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Joseph Pulitzer: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Thomas Davis

Thomas has taught high school age students for 34 years, undergraduate 12 years, and graduate courses for the last 8 years. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University in Evanston, Illinois.

Joseph Pulitzer was one of most innovative and influential newspaper publishers in United States history. This lesson will focus on the life, accomplishments, and quotes of Joseph Pulitzer.

Icon in Journalism

Some people know what they want to do from the start, and other people struggle to find their place in this world. Joseph Pulitzer wanted to be a soldier in Europe and ended up being a pioneer in journalism in the United States. Today, the most prestigious award in journalism, The Pulitzer Prize, is named in his honor.

Joseph Pulitzer
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European Roots

Joseph Pulitzer was born on April 10, 1847, in Mako, Hungary. Joseph's father, Philip Pulitzer (originally Politzer) was of Jewish-Hungarian ancestry. His mother, Louise Berger, was German born and a devout Roman Catholic. Philip made his living as a grain merchant and was a successful and respected businessman. The family moved to Budapest, and Joseph received his education through private schools and tutors. After Philip died, and his mother remarried, Joseph decided to join the military. He tried the French Foreign Legion, the Austrian Army, and the British Army. However, due to his poor health, he was unable to join. In Germany, Joseph met a recruiter for the Union Army and decided to immigrate to America and fight in the American Civil War.

Coming to America

Arriving in the United States in 1864, Joseph fought until 1865 in the Civil War. After the war, he looked for work in the New York area, but the competition for jobs was too high. He moved to Kansas City, Missouri and was a cart driver, a waiter, and a mule tender. He also worked to record land rights for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and studied law and continued to work on learning English. His first journalistic job was working for the Westliche Post, a German newspaper in Kansas City.

Give Them What They Want to Read

Pulitzer married the niece of Jefferson Davis, Ms. Kate Davis, in 1878. Pulitzer bought the St. Louis Dispatch and merged it with The Post becoming The Post-Dispatch, the same year. He wanted the paper to be different. Instead of the same old news, he focused on what the people wanted to read. His forte was attacking government corruption, gamblers, tax fraud, and other investigative stories. He was a true newspaperman.

New York Expansion

Pulitzer bought the New York World in 1883. The focus was the same as it was in St. Louis. His paper would attack corruption, fraud, and the injustices people were facing. Building on what he had already accomplished, he added artists to create visuals of the conditions people were living in as a result of corruption. He would make the New York World, the most read newspaper in the United States.

Yellow Journalism

Things changed a great deal when the other newspaperman of the age, William Randolph Hearst, purchased the New York Journal. The competition led to yellow journalism. Yellow Journalism describes stories or reports that are sensationalized or exaggerated yet presented as truth. The term yellow journalism did originate during this period. However, its exact origin is disputed. Many say the term yellow is derived from Hearst enticing the cartoonist from the World over to his Journal to work for him. His cartoon was called the 'Yellow Kid.'

With the United States' foreign policy in the Caribbean, and the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the competition to sell papers turned into a competition of telling the best stories. The stories were what the people wanted to read. The sinking of the Maine provided Pulitzer and Hearst a great opportunity to sell newspapers. The people in the United States, frenzied by the yellow press, were quick to want war with whoever sank a United States ship. The saying 'Remember the Maine' became a public outcry for war.

Sinking of the Maine Sold Papers!!
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