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Background

The publisher as a young man
The publisher as a young man
Pulitzer was born to a wealthy family in Hungary on April 10, 1847. 2  He received a quality education and sought adventure in the army as a teenager. The Hungarian army rejected him because of his poor eyesight and frail body. After two other European armies declined to admit him, Pulitzer resolved to join the American Union army, which was soliciting in Hungary at the time. He emigrated to the United States in 1864 and fought without distinction until the end of the war. 3 

After the war, Pulitzer travelled to St. Louis, which had a large German-speaking population. There he worked odd jobs, including a lucrative position burying the dead during a cholera outbreak in 1866. He caught the attention of a local German-language newspaper editor in the chess room of the Mercantile Library. Pulitzer's quick mind and perseverance prompted Carl Schurz of the Westliche Post to hire him as a reporter. While working on the paper, Pulitzer got his first taste of politics, which would obsess him the rest of his life. He competed in a special election in 1869 to fill a seat in the lower house of the state legislature and won as a Republican.

As a legislator, he fought corruption within the city government. One day, Captain Edward Augustine, a lobbyist who disagreed with Pulitzer, publicly called him a "damned liar." Pulitzer adjourned to his room a short distance away and returned in ten minutes brandishing a pistol. In the melée that ensued, Pulitzer fired two shots as Augustine charged him. One of the bullets went stray, and one lodged itself in the lobbyist's leg. Accounts differ as to whether Augustine had a pistol himself, although Pulitzer claimed he had received a large gash on his head from being clubbed with a gun.

Pulitzer lost much credibility in the legislature even though guns were common accessories at the time. However, he was not heavily sanctioned by the courts. He paid a $100 fine for his misconduct and had to compensate the court $300. He borrowed the money from friends. An unsigned account of Pulitzer's life which declared it was "AN INTIMATE NARRATIVE" analyzed the implications of the affair. "If Mr. Pulitzer ever afterward formed any murderous purposes he failed to develop the courage of his convictions. He henceforward attacked character and reputation only." 4 

After earning money at minor political appointments and in law, Pulitzer continued to work on the Westliche Post and acquired a controlling interest from Schurz in 1872. He would later sell the paper back to its original proprietor for a $30,000 profit. Pulitzer continued to quietly invest in lagging newspapers and make money. By age 31, he had acquired a small nest egg and married Kate Davis, an intelligent, compassionate woman of high social standing.

After returning from the honeymoon in Europe, he purchased the St. Louis Dispatch in a manner similar to the other newspaper deals. He paid about $3,000 for the lagging daily through a secret bidder at an auction. After merging with the Post, he laid the foundation for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which would prosper under his leadership and make him an early fortune.

In 1883, he yearned for a larger audience and bought the New York World from financier Jay Gould for $346,000. He moved with his family to New York, retaining ownership of and control over the Post-Dispatch. Pulitzer would continue to correspond daily with the St. Louis office until his death, but he devoted most of his energy to the World, which would become larger and more influential with time. In 1883, however, the World was a small fish in a sea of New York journals. Pulitzer turned the mediocre daily into one of the premier papers in the city, and the world. His changes in style and content increased the World's circulation ten times in five years, from 15,000 to 150,000. 5 


Cite This Site
Page 1     Page 2     Notes     Endnotes     Full Document    

1. Introduction to the paper 2. Background on J.P. 3. Changing the look of the front page 4. A paper for the people
5. Opinions and hard news 6. A Democratic paper 7. Defining "Yellow Journalism": Competition with Hearst 8. Crusades
9. Wasting of the body 10. Working for Pulitzer 11. Leaving an endowment

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