Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan of Journalism

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Joseph Pulitzer, originally named Pulitzer József, was born in Hungary on April 10, 1847. He later became a prominent Hungarian-American newspaper publisher and politician. Pulitzer’s notable roles include ownership of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York World. His involvement in the Democratic Party led to his election as a congressman from New York.

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During the 1890s, Pulitzer’s rivalry with William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal spurred the development of yellow journalism tactics. This included sensationalized content focusing on topics such as sex, crime, and graphic imagery, which significantly boosted readership. Both newspapers achieved circulation figures reaching millions of copies daily, revolutionizing the newspaper industry by relying on advertising revenue rather than cover prices or political subsidies.

Pulitzer’s enduring legacy lies in establishing the Pulitzer Prize in 1917, facilitated by his endowment to Columbia University. These prestigious awards recognize excellence in various fields, including journalism, photography, literature, history, poetry, music, and drama. Additionally, Pulitzer’s philanthropic efforts led to the founding of the Columbia School of Journalism in 1912, further solidifying his impact on journalism.

Early Life and Immigration:

Joseph Pulitzer, born as Pulitzer József in Makó, Hungary, about 200 km southeast of Budapest, came from a family of Jewish merchants and shopkeepers. His parents, Elize (Berger) and Fülöp Pulitzer (born Politzer) were esteemed members of the community, with Fülöp being recognized as one of the leading merchants in Makó. The Pulitzer family’s roots can be traced back to Police in Moravia, where their ancestors immigrated at the end of the 18th century.

In 1853, Fülöp Pulitzer retired, relocating the family to Pest. There, Joseph and his siblings received education from private tutors, learning French and German, among other subjects. However, their prosperity took a turn in 1858 with Fülöp’s passing, leading to financial struggles and eventual bankruptcy. Left impoverished, Joseph attempted to find work in various European armies but faced rejection.

Joseph’s journey was pivotal when he was recruited in Hamburg, Germany, to join the Union forces in the American Civil War in August 1864. Despite his limited command of English, he embarked on the journey to the United States, with his passage funded by Massachusetts military recruiters. However, disillusioned by recruiters pocketing most of his enlistment bounty, Pulitzer abandoned the Deer Island recruiting station upon arrival in Boston and headed to New York.

Enlisting in the Lincoln Cavalry on September 30, 1864, for a sum of $200, Pulitzer became a part of Sheridan’s troopers, serving in the 1st New York Cavalry Regiment, Company L. He participated in the Appomattox Campaign, fighting in Virginia before being mustered out on June 5, 1865. Despite his linguistic abilities in German, Hungarian, and French, Pulitzer’s grasp of English remained limited until after the war, given the predominantly German composition of his regiment.

Early career in St. Louis

After his service in the Civil War, Joseph Pulitzer’s journey led him to New York City briefly before he ventured to New Bedford, Massachusetts, seeking opportunities in the whaling industry. However, finding the work dull and unfulfilling, he returned to New York with meager funds, facing dire financial straits. Sleeping in wagons on cobblestone streets due to his impoverished state, Pulitzer decided to embark on a journey to St. Louis, Missouri, traveling by “side-door Pullman” in a freight boxcar after selling his only possession, a white handkerchief for 75 cents.

Arriving in St. Louis, Pulitzer was captivated by the city’s lights, viewing it as a promised land. His proficiency in German proved advantageous, given the sizable German immigrant population in the city. He secured a job as a mule hostler at Benton Barracks, only to resign after two days due to subpar conditions and the challenges of handling mules. Pulitzer struggled to maintain employment, finding himself unsuitable for physically demanding tasks and reluctant to follow orders.

Joseph Pulitzer

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York’s 9th district
In officeMarch 4, 1885 – April 10, 1886
Preceded byJohn Hardy
Succeeded bySamuel Cox
Member of the Missouri House of Representatives
from the 5th St. Louis district
In officeJanuary 5, 1870 – March 24, 1870
Preceded byJohn Terry
Succeeded byNicholas M. Bell
Personal details
BornJózsef Pulitzer
April 10, 1847
Makó, Kingdom of Hungary
DiedOctober 29, 1911 (aged 64)
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
United States
Political partyRepublican (1870)
Liberal Republican (1870–74)
Democratic (1874–1911)
Spouse(s)Katherine “Kate” Davis (m. 1878); 7 children
OccupationPublisher, philanthropist, journalist, lawyer, politician
Net worthUS$30.6 million at the time of his death (about 0.09% of US GNP)
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/serviceUnion Army
Years of service1864–1865
Unit1st New York Cavalry Regiment
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
Battle of Dinwiddie Court House
Battle of Five Forks
Third Battle of Petersburg
Battle of Sailor’s Creek
Battle of Appomattox Station
Battle of Appomattox Court House

My employment as a waiter at Tony Faust’s renowned restaurant on Fifth Street gave Pulitzer insight into the intellectual circles of St. Louis, which members of the St. Louis Philosophical Society frequent. Here, he encountered figures like Thomas Davidson and William Torrey Harris, studying the works of intellectuals like Henry C. Brockmeyer. However, his tenure ended abruptly after an unfortunate incident involving spilled beer on a patron.

Despite setbacks, Pulitzer spent his spare time at the St. Louis Mercantile Library, immersing himself in English language studies and extensive reading. His friendship with librarian Udo Brachvogel flourished, while his chess prow caught the attention of Carl Schurz, a prominent German-born figure whom Pulitzer greatly admired.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Struggling to find success in his legal career due to his broken English and unconventional appearance, Pulitzer’s fortunes changed when he was offered a reporter position at the Westliche Post in 1868. His early journalistic endeavors included exposing fraud schemes, which earned him recognition and validation within the industry.

On March 6, 1867, Pulitzer achieved a significant milestone by becoming a naturalized American citizen, solidifying his commitment to his newfound homeland and paving the way for his illustrious journalism and public service career.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Rise in Journalism:

Upon entering the World of journalism and politics, Joseph Pulitzer’s remarkable profile and dedication quickly garnered attention and respect from his peers. He formed acquaintances in the Westliche Post building with attorneys William Patrick and Charles Phillip Johnson and surgeon Joseph Nash McDowell. Nicknamed “Shakespeare” by Patrick and Johnson due to his striking presence, Pulitzer’s connections led to a position with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. His responsibilities included recording land deeds for the railroad’s planned line in southwest Missouri, showcasing his meticulousness and dedication.

Pulitzer’s passion for reporting shone through as he immersed himself in his work, often dedicating 16 hours daily to his craft. Known affectionately as “Joey the German” or “Joey the Jew,” he integrated himself into St. Louis’ intellectual circles, joining the Philosophical Society and frequenting gatherings at a German bookstore where notable figures like Joseph Keppler and Thomas Davidson congregated.

In a surprising turn of events, Pulitzer found himself thrust into politics. Joining Carl Schurz’s Republican Party, he attended a party meeting in December 1869, where he was unexpectedly nominated as a candidate for the state legislature. Despite being only 22 years old, three years below the required age, Pulitzer’s energy and sincerity resonated with voters. He won the election with a vigorous campaign, exhibiting a commitment and engagement uncommon in traditional politics.

Seated as a state representative in Jefferson City, Pulitzer wasted no time making his mark. He supported adopting the Fifteenth Amendment and spearheaded efforts to reform the corrupt St. Louis County Court. However, his aggressive approach to tackling corruption led to a heated rivalry with Captain Edward Augustine, culminating in a violent altercation at Schmidt’s Hotel. The incident left Pulitzer and Augustine wounded, highlighting the intensity of the political climate in which Pulitzer operated.

Amidst his political endeavors, Pulitzer’s influence in journalism continued to grow. He ascended to the position of managing editor at the Westliche Post, eventually acquiring a proprietary interest in the publication. This began Pulitzer’s enduring legacy as a pioneering journalist and influential political figure.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Break from the Republican Party and Schurz

Joseph Pulitzer’s political journey took a significant turn with his break from the Republican Party and his alliance with reformist movements. In August 1870, alongside Carl Schurz and other anti-Grant Republicans, Pulitzer withdrew from the state convention in Missouri, instead endorsing a Liberal Republican ticket led by Benjamin Gratz Brown. This move proved successful, as Brown emerged victorious in the November election, posing a formidable challenge to President Grant’s re-election prospects. Following this victory, Pulitzer was appointed to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners by Brown on January 19, 1872.

In May 1872, Pulitzer attended the Cincinnati convention of the Liberal Republican Party as a delegate, where Horace Greeley was nominated for the presidency with Gratz Brown as his running mate. While Pulitzer and Schurz were initially expected to support Governor Brown for the presidential nomination, Schurz favored Charles Francis Adams Sr., leading to tensions within the party. Despite their efforts, Greeley’s campaign failed, resulting in the collapse of the Liberal Republican Party and leaving Pulitzer and Schurz politically adrift.

Disillusioned with the Republican Party’s corruption and its nomination of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Pulitzer threw his support behind the Democratic candidate, Samuel J. Tilden. He embarked on a speaking tour nationwide, delivering nearly 70 speeches favoring Tilden’s candidacy and denouncing Schurz’s allegiance to Hayes. Pulitzer’s fervent advocacy for Tilden and his contributions to the New York Sun highlighted his commitment to political reform.

However, Tilden’s narrow defeat in the presidential election left Pulitzer disillusioned with the Democratic Party’s indecision and lack of resolve. He returned to St. Louis, where he resumed his legal practice and began exploring future opportunities in the news industry. Despite his political setbacks, Pulitzer’s unwavering dedication to reform and integrity continued to shape his career and influence his future endeavors.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

In 1878, Joseph Pulitzer purchased the struggling St. Louis Dispatch and merged it with the equally struggling St. Louis Post, forming the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Under Pulitzer’s leadership, the newspaper underwent a dramatic transformation, becoming known for its investigative reporting, crusades against corruption, and commitment to social justice.

Pulitzer believed that the role of journalism was to serve the public interest and hold those in power accountable. He fearlessly exposed political corruption, corporate malfeasance, and social injustices, earning him a reputation as a fierce advocate for the people. His dedication to truth and transparency resonated with readers, and the Post-Dispatch soon became one of the most influential newspapers in the country.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Political activism

Joseph Pulitzer’s foray into political activism was marked by intense rivalry with Bourbon Democrat William Hyde, publisher of the misleadingly named Missouri Republican. Despite the size discrepancy between their respective newspapers, Pulitzer’s publication emerged victorious in early political battles against Hyde.

One notable victory came in 1879 when Pulitzer backed George Vest for the Senate, defeating Bourbon Samuel Glover. This success was followed by Pulitzer’s triumph in securing the election for an anti-Tilden delegation to the 1880 Democratic National Convention, despite Hyde’s objections. Although Pulitzer failed to persuade his preferred candidate, Horatio Seymour, to run, the Democrats opted not to renominate Tilden.

Tensions between Pulitzer and Hyde escalated to a physical confrontation in March 1882 when the two men engaged in a brawl on Olive Street. Fortunately, they were separated by onlookers before sustaining any serious injuries.

In 1880, Pulitzer pursued public office again, vying for the United States Representative seat from Missouri’s second district. Despite his efforts, he was decisively defeated for the Democratic nomination by Bourbon Thomas Allen, highlighting the challenges he faced within his own party’s ranks.

Despite setbacks, Pulitzer’s commitment to political activism remained steadfast as he fought for reform and integrity within the political landscape of St. Louis and beyond.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Killing of Alonzo Slayback

The killing of Alonzo Slayback proved to be a pivotal moment in Joseph Pulitzer’s career and reputation. Following the death of Thomas Allen, Pulitzer’s Post-Dispatch vehemently opposed the Republican-endorsed candidate, James Broadhead, who Jay Gould, a prominent figure in business and politics, supported. The election campaign grew increasingly heated, with Post-Dispatch managing editor John Cockerill labeling Broadhead’s law partner, Alonzo Slayback, a “coward.”

On October 13, Slayback confronted Cockerill at the Post-Dispatch offices, armed with a gun, and threatened him. In the ensuing altercation, Cockerill shot and killed Slayback. The incident captured national attention, casting a shadow over Pulitzer and the Post-Dispatch. Conservative Democrats, in particular, turned against Pulitzer and his publication.

Despite a grand jury inquest, Cockerill was never brought to trial for Slayback’s death. Pulitzer, recognizing the need to address the fallout from the incident, replaced Cockerill with John Dillon, a well-respected and conservative native of St. Louis. However, the damage to Pulitzer’s reputation in the city was irreparable, prompting him to explore opportunities elsewhere.

The killing of Alonzo Slayback underscored the complex and often volatile intersections between politics, journalism, and personal rivalries in Pulitzer’s career. While the incident tarnished his standing in St. Louis, it also compelled him to seek new horizons and opportunities beyond the confines of the city.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

New York World

In April 1883, Joseph Pulitzer made a bold move that would reshape the landscape of American journalism. While ostensibly embarking on a European vacation with his family, Pulitzer seized the opportunity to negotiate the acquisition of the struggling morning newspaper, the New York World, from Jay Gould. Gould, who had acquired the paper as part of a railroad deal, had left the World floundering, losing approximately $40,000 annually.

Initially met with daunting demands from Gould, including a hefty sum exceeding half a million dollars and the retention of the World’s staff and building, Pulitzer faced moments of frustration and doubt. However, spurred on by the encouragement of his wife, Kate, he persisted in negotiations. Ultimately, Pulitzer secured the purchase of the World for $346,000, with the assurance of complete autonomy in staffing decisions.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

With the Pulitzers relocating to New York and settling in Gramercy Park, Joseph Pulitzer wasted no time implementing his vision for the World. Emphasizing sensational stories ranging from human-interest pieces to crime and scandals, he transformed the publication into a journalism powerhouse. Under his leadership, circulation skyrocketed from 15,000 to a staggering 600,000, solidifying the World’s status as the largest newspaper in the country.

Pulitzer’s innovative approach to journalism included attention-grabbing headlines and concise, engaging writing, catering to a broad audience. The World’s self-described style as “brief, breezy, and biggity” captivated readers and set the standard for modern newspaper reporting. Additionally, Pulitzer championed crusades for reform while providing entertainment news, ensuring the World’s relevance and appeal to diverse readers.

Notable additions to the World’s roster included famed investigative journalist Nellie Bly in 1887 and the introduction of the trendy comic strip “The Yellow Kid” by Richard F. Outcault in 1895. Pulitzer’s dedication to investigative reporting was evident when the World exposed the illegal payment of $40 million by the United States to the French Panama Canal Company in 1909, leading to indictments that the courts ultimately dismissed.

Pulitzer’s influence extended beyond the newsroom, with figures like John McNaught joining his team as personal secretary and later editor of the New York World. Pulitzer’s legacy as a pioneering journalist and advocate for press freedom endured, leaving an indelible mark on journalism and beyond.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Early political activism

Joseph Pulitzer’s early political activism and influence in shaping public opinion through the New York World heralded a new era of Democratic journalism in the city. Upon acquiring the World, Pulitzer recognized the absence of a significant Democratic newspaper in New York City, which was predominantly Democratic but lacked representation in the media landscape dominated by ardently Republican publications like the Tribune and Times and independent ones like the Sun and Herald.

In his inaugural issue as owner, Pulitzer declared the World’s dedication to championing the cause of the people over the interests of the wealthy elite, signaling a departure from the partisan leanings of its predecessors.

In 1884, Pulitzer aligned himself with the Democratic Party establishment by joining the Manhattan Club, a group comprising influential Democrats such as Samuel J. Tilden, Abram Hewitt, and William C. Whitney. Throughout the World, he threw his support behind the presidential campaign of New York Governor Grover Cleveland, positioning the newspaper as a formidable voice in national politics.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Pulitzer’s advocacy for Cleveland and his staunch opposition to Republican nominee James G. Blaine played a pivotal role in the closely contested election. Cleveland’s narrow victory in New York secured his presidency by a mere 0.1%, with Pulitzer’s World significantly shaping public opinion. The World’s circulation soared during the campaign, reaching unprecedented levels by Election Day, underscoring Pulitzer’s influence in mobilizing voters.

In addition to his support for Cleveland, Pulitzer began a scathing attack on Theodore Roosevelt, then a young Republican Assemblyman, branding him a “reform fraud.” This marked the beginning of a long and contentious rivalry between Pulitzer and the future President, reflecting Pulitzer’s willingness to confront and challenge political figures perceived as threats to his vision of progressive reform.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Joseph Pulitzer’s early political activism through the New York World laid the foundation for his legacy as a champion of the people and a formidable force in American journalism and politics. Through his newspaper, he wielded immense influence in shaping public opinion, advocating for social justice, and challenging the status quo, leaving an indelible mark on the political landscape of his time.

United States House of Representatives

Joseph Pulitzer’s brief tenure in the United States House of Representatives from New York’s ninth district in 1884 marked a transition from journalism to politics, albeit short-lived. As a Democrat, Pulitzer assumed office on March 4, 1885, amidst a flurry of activity in Washington.

Despite his newfound position, Pulitzer remained committed to his journalistic principles, advocating for transparency and integrity in government. However, his attempts to secure appointments for individuals he recommended to President-elect Cleveland were unsuccessful. Disappointed by his inability to secure a meeting with Cleveland and the subsequent failure of his recommendations, Pulitzer became increasingly disillusioned with the political establishment.

During his time in Congress, Pulitzer spearheaded a passionate campaign to bring the newly gifted Statue of Liberty to New York City, a cause close to his heart. As a member of the Committee on Commerce, he championed the significance of the iconic monument as a symbol of freedom and democracy.

Despite his position of influence in Washington, Pulitzer found the allure of his role at the New York World more compelling. Faced with the realization that his impact and enjoyment lay in journalism rather than politics, Pulitzer gradually withdrew from his congressional duties. Ultimately, after just over a year in office, he resigned on April 10, 1886, focusing his efforts on his journalistic endeavors, where he believed he could effect more significant change and fulfill his passion for public service.

Rivalry with William Randolph Hearst

The rivalry between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, two titans of American journalism, peaked in the late 19th century, fueled by their competing newspapers and relentless pursuit of circulation numbers.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

In 1895, Hearst acquired the New York Journal, a newspaper that had previously been owned by Pulitzer’s brother, Albert. Initially, Hearst had admired Pulitzer’s World, but with the purchase of the Journal, a fierce circulation war erupted between the two media moguls. This competition intensified during the lead-up to and the duration of the Spanish-American War, a period that would forever link Pulitzer’s name with yellow journalism—an approach characterized by sensationalism, exaggeration, and sensational headlines.

The rivalry between Pulitzer and Hearst was not confined to the newsroom; it spilled over into the streets of New York City during the newsboys’ strike of 1899. This strike, led by young newspaper hawkers, was a response to the exploitative practices of Pulitzer’s and Hearst’s newspapers, which inadequately compensated these child workers. The strike, a youth-led campaign for fair treatment, underscored the power and influence that Pulitzer and Hearst wielded over ordinary citizens’ lives.

The competition between Pulitzer’s World and Hearst’s Journal was emblematic of a transformative period in American journalism, characterized by sensationalism and fierce rivalries. While their rivalry propelled both newspapers to unprecedented levels of circulation and influence, it also cemented their legacies as pioneers of yellow journalism and figures of controversy in the annals of American media history.

Other rivals

Joseph Pulitzer faced opposition and rivalry from several prominent figures in the media landscape during his career, highlighting the competitive nature of the industry and the personal animosities that often accompanied it.

One notable adversary was Charles A. Dana, the editor of the New York Sun. Dana’s endorsement of Greenback nominee Benjamin Butler during the 1884 campaign, in opposition to Pulitzer’s Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland, strained relations between Dana and Pulitzer. Dana openly attacked Pulitzer in print, using derogatory terms such as “Judas Pulitzer.” Despite Dana’s efforts, Cleveland’s victory resulted in a significant decline in the Sun’s circulation, allowing Pulitzer’s World to emerge as the preeminent Democratic paper in the country.

Leander Richardson, a former employee of the World who departed to establish The Journalist, also harbored animosity towards Pulitzer. Richardson’s overt antisemitism was evident in his derogatory references to Pulitzer as “Jewseph Pulitzer,” reflecting the deep-seated prejudices that permeated society at the time.

Additionally, Pulitzer engaged in frequent sparring matches with Whitelaw Reid, a prominent figure in the media landscape and editor of the New York Tribune. Their rivalry extended beyond the pages of their respective newspapers, with personal confrontations fueling the already intense competition between them.

These rivalries underscore the cutthroat nature of journalism during Pulitzer’s era, where personal vendettas and professional rivalries often intersected with broader political and ideological conflicts. Despite facing formidable opposition, Pulitzer’s legacy as a pioneering journalist and advocate for press freedom endures, cementing his place in the annals of American media history.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Declining health and resignation

As Joseph Pulitzer’s health began to decline, marked by ailments such as blindness, depression, and acute noise sensitivity, he found himself increasingly unable to manage the daily operations of the newspaper. Despite his physical limitations, Pulitzer persisted in overseeing the affairs of the paper, conducting his managerial duties from various locations, including his New York mansion, his winter retreat at the Jekyll Island Club in Georgia, and his summer vacation spot in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The arrival of Frank I. Cobb as editor of the New York World in 1904 marked a turning point. Despite Pulitzer’s attempts to exert control from afar, Cobb resisted his interference, leading to frequent clashes between the two men characterized by heated exchanges. When Pulitzer’s son assumed administrative responsibilities in 1907, Pulitzer penned a carefully crafted resignation, which was notably absent from publication in the World. Despite initial tension, Pulitzer gradually developed a respect for Cobb’s independent editorial stance and began to appreciate his editorials and flexibility. Their rapport improved, and they collaborated on outlining consistent editorial policies, although there were occasional fluctuations.

Pulitzer’s insistence on editorials addressing contemporary news events often made Cobb overburdened with work. To rejuvenate Cobb’s spirits, Pulitzer sent him on a six-week tour of Europe. Despite Cobb’s eventual succumbing to cancer in 1923, he continued to uphold the editorial principles he had shared with Pulitzer.

Reflecting on his interactions with journalists and editors, Pulitzer once remarked, “I cannot understand why it is, Mr. Pulitzer, that you always speak so kindly of reporters and so severely of all editors.” To which Pulitzer replied, “Well, I suppose it is because every reporter is a hope, and every editor is a disappointment.” This aphorism encapsulated Pulitzer’s complex relationship with the journalistic profession and remains emblematic of his legacy in the field.

Marriage and family

In 1878, at 31, Joseph Pulitzer married Katherine “Kate” Davis (1853–1927), a woman hailing from a prestigious Episcopal family in Georgetown, District of Columbia. The ceremony occurred in an Episcopal setting at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. Despite their differing backgrounds, Pulitzer and Kate embarked on their journey together. However, Pulitzer did not disclose his Jewish heritage to Kate or her family until after they were wed, a revelation that reportedly shocked her.

The couple bore seven children, though tragically losing two at young ages. Of their offspring, five reached adulthood: Ralph, Joseph Jr. (whose son was Joseph Pulitzer III), Constance Helen (who married William Gray Elmslie, D.D.), Edith (who wed William Scoville Moore), and Herbert, who eventually became his brother Ralph’s partner at the Post. Sadly, their daughter Katherine Ethel Pulitzer succumbed to pneumonia at the tender age of 2 in May 1884, while their older daughter, Lucille Irma Pulitzer, passed away from typhoid fever at 17 on December 31, 1897. The upbringing of their children was entrusted mainly to Mary Boyle, an Irish immigrant, as Pulitzer and Kate were preoccupied with their endeavors.

Notably, Pulitzer’s grandson, Herbert Pulitzer Jr., tied the knot with the renowned American fashion designer and socialite Lilly Pulitzer, further intertwining the family’s legacy with fashion and social prominence.

Following a fire at their previous residence, Pulitzer enlisted the acclaimed architect Stanford White to design a magnificent limestone-clad Venetian palazzo at 11 East 73rd Street on the Upper East Side, completed in 1903. Additionally, a thoughtful seated portrait of Pulitzer by the esteemed artist John Singer Sargent remains on display at the Columbia School of Journalism, a testament to Pulitzer’s enduring impact and generosity.

The Pulitzer family remained actively involved in the operation of the Post-Dispatch and other newspapers under the Pulitzer Publishing Company until their eventual sale to Lee Enterprises in 2005. Interestingly, the Pulitzer group also included television stations, which were eventually sold to Hearst Communications, owned by the descendants of Joseph Pulitzer’s longtime rival, William Randolph Hearst.


In the final months of his life, Joseph Pulitzer sought solace and comfort aboard his yacht, the Liberty, under the care of his physician, C. Louis Leipoldt. During a journey to his winter residence at the Jekyll Island Club in Georgia in 1911, Pulitzer’s yacht stopped in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

On October 29, 1911, while aboard his yacht, Pulitzer listened as his German secretary read aloud about King Louis XI of France. As the reading drew close, Pulitzer uttered “Leise, ganz leise” in German, translating to “Softly, quite softly” in English. With these poignant words, Pulitzer peacefully passed away.

Following his death, Pulitzer’s body was transported back to New York City, where funeral services were held. He was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, marking the final resting place of a pioneering journalist and influential figure in American media history.

Innovation and Impact:

Joseph Pulitzer was a talented journalist, shrewd businessman, and innovator. He introduced several groundbreaking practices to journalism, including sensational headlines, bold graphics, and the extensive use of illustrations. Pulitzer understood the power of visual storytelling and used it to captivate readers and drive sales.

In 1883, Pulitzer purchased the New York World, a struggling newspaper needing a revival. Under his guidance, the World underwent a dramatic transformation, adopting many of the same principles that had made the Post-Dispatch successful. Pulitzer’s brand of “yellow journalism,” characterized by sensationalism and emotional appeal, helped boost circulation and solidify the World’s place as one of the most widely read newspapers in the country.

Philanthropy and Legacy:

Journalism schools

Joseph Pulitzer’s vision for advancing journalism education was pivotal in establishing two of the most prestigious journalism schools.

In 1892, Pulitzer proposed creating the World’s first school of journalism for Columbia University’s President, Seth Low, offering financial support to bring his vision to fruition. However, the university initially declined the offer. It wasn’t until 1902, under the leadership of Columbia’s new President, Nicholas Murray Butler, that the university seriously considered Pulitzer’s proposal for a journalism school and prizes.

Following Pulitzer’s death, his generous bequest of $2,000,000 to Columbia University in his will provided the necessary funding to establish the journalism school. In 1912, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism was founded, realizing Pulitzer’s long-held dream of creating a formal institution dedicated to educating aspiring journalists.

Pulitzer’s influence also extended beyond Columbia University. At his urging, the Missouri School of Journalism was founded at the University of Missouri, becoming the first journalism school in the United States. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Missouri School of Journalism have since become renowned institutions, shaping the future of journalism through their rigorous academic programs, innovative research, and commitment to excellence.

Today, these two journalism schools are a testament to Pulitzer’s enduring legacy and commitment to advancing journalism education standards. Through their contributions to journalism, they continue to honor Pulitzer’s vision of nurturing and educating the next generation of journalists, ensuring that his influence on the profession remains steadfast for years to come.

Pulitzer Prize

1917 Columbia University established the Pulitzer Prize, marking a significant milestone in recognizing excellence in journalism and the arts. Initially focused on honoring outstanding achievements in journalism, the Pulitzer Prizes have since evolved to encompass a broader range of disciplines, including literature, poetry, history, music, and drama.

The Pulitzer Prize is a prestigious accolade celebrating individuals and organizations who have significantly contributed to their respective fields. From groundbreaking investigative reporting to literary masterpieces, the Pulitzer Prizes recognize excellence and innovation across diverse domains of human endeavor.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

Over the years, the Pulitzer Prizes have become synonymous with excellence and integrity, setting a standard for journalistic and artistic excellence that inspires and motivates generations of writers, journalists, historians, musicians, and playwrights. The awards continue to reflect the values of integrity, accuracy, and excellence in storytelling that were central to the vision of Joseph Pulitzer, the namesake of the prestigious honor.

As the Pulitzer Prizes continue to evolve and adapt to the changing landscape of media and the arts, they remain a symbol of the highest standards of excellence and achievement, honoring those whose work has left a lasting impact on society and culture.

Legacy and honors

Joseph Pulitzer’s enduring legacy and contributions to journalism and society have been commemorated in various ways, reflecting his lasting impact on American media and culture:

1. The U.S. Post Office honored Joseph Pulitzer with a 3-cent stamp in 1947, commemorating the centennial of his birth. This stamp served as a testament to Pulitzer’s influence and significance in journalism.

2. The Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis is a testament to Pulitzer’s family’s philanthropic commitment to the arts. The foundation is founded in his family’s honor and promotes artistic excellence and cultural enrichment.

3. In recognition of his contributions to journalism and his St. Louis roots, Joseph Pulitzer was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1989, further solidifying his status as a local icon and national figure.

4. Pulitzer’s legacy has also been immortalized in popular culture. In the Disney film “Newsies” (1992), he was portrayed as a character, and Robert Duvall played him. The subsequent Broadway adaptation of “Newsies” in 2011 further showcased Pulitzer’s role in the historical events depicted in the story.

5. Joseph Pulitzer’s influence extends beyond journalism, as evidenced by his portrayal in literature. In Marshall Goldberg’s historical novel “The New Colossus” (2014), Pulitzer assigns reporter Nellie Bly to investigate the death of poet Emma Lazarus, highlighting his fictionalized role in historical events.

6. The Hotel Pulitzer in Amsterdam bears the name of Joseph Pulitzer’s grandson, Herbert Pulitzer, serving as a tribute to the Pulitzer family’s enduring legacy and impact.

7. Mount Pulitzer in Washington State is named in honor of Joseph Pulitzer, serving as a geographical landmark that preserves his memory and contributions for future generations.

Through these various honors and tributes, Joseph Pulitzer’s legacy as a pioneering journalist, philanthropist, and cultural figure continues to be celebrated and remembered, ensuring his influence on American society remains undiminished.


Joseph Pulitzer’s life was a testament to the power of perseverance, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of truth. From his humble beginnings in Hungary to his rise as a titan of American journalism, he left an indelible mark on the field and society. His commitment to excellence, social justice, and the public interest continues to inspire journalists and readers alike, ensuring that his legacy will endure for generations to come.

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911): A Titan Of Journalism

FAQs about Joseph Pulitzer

1. Who was Joseph Pulitzer? 

Joseph Pulitzer was a prominent Hungarian-American newspaper publisher and politician, best known for owning the New York World and establishing the Pulitzer Prizes.

2. When and where was Joseph Pulitzer born? 

Joseph Pulitzer was born as Pulitzer József on April 10, 1847, in Makó, Hungary, approximately 200 km southeast of Budapest.

3. What was Pulitzer’s early life like? 

Pulitzer was born into a Jewish family of merchants and shopkeepers. After his father’s business went bankrupt, he emigrated to the United States, where he initially struggled to find work.

4. How did Pulitzer become involved in the American Civil War? 

During the American Civil War, Pulitzer enlisted in the Union Army, serving in the 1st New York Cavalry Regiment. He fought in the Appomattox Campaign before being mustered out in 1865.

5. What were Pulitzer’s early career experiences in St. Louis? 

After the war, Pulitzer moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked various jobs as a waiter and a reporter for the Westliche Post newspaper.

6. When did Pulitzer enter the World of journalism? 

Pulitzer entered journalism in 1868 when he was offered a job as a reporter for the Westliche Post, where he began to establish himself as a journalist.

7. How did Pulitzer’s ownership of the New York World impact journalism? 

Pulitzer’s ownership of the New York World revolutionized journalism by emphasizing sensational stories and broadening its appeal to a mass audience.

8. What was Pulitzer’s relationship with William Randolph Hearst? 

Pulitzer and Hearst engaged in a fierce circulation war in New York City, with both publishers employing sensationalist tactics to attract readers.

9. What role did Pulitzer play in establishing the Pulitzer Prizes?

Pulitzer’s endowment to Columbia University led to the establishment of the Pulitzer Prizes in 1917, which recognize excellence in journalism, literature, music, and drama.

10. What were Pulitzer’s political affiliations? 

Pulitzer was initially associated with the Republican Party but later became a prominent figure in the Democratic Party, advocating for reform and progressive causes.

11. How did Pulitzer’s declining health affect his role in the New York World? 

In his later years, Pulitzer’s declining health, including blindness and depression, led to his withdrawal from daily management of the New York World.

12. Who succeeded Pulitzer as editor of the New York World? 

Frank I. Cobb succeeded Pulitzer as editor of the New York World, although Pulitzer continued to influence the paper’s editorial direction.

13. What was Pulitzer’s view on reporters and editors? 

Pulitzer famously remarked that he spoke kindly of reporters as “every reporter is a hope,” whereas he spoke severely of editors as “every editor is a disappointment.”

14. What were Pulitzer’s philanthropic contributions? 

Pulitzer made significant philanthropic contributions, including funding the establishment of journalism schools at Columbia University and the University of Missouri.

15. How did Pulitzer’s family life unfold? 

Pulitzer married Katherine “Kate” Davis in 1878, and they had seven children, although tragically, two of them passed away at young ages.

16. What legacy did Pulitzer leave in the field of journalism? 

Pulitzer’s legacy in journalism is profound, as he transformed the industry by emphasizing sensationalism and establishing the Pulitzer Prizes.

17. What architectural project did Pulitzer undertake in New York City? 

Pulitzer commissioned Stanford White to design a limestone-clad Venetian palazzo at 11 East 73rd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

18. How did Pulitzer’s rivalry with Charles A. Dana unfold? 

Pulitzer’s rivalry with Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, escalated during the 1884 campaign, with Dana frequently attacking Pulitzer in print.

19. What awards and honors were bestowed upon Pulitzer? 

Pulitzer was honored with a commemorative stamp by the U.S. Post Office in 1947 and was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1989.

20. Where is Pulitzer buried? 

Joseph Pulitzer was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York, after passing on October 29, 1911.

Benjamin Lee

Benjamin Lee

I'm Benjamin Lee, a music enthusiast, tech geek, and avid traveler. Music pulses through my veins, igniting my soul with every beat. As a tech geek, I thrive on the latest innovations, diving deep into the digital realm to explore endless possibilities. But my spirit truly soars when I'm on the road, embarking on adventures to far-flung destinations, soaking in the sights and sounds of new cultures. Whether I'm grooving to the rhythm, tinkering with gadgets, or traversing the globe, I'm always fueled by a boundless curiosity and a passion for discovery. Join me on this exhilarating journey through life!

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