pulitzer said in German: "Leise, ganz leise" (English: "Softly, quite softly"), and died.[28] His body was returned to New York for services, and he was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.


Journalism schools

The grave of Joseph Pulitzer in Woodlawn Cemetery

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. In 1902, Columbia's new president Nicholas Murray Butler was more receptive to the plan for a school and journalism 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.[29] In 1912 the school founded the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. This followed the Missouri School of Journalism, founded at the University of Missouri with Pulitzer's urging. Both schools remain among the most prestigious in the world.

Pulitzer Prize

In 1917, Columbia organized the awards of the first Pulitzer Prizes in journalism. The awards have been expanded to recognize achievements in literature, poetry, history, music, and drama.

Legacy and honors

  • The Pulitzer Art Museum in Saint Louis was founded by his family's philanthropy and is named in their honor.
  • In 1989 Joseph Pulitzer was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[30]
  • He is featured as a character in the Disney movie Newsies (1992), and the Broadway production adapted from it which was produced in 2011.
  • In the 2014 historical novel, The New Colossus, by Marshall Goldberg, published by Diversion Books,[31] Joseph Pulitzer gives reporter Nellie Bly the assignment of investigating the death of poet Emma Lazarus.
  • The Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam was named after him.

See also


  1. Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Pulitzer prizes – Answers to frequently asked questions". Retrieved August 10, 2009. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>. The more anglicized pronunciation /ˈpjuːlɪtsər/ PEW-lit-sər is common but widely considered incorrect.
  3. "Joseph Pulitzer: Hungarian revolutionary in America".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Pulitzer Prizes - Pulitzer biography".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. András Csillag, "Joseph Pulitzer's Roots in Europe: A Genealogical History," American Jewish Archives, Jan 1987, Vol. 39 Issue 1, pp 49–68
  6. Morris, "Pulitzer," pp. 18–21
  7. Swanberg, Pulitzer, pp. 3–4
  8. Swanberg, Pulitzer, pp. 4–5
  9. Swanberg, Pulitzer, p. 7
  10. Morris, "Pulitzer", p. 35
  11. Swanberg, Pulitzer, pp. 7–8
  12. Swanberg, Pulitzer, p. 10
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Brian (2001)
  14. New York Times, "Miss Pulitzer weds brother's tutor" 1913; the writer Kenward Elmslie is their son.
  15. New York Times, "Miss Edith Pulitzer to Wed W.S. Moore", 1911; Moore was the great-grandson of Clement Clarke Moore.
  16. Horwell, Veronica (April 10, 2013). "Lilly Pulitzer obituary". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved October 7, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Joseph Pulitzer Residence
  18. Garrison, Chad. "Pulitzer's Pain". Riverfront Times. Retrieved October 20, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Brian, Pulitzer (2001)
  20. Brian (2001), p. 129
  21. Buescher, John. "Breaking the News in 1900", accessed September 2, 2011
  22. J.E. Steele, "The 19th Century World Versus the Sun: Promoting Consumption (Rather than the Working Man)," Journalism Quarterly, Autumn 1990, Vol. 67 Issue 3, pp 592–600
  23. Seymour Topping, "Pulitzer's Biography" retrieved on 29 September 2014.
  24. topping, seymour. "Pulitzer Biography". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved March 5, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Louis M. Starr, "Joseph Pulitzer and his most 'indegoddampendent' editor," American Heritage, June 1968, Vol. 19 Issue 4, pp 18–85
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Training for the Newspaper Trade" Don Carlos Seitz Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Company 1916. Pg. 66
  27. J.C Kannemeyer (1999). Leipoldt 'n Lewensverhaal. Cape Town: Tafelberg Uitgewers Beperk. Translation: Leipoldt a biography. Table Mountain Publishers Ltd.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Joseph Pulitzer Dies Here," Charleston (S.C.) News & Courier, October 30, 1911, p.1.
  29. Heinz-Dietrich Fischer (1987). "The" Pulitzer Prize Archive: A History and Anthology of Award-winning Materials in Journalism, Letters, and Arts. Walter de Gruyter. p. 1. ISBN 9783598301704.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Retrieved April 25, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "The New Colossus". Retrieved April 29, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links

  • Original New York World articles at Nellie Bly Online
  • NY Times – Harper's Weekly political cartoon American Editors. II.--Joseph Pulitzer; includes in-depth biographical information
  • Texts on Wikisource:
    • [ "Pulitzer, Joseph" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • [ "Pulitzer, Joseph" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). New International Encyclopedia. 1905.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • [ "Pulitzer, Joseph" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). The Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1918.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • [ "Pulitzer, Joseph" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • [ "Pulitzer, Joseph" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • [ "Pulitzer, Joseph" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). 1922.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Hardy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 9th congressional district

March 4, 1885 – April 10, 1886
Succeeded by
Samuel S. Cox