Joseph Pulitzer was born in Mako, Hungary, in 1847 to a well-established Jewish family. His first teachers, when he was quite young, were private tutors in French and German. When Pulitzer was six, his father retired and moved the family to Budapest, where Joseph continued his education.
Immigration to the United States
At age 17, Pulitzer attempted to enlist in the Austrian army (and then various other European armies) but was rejected on the grounds of his poor health and eyesight. Recruiters seeking soldiers to fight in the American Civil War paid for his passage to Boston in 1864, but when Pulitzer discovered that they had pocketed most of his enlistment bounty, he traveled to New York and signed up with the Lincoln Cavalry. After serving in the U.S. Army for eight months, he eventually returned to Massachusetts. Because of his service, Pulitzer became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1867.
Professional Background & Achievements
After moving to St. Louis and holding a wide variety of jobs (including two days as a stableman for mules, whose reputation for stubbornness was fully warranted), Pulitzer took a job as a reporter for a German-language paper in St. Louis, the Westliche Post, and soon he became known as an enterprising journalist. At the same time, starting in 1869, Pulitzer began running for (and winning) a variety of local political offices, and soon became active in liberal Republican circles (though some years later he switched to backing Democratic candidates). In 1872 he was given a chance to have a controlling interest in the Westliche Post, which was nearly bankrupt. Undeterred, Pulitzer became a publisher at age 25, until he sold off his interest in the paper in 1873. But his career as one of America’s major sources of news was just beginning, and in 1878 he bought a much larger paper, The St. Louis Dispatch, and merged it with its poor-performing rival paper, the St. Louis Post, thus creating the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Within four years, the former St. Louis Dispatch had jumped from 4,000 readers in 1878 to 22,000 in 1882 as the Post-Dispatch.
In 1883, Pulitzer bought the much larger New York World. Under Pulitzer’s leadership, the World jumped from 15,000 readers to 600,000, becoming the largest newspaper in America, and with Pulitzer becoming one of the country’s biggest and most influential publishers. His newspaper was loudly populist and focused on stories of “the little man,” with often sensational stories of crime and catastrophe. But the New York World also championed the working class in ways that were unheard of in New York journalism, giving the working poor a voice in New York politics. Starting in 1895, when William Randolph Hearst bought the rival newspaper the New York Journal, the two publishers engaged in years of battles to see whose newspaper could achieve the highest circulation levels.
At the end of his life, Pulitzer endowed the first American school of journalism, the Columbia University School of Journalism, which opened in 1912, a year after his death. In his honor the university began in 1917 the tradition of awarding the Pulitzer Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards, to recognize a wide range of artistic and journalistic achievements.
Contributions to the U.S. Economy
Pulitzer became a cornerstone of what journalism would become in the United States. His newspaper was an instrument that raised concern about corruption, fraud, and illegal practices by elected officials.