Joseph Pulitzer

Annie Lee | Aug 14, 2023

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József Pulitzer, originally Politzer; better known worldwide as Joseph Pulitzer (Makó, April 10, 1847 - Charleston, South Carolina, October 29, 1911) was a Hungarian-born American journalist and newspaper publisher.

The founder of the Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious award in American journalism, he is also famous for his rivalry with press magnate William Randolph Hearst, which led to the emergence of the "yellow press", a model of classic sensationalist journalism.

At the same time, this type of journalism has proved to be a stimulus to the development of American democracy and media, exposing major corruption cases, political scandals and economic abuses to the masses of Americans, leading to the adoption of new laws.

By the last years of his life, his paper had moved away from yellow journalism and towards serving the latter principles. In May 1904, Pulitzer, writing in support of the establishment of a journalism school (in The North American Review), stated his creed as follows. A skilful, disinterested, public-spirited press, which, with trained intelligence, knows what is right and has the courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which the government of the people is a sham and an imitation. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time create a people as base as itself. The power to build the future of the Republic will be in the hands of future generations of journalists."

At the height of his success, he arrived blind and in poor health.

The Pulitzer Prize he established should not be confused with the Pulitzer Trophy, created by his son Ralph Pulitzer, which is awarded at air races closely linked to the early days of aviation history, or the Joseph Pulitzer Memorial Prize, established in 1989 by Hungarian businessman Pál Fábry in New Orleans, which is awarded to journalists in Hungary.

Soldier, journalist, politician

He was the son of Philip Pulitzer, a Hungarian Jewish produce merchant from Mako, and Elize Berger, a native of Pest. His younger brother Albert, who followed Joseph to America, was raised as a priest, but did not make it to ordination. Of the eight children in the family, only four survived childhood. Joseph completed high school in Pest, where his father had moved the family. After his father's premature death in 1858, the family became impoverished. In the early 1860s he attended Hampel's trade school.

Joseph wanted to join the military, but was rejected because of his poor health and eyesight. He also tried in vain to join the Austrian army, the French Foreign Legion and the British Army in India. (According to the Literatura article, the whole adventure began with him slapping his arithmetic teacher and then running away to Paris. He certainly showed his impetuous nature later on.)

He was eventually picked up by the US Army in Hamburg. In the summer of 1864, at the age of 17, he emigrated against his mother's wishes and fought in the American Civil War with the Northerners (like many members of the Hungarian emigrant generation after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49). In New York, he enlisted in the 1st Lincoln Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, composed mainly of Germans but also many Hungarians. They participated in four minor engagements and were discharged on June 24, 1865, at Alexandria, Virginia. Pulitzer received his last pay on 7 July 1865. He went to New York but could not find work.

He then settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where in 1868 he took a job at the German-language daily newspaper Westliche Post (having reportedly worked as a cobbler, a ship's stoker and a cemetery caretaker during the cholera epidemic of 1866). His political career began almost simultaneously with his journalistic career.

Your business career

Pulitzer's ambitions were not satisfied by his many interests, so in 1872 he entered new and unknown territory and became a businessman. He bought the Westliche Post for three thousand dollars. This was followed by the purchase of the St. Louis Dispatch for $2,700 in 1878. Pulitzer merged the two papers, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is still St. Louis's daily newspaper.

It was at this newspaper that Pulitzer developed the role that contributed to his later success: he became a champion of the little man and was not averse to hard populist approaches.

By 1883, Pulitzer, still only 36, was a wealthy man, capable of business ventures orders of magnitude larger than he had been at the beginning. In that year he bought the New York World newspaper from Jay Gould for $346,000, a paper that had been making losses of $40,000 a year, but under Pulitzer's leadership had become one of the most important in the history of the American press. It was a "one-man revolution", as the paper's editor James Wyman Barrett later put it.

The World's circulation soared from 15 000 to 600 000 in a decade to become the country's biggest newspaper.

Nellie Bly, the comics and the statue

Under Pulitzer's leadership, the paper turned to journalism focused on people, scandal and sensationalism. In 1887, Pulitzer hired the famous investigative journalist Nellie Bly, who wrote a hugely successful series of articles for the World after she pretended to be insane and entered the women's asylum on Blackwell Island (now Roosevelt Island) and witnessed the violence that took place there.

Another big innovation at the World was the mass-printed, full-colour comic book. The world's first, Richard F. Otcault's Yellow Kid series, was published in 1895.

The World's years-long press campaign was instrumental in raising the funds to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty in New York City by 1885. The campaign also boosted the newspaper's popularity, gaining 50,000 new subscribers.

His private life

Jefferson Davis married his niece Kate Davis in 1877. Their marriage resulted in five children.

Health problems

Pulitzer's health, which was not strong in the first place, had already deteriorated considerably by the time he bought the World, due to the amount of work he had to do.

In 1890, he was forced to retire from active editorship of the newspaper after personal attacks by Charles Anderson Dana, owner of The Sun, contributed to a further decline in his health.

He was completely blind, depressed and extremely sensitive to loud noises, and had to go abroad several times for medical treatment. Doctors could find no cure for him, and he spent much of the next two decades of his life in soundproofed rooms. (When he was forced to stay in a hotel, his staff reportedly studied the noise levels of the surrounding streets in advance and booked rooms above, below and next to his suite.) Although he lived mostly on his yacht, the Liberty (where he died), or in his New York suite, he kept active contact with the paper and the business, maintaining control. "He paid with gold, but he held everyone hostage with tyrannical force", wrote Árpád Pásztor about him in Literatura in 1926.

Death of

He died on his yacht, which was moored in Charleston, South Carolina. He was buried in the Bronx, New York, in Woodlawn Cemetery, where Herman Melville, Nellie Bly and Miles Davis, among others, are buried.

He bought The World for $346,000 and immediately turned it into the biggest sensationalist magazine, with such financial success that he paid off the purchase price of the magazine in just three years and even made half a million dollars in profit. In 1887, he founded the paper's evening edition, which he used mainly to fight newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal-American). Pulitzer's two papers became a stunning example of so-called "yellow" journalism, and the papers were banned from many libraries and clubs. The scales tipped in Pulitzer's favour, his papers brought in a huge income, and he was able to create the New York World palace with $2.5 million. Later, when the paper was well established and dominated the New York market, it became a major newspaper, and only after Pulitzer's death did it begin to decline in the hands of his heirs.

From 1868, when he joined the German-language daily newspaper Westliche Post as a reporter, his career took a steep upward curve. He joined the Republican Party and was elected to the Missouri State Legislature in December 1869, although he was only 22 years old, not yet of age under the law. He soon attracted attention by shooting one of his political opponents, Representative Augustine. He got off with a fine of $105, which was paid by his friends. This "manly" act made him suddenly popular. His marriage brought him into the aristocracy of the South. Pulitzer, as a young congressman, proposed a change in the system of state judgeships, even though he had not yet graduated from law school. For a time, Pulitzer was appointed police chief of St. Louis, Missouri. In the meantime, as he became financially able, he bought up a succession of St. Louis newspapers, which he consolidated into the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His political influence grew, but in 1883 he left St. Louis and moved to New York after the editor-in-chief shot and killed a prominent St. Louis lawyer. The incident was portrayed as self-defence. Pulitzer soon gained great political influence as a press magnate in New York. He was a member of the US House of Representatives from 1884 to 1885, but resigned in 1886 to devote himself solely to journalism.

The journalism schools

As early as 1892, Pulitzer had offered his financial support to Seth Low, then president of Columbia University, to found the world's first journalism school, but Low was discouraged by Pulitzer's then notoriety. In 1902, the new president, Nicholas Murray Butler, was more receptive, but the school was not established until Pulitzer's death. Pulitzer left $2 million to the university, and in 1912 the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism was founded. It is still one of the most prestigious schools of journalism in the world, and is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the DuPont-Columbia Prize. (But it was not the first journalism school: it was established by the University of Missouri, also with Pulitzer's support.)

The Pulitzer Prize

Main article: Pulitzer Prize

The prize is in accordance with his will. It was first awarded in 1917.

Pulitzer maintained good relations with both Hungarians, especially the Rombauer family, and Germans in St. Louis. In 1875 he visited Hungary, stayed at the Császár Baths and visited a friend in Timisoara. Pulitzer was by then a respected man in America, but he was overlooked in Hungary, which presumably hurt him badly.

Pulitzer played a key role in organising Mihály Munkácsy's visit to the United States in 1886. Upon the painter's arrival, Pulitzer's English-language newspaper greeted him with the Hungarian inscription "Long live Mihály Munkácsy". Pulitzer also welcomed Munkácsy to his home, and in his greeting he emphasized that he welcomed him not only because he was a great artist, but also because he represented two great countries - the country in which he lived, France, and the country in which he was born, Hungary. Pulitzer himself was always proud of his native country, Hungary. Pulitzer asked Munkácsy to paint a picture of his wife Kate Davis. The painting, based on a photograph, was completed in Paris in 1891.

Pulitzer also followed the Hungarian movement in New York. Whenever he was invited to an event, he always received a cheque, with a little extra payment.


  1. Joseph Pulitzer
  2. Pulitzer József
  3. ^ The more anglicized pronunciation /ˈpjuːlɪtsər/ PEW-lit-sər is common but widely considered incorrect.
  4. 2023. február 26.
  5. Egy forrás, a magyar Literatura cikke [1] Archiválva 2007. szeptember 27-i dátummal a Wayback Machine-ben szerint Bécsbe költözött az apa és családja, de ezt további források nem támasztják alá.
  6. HUNGARIAN STUDIES 3. Nemzetközi Magyar Filológiai Társaság. Akadémiai Kiadó Budapest [1987 | Arcanum Digitális Tudománytár] (magyar nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2018. november 15.)
  7. Kleine Chronik. In: Neue Freie Presse. Wien 21. Mai 1873, S. 6 (ANNO – AustriaN Newspapers Online [abgerufen am 27. Mai 2020]).
  8. Ein Budapester Journalist in Amerika. In: Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung. Wien 8. November 1884, S. 3 (ANNO – AustriaN Newspapers Online [abgerufen am 27. Mai 2020]).
  9. Telegramme des Correspondenz-Bureau. In: Neue Freie Presse. 6. November 1884, S. 7 (ANNO – AustriaN Newspapers Online [abgerufen am 27. Mai 2020]).
  10. ^ (EN) Joseph Pulitzer, in Enciclopedia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. URL consultato il 28 maggio 2022.
  11. ^ (EN) Joseph Pulitzer, former Representative for New York's 9th Congressional District, su URL consultato il 28 maggio 2022.

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