Webb Miller (February 10, 1891 – May 7, 1940) was an American journalist and war correspondent.
the Pancho Villa Expedition
World War I
, the Spanish Civil War
, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia
the Phoney War
, and the Russo-Finnish War of 1939
. He was nominated for
the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage
of the execution of the French serial killer Henri Désiré Landru
("Bluebeard") in 1922. His reporting of the Salt Satyagraha raid on the Dharasana Salt Works was credited for
helping turn world opinion against British
colonial rule of India.
Miller was born Cub Webster Miller in Pokagon,
Michigan in 1891.
His father, Jacob Miller, was a
tenant farmer. He attended elementary school in Pokagon and other
regional schools. He attended high school in Dowagiac, where he was a track
and field runner and football
player as well as a reporter for the school paper.
life, he became a lifelong vegetarian
While growing up, Miller was a friend of Ring Lardner
, who also became a prominent
writer. He also began reading the book Walden
, and carried a copy of the work with him for the
rest of his life.
graduation from high school, he attempted to find work as a
reporter at the South Bend
Tribune in South Bend, Indiana, but the paper would not hire him.
as a captain on a passenger steamboat (he was fired after wrecking
the ship) and as a schoolteacher in Walnut Grove,
He visited a brothel, and wrote extensively
about his experience there. In 1912, he went to Chicago,
Illinois, and began
work as a "legman"—reporting on the scene by telephone to
journalists in the office who would rewrite his work and get the
He primarily covered murders, executions and court
cases. During this time, he shortened his name to "Webb Miller"
because it made for a better byline.
Miller was kidnapped in 1914. Helen Morton, daughter of Morton Salt
co-founder Mark Morton
, had eloped and
married against her father's wishes. Morton tracked his daughter
down and challenged the marriage on the grounds that Helen Morton
was mentally deranged. A court ruled in his favor, and Helen was
committed to an asylum. Miller attempted to interview Helen Morton,
but Mark Morton had his employees beat Miller unconscious. Morton
then kidnapped Miller and drove off—with the 23-year-old journalist
tied up in the trunk of his car. Morton crashed the automobile, and
police discovered the bound Miller in the vehicle. Miller sued
Morton for $50,000, but won only a minimal payment of $500 six
In 1916, Miller went to work as a freelance journalist. He followed
Gen. John J. Pershing into Mexico as part of
the Punitive Expedition pursuing Pancho
Having spent most of his life walking (not
driving) from town to town in Michigan, Miller was one of the few
journalists able to keep up with Pershing's expedition as it
marched through the Mexican desert. Miller's reporting led to a job
with the United Press
later that year.
World War I
UP sent Miller to London to cover
World War I.
He observed the war-time air raids
against the city,
and his reports of the terrifying bombardments brought him
worldwide notice. UP named him London Bureau Chief as a reward for
his success. Covering both the British and American
fronts in Europe, Miller was present at and reported on the
Battle of Château-Thierry, the Second
Battle of the Aisne, and the Meuse-Argonne
Miller was the first American journalist to report that an armistice
reached with Germany. After the armistice, Miller covered the
Paris Peace Conference
and interviewed Raymond
, Georges Clemenceau
David Lloyd George
and Woodrow Wilson
as well as covering the peace
talks. While reporting from Versailles, Miller met and became acquainted with
an Italian journalist, Benito
He later parlayed this relationship into an
interview in 1932.
1918, Miller was assigned to cover the aftermath of the Easter Rising in Ireland.
He interviewed Sinn
founder Arthur Griffith
political activist Michael Fitzgerald
then in hiding.
In 1920, he covered the Rif War
Morocco. During this time, he met and became friends with the
former Spanish dictator, Miguel
Primo de Rivera
In 1921, Miller was named Paris Bureau Chief for UP, and was
promoted in 1925 to European Bureau Chief.
In 1922, while traveling in France, Miller saw Henri Désiré Landru
(known as "Bluebeard") guillotined in a Versailles street for
murdering 10 women and a boy. Miller began timing the execution.
The executioners threw Landru onto the upper platform of the
guillotine which such force that the deck partially collapsed. The
executioners clamped him to the deck, and executed him. Miller's
report, which won worldwide acclaim for on-the-spot reporting,
noted that the entire botched execution took only 26 seconds. His
report, with its graphic description of Landru's death, led to a
nomination for the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1930, Miller took a 12,000-mile airplane trip across the
and India. While in India,
he met and became friends with Mohandas Gandhi
. Gandhi was
launching the Salt Satyagraha
Miller stayed to cover the event. Miller witnessed the raid on the
Dharasana Salt Works on May 12
, 1930, in
which more than 1,300 unarmed Indians were severely beaten and
several deaths occurred. Miller's report helped turn world opinion
against the British occupation of India.
Gandhi himself later said that Miller "helped make" Indian
independence through his eyewitness report.
His Middle East experiences later landed Miller a job reporting on
the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Once more, he walked
alongside an army traveling in the desert, telling his audience how
his shoes and socks turned to bloody rags as he marched through the
sand and rocks. Miller reported on the "surprising efficiency" in
which the Italians—armed with bombers, tanks, field artillery,
gasoline and napalm—massacred thousands of natives armed only with
spears, slings and the occasional handgun. His reports, conveyed
by courier across the desert to the nearest telegraph and then to
the world, often reached Rome before the
official Italian military reports did.
were the only news reports to come from the front line during the
opening of the war. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize a second
time, in this instance for a 44-minute report delivered by
telephone at the start of the war.
Exhausted from his constant travels and depressed after seeing so
much bloodshed, Miller flew to the United States on the inaugural
trans-Atlantic flight of the Hindenburg
. From May to September, he
worked on his memoirs. His book, I Found No Peace,
published by Simon & Schuster in November 1936.
Miller immediately went back out into the field. His success in
Ethiopia led UP to assign him to cover the initial stages of the
Spanish Civil War in late 1936. In 1937 and 1938, he traveled to the
Union, where he covered the Stalinist purges and smuggled his reports out of
World War II
Miller reported widely on many of the key early events leading up
to World War II. He attended the Munich
, and interviewed Adolf
, Neville Chamberlain
and Mussolini. He traveled to Czechoslovakia immediately afterward, and reported from the
scheduled advance of German troops into the Sudetenland.
He remained in the country
for the next six months, and again reported from the front lines on
German troops occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.
As tensions rose between Germany and France, Miller returned to
Paris. During the Phoney War
rushed to the Low Countries
numerous reports. Miller immediately went to Finland after the Soviet Union invaded on November 30, 1939.
spent Christmas Eve in four inches of newly-fallen snow with
Finnish soldiers on the front lines of the "Winter War
Death in the subway tunnel
Miller died on the evening of May 7, 1940, in London, while
traveling on the London
. There were no eyewitnesses to his death. However,
British investigators later concluded that the train had come to a
stop in the tunnel rather than at a platform. Miller, they said,
stepped out of the train and fell on the tracks. He hit his head
against the tunnel wall and died. While the press proclaimed his
death "mysterious" and friends said the experienced traveler would
never have made such an error, the case was closed and his death
Webb Miller was survived by his wife, Marie, and a son, Kenneth. He
was buried in Dewey Cemetery in Dowagiac.
In 1943, the U.S. government announced that Liberty ships
would begin to be named after
distinguished journalists who had died in action. The first Liberty
ship to be named for a war correspondent was the SS Webb Miller.
The ship carried
American soldiers onto the beaches at Normandy
Scholars now consider Miller's account of Bluebeard's death a
classic of spot journalism. The report is often required reading
for aspiring journalists.
Webb Miller was also the inspiration for the character of Vince
Walker in the movie, Gandhi.
When he met Mohandas Gandhi in 1930, Miller was carrying a
cigarette case. Gandhi agreed to inscribe his name on the case on
the condition that it never be used again to carry cigarettes.
Miller agreed. Miller carried the cigarette case with him for the
rest of his life. Most of the dignitaries and world leaders he met
over the next 10 years inscribed their names on the case, including
Benito Mussolini, Franklin D.
, David Lloyd George,
, and author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez
The cigarette case was stolen after his death, and never
reappeared. Most of his journals, papers, and personal effects now
reside at the Museum of Southwestern Michigan
- Brian Martin, Justice Ignited, Rowman &
Littlefield, 2006. ISBN 0742540863.
- " Miller's Memoirs," Time, November
- "Helen Morton Held Mentally Unfit," New York Times.
July 7, 1914; "Morton Family Nettles Bayly," Chicago Daily
Tribune, April 23, 1916; "Roger Bayly Wants Helen Held
Insane," Chicago Daily Tribune, July 6, 1914; "Heiress
Defies Father to Wed," Chicago Daily Tribune, June 22,
1914; "Kingdom for Princess Helen," Chicago Daily Tribune,
June 20, 1914; "Helen Morton and Roger Wed?", Chicago Daily
Tribune, June 19, 1914; "Amred Men Guard Heiress,"
Washington Post, July 8, 1914; "Bride Held As Insane,"
Washington Post, July 7, 1914; "Miss Morton A Bride,"
Washington Post, June 19, 1914.
- Mitchel P. Roth, Historical Dictionary of War
Journalism, Greenwood Press, 1997. ISBN 0313291713
- Webb Miller, "Landru is Executed", in The Mammoth Book of
Journalism, by Jonn E. Lewis, 
- Fischer, Heinz-Dietrich and Fischer, Erika J. The Pulitzer
Prize Archive: A History and Anthology of Award-Winning Materials
in Journalism, Letters, and Arts. Volume 5: Social Commentary
Awards. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1991. ISBN
- Brian Martin, Justice Ignited, Rowman &
Littlefield, 2006. ISBN 0742540863; Anthony Read and David Fisher,
The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence, W. W.
Norton & Company, 1999. ISBN 0393318982
- "Webb Miller's Death Is Found Accidental," New York
Times, May 10, 1940.
- "Webb Miller's Name Given to Liberty Ship," New York
Times, December 6, 1943.
- Jon E. Lewis, ed., The Mammoth Book of Journalism: An
Anthology of the 100 Greatest Newspaper Articles, Carroll
& Graf, 2003. ISBN 0786711698