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Joseph Pulitzer ( PULL-it-s…ôr; . The more anglicized pronunciation PYOO-lit-s…ôr is common but widely considered incorrect. April 10, 1847‚ÄďOctober 29, 1911), n√© Politzer J√≥zsef, was a Hungarian-American publisher best known for posthumously establishing the Pulitzer Prizes and for originating yellow journalism (along with William Randolph Hearst).

Early life

Pulitzer was born in Mak√≥marker, Hungarymarker to Jewish parents Philip Pulitzer (Politzer F√ľl√∂p), a grain merchant, and Louise Berger (Berger Elize). He had three siblings, the eldest Louis, died early, his brother Albert, who was four years younger, and his little sister Irma. In 1853, Philip was rich enough to retire and move his family to Budapestmarker, where the children were educated by private tutors and were expected to learn French and German.

When Joseph was still in school, his father died of a heart ailment. His mother remarried, to Max Blau, a Budapest merchant, and this made Joseph unhappy.

Military career

He was excited after Otto Von Bismarck's subtle moves against Schleswig-Holsteinmarker and desired to join the Austrian Army. He was 17 at the time and was hoping since his uncles were officers in the army (Elize's brothers) they could help him in some way. He was turned down by the Austrian army due to age, fragile physique, and poor eyesight. Disappointed but undeterred, he traveled to Paris to enlist in the French Foreign Legion in Mexicomarker, led by Louis Napoleon in support of Archduke Maximilian. He was rejected for the same reasons. He then traveled to Londonmarker, and he hoped to enlist in the British Army in Indiamarker. He then went to Hamburgmarker and tried to ship out as a sailor, where he was met with yet another refusal. In Hamburg, however, were agents seeking recruits for the Union Army. They boarded a boat and arrived in Bostonmarker sometime in August or September, 1864. He wanted to collect his own bounty, so in Boston Harbor he dove overboard at night, swam to shore, took a train to New York and was enrolled in the Lincoln Cavalry September 30, and it would shelve any intuition to be a soldier.

When he joined the Union Army, he was just 18. He was a part of Sheridan's troopers, in the First New York Lincoln Cavalry in Company L. He served eight months, and he also spoke three languages: German, Hungarian, and French, and he only knew a little English because his regiment was mostly composed of Germans.

After the war

After the war, he returned to New York Citymarker, where he stayed for a short while. He moved to New Bedfordmarker for whaling, learned it was moribund, and returned to New York with little money. He was flat broke and sleeping in wagons on cobble stoned side streets. He decided to travel by side-door Pullman to St. Louis, Missourimarker. He sold his one possession: white handkerchief for 75 cents. When he arrived to the city, he recalled "The lights of St. Louis looked like a promise land to me". In the city, German was as useful as it was in Munichmarker. In the Westliche Post, he saw an ad for a mule hostler at Benton Barracks. The next day he walked four miles, got the job, but held it for a mere two days. The reason why he quit was due to the 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". He had difficulty holding jobs; either he was too scrawny for heavy labor or too proud and temperamental to take orders. One job he held was that of a waiter at Tony Faust's famous restaurant on Fifth Street. This was a place frequented by members of the St. Louis Philosophical Society, including Thomas Davidson, fellow German and nephew of Otto Von Bismarck, Henry C. Brokmeyer, and William Torrey Harris. He studied Brokmeyer, who was famous for translating Hegel, and he "would hang on Brokmeyer's thunderous words, even as he served them pretzels and beer". He was soon fired after a tray slipped from his hand and soaked a patron. He would spend his free time at the 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 well paying jobs on a Louisianamarker sugar plantation They boarded a malodorous little steamboat, which took them down river 30 miles south of the city. When the boat churned away, it appeared to them that it was a ruse. They walked back to the city, where Joseph wrote an account of the fraud and was pleased when it was accepted by the Westliche Post, evidently his first published news story.

One of his favorite places to go was the building at the corner of Fifth and Market Streets. In the building was the Westliche Post which was co-edited by Dr. Emil Pretorius and Carl Schurz, attorneys William Patrick and Charles Phillip Johnson, and surgeon Joseph Nash McDowell. Patrick and Johnson referred to Pulitzer as "Shakespeare" because of his extraordinary profile. They also employed him by giving him errands to run and legal papers to serve. His acquaintance with Dr. McDowell proved worthy when a cholera epidemic struck St. Louis in 1866. One of the people to come to St. Louis during the epidemic was William Hepworth Dixon. During the epidemic, Dr. McDowell's influence got Pulitzer the job of warden of Arsenal Island where many of the dead were buried, a post even freed criminals fled. He helped bury the dead and did bookwork until the epidemic ended and his job had finished. Patrick and Johnson helped him secure another job, this time with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.

He rode south to Ozark County where many settlers refused to believe the American Civil War was over. Pulitzer's job, with the help of an aide, was to record the railroad charter in the twelve counties it would pass through. Pulitzer learned the complicated articles of incorporation by heart and inscribed them into county records from memory. While fording the flood-swollen Gasconade River, the two men were swept from their horses. The aide drowned and, although Pulitzer was a remarkable swimmer, he barely made it to shore safely.He completed his tasks and the lawyers were impressed. So impressed, in fact, that they gave him desk space and access to their library where Pulitzer studied law. On March 6, 1867, he renounced his allegiance to Austriamarker and became an Americanmarker citizen. He still frequented the Mercantile Library where he befriended the librarian, Udo Brachvogel, with whom he would remain friends for the rest of his life. He was often in the chess room where another player, Carl Schurz, noticed his aggressive game play. Schurz was looked up to by Pulitzer. He was an inspiring emblem of American Democracy, of the success attainable by a foreign-born citizen through his own energies and skills.

Apparently in 1868, he 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. It wasn't until 1868 when the Westliche Post needed a reporter that he was offered the job.

Newspaper career

In 1868, when he got his job at the Westliche Post, he had a fire for reporting. He would work 16 hours a day‚ÄĒfrom 10 AM to 2 AM. He was nicknamed "Joey the German" or "Joey the Jew". He too would join the Philosophical Society and he frequented the German bookstore of Fritz Roeslein on Fourth Street, where many intellectuals hung out. Among his new repertoire of friends were Joseph Keppler and Thomas Davidson .

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 the legislative vacancy caused by the resignation of the Democrat John Terry. Their pick was the rising young attorney Chester H. Krum, and when Krum declined, they settled on Pulitzer, nominating him unanimously, forgetting he was only 22, three years under the required age. His chief Democratic opponent was Samuel A. Grantham, a tobacconist whom the Post attacked as of doubtful eligibility because he had served in the Confederate army. Pulitzer had one advantage over Grantham: energy. 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. A snowstorm on December 21 kept the vote down, and was surprised he beat Grantham 209-147. It never occurred to him that he was underage, nor did it become known to the legislature, and he was seated as a state representative in Jefferson City at the session beginning January 5, 1870.He had only lived there for two years, an example of quick accomplishment of political power and also moved him up one notch in the administration at the Westliche Post".

To save money, he boarded with fellow German-born legislator Anthony F. Ittner in Jefferson Citymarker. However, after a failed attempt at electing Horace Greeley as president, the party collapsed and Pulitzer switched to the Democrats. In 1872, Pulitzer purchased the Post for $3,000, and then sold his stake in the paper for a profit in 1873. Then, in 1879, he bought the St. Louis Dispatch, and the St. Louis Post and merged the two papers, which became the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which remains St. Louis' daily newspaper. It was at the Post-Dispatch that Pulitzer developed his role as a champion of the common man with exposés and a hard-hitting populist approach. He soon was competitive with William Hearst.

In 1883, Pulitzer, by then a wealthy man, purchased the New York World, a newspaper that had been losing $40,000 a year, for $346,000 from Jay Gould. Pulitzer shifted its focus to human-interest stories, scandal, and sensationalism. In 1885, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but resigned after a few months' service. 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 with color. Under Pulitzer's leadership circulation grew from 15,000 to 600,000, making it the largest newspaper in the country.

The editor of the rival New York Sun attacked Pulitzer in print, calling him in 1890 "The Tucker who abandoned his religion" . This was intended to alienate Pulitzer's Jewish readership. Pulitzer's already failing health deteriorated rapidly and he withdrew from the daily management of the newspaper, although he continued to actively manage the paper from his vacation retreat in Bar Harbor, Maine, and his New York mansion.

In 1895, William Randolph Hearst purchased the rival New York Journal from Pulitzer's brother, Albert, which led to a circulation war. This competition with Hearst, particularly the coverage before and during the Spanish-American War, linked Pulitzer's name with yellow journalism.

After the World exposed an illegal payment of $40 million 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.

Columbia University

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, evidently turned off by Pulitzer's unscrupulous character. In 1902, Columbia's new president Nicholas Murray Butler was more receptive to the plan for a school and prizes, but it would not be until after Pulitzer's death that this dream would be fulfilled. Pulitzer left the university $2 million in his will, which led to the creation in 1912 of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalismmarker, but by then at Pulitzer's urging the Missouri School of Journalism had been created at the University of Missourimarker. Both schools remain some of the most prestigious in the world.

En route to his winter home on Jekyll Island, Georgiamarker, Joseph Pulitzer died aboard his yacht in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolinamarker in 1911. He is interred in the Woodlawn Cemeterymarker in The Bronxmarker, New Yorkmarker.


In 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded, in accordance with Pulitzer's wishes. In 1989 Pulitzer was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. A fictionalized version of Joseph Pulitzer is portrayed by Robert Duvall in the 1992 Disney film musical, Newsies. He is the main antagonist of that film.There is also a school in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York named after Pulitzer.

See also


  1. Date of birth according to the Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. ; "That both of JP's parents were Jewish was determined in 1985 by Andras Csillag, a Hungarian scholar who researched records in the city and county of Pulitzer's birth and other Hungarian archives. He verified that Pulitzer's mother was born to a Jewish family in 1823 at Pest and in 1838 married Philip Pulitzer, who was born in 1811 in Mako.
  4. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 8, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  5. Jewish Contributions in Literature at
  6. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 9, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  7. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 3-4, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  8. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 4-5, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  9. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 6, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  11. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 7, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  12. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 7-8, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  13. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 10, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871
  14. Swanberg, W.A. Pulitzer, pp. 11-12, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967 ISBN 978-0684105871

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