József Pulitzer was born in Hungary in 1847. When his father died, the family business went bankrupt. József tried to join various armies in Europe to support himself. He was rejected by Austria, France, and Britain. He was finally accepted by Germany and sent to the U.S. to fight for the North in the Civil War.
Once the war was over, Joseph (his Americanized name) was again destitute. He became a hobo and ended up in St. Louis. He failed at most physical labor because of his size and his temperament. None of his jobs lasted very long, but Joseph spent time between jobs in the library. He actually passed the bar but, again, was unsuccessful as a lawyer.
It was a swindle that put him on the journey to make a major contribution. Joe wrote an article on the fraud that was published in a local paper. He realized his talent as a writer.
What followed was a career in politics where Joseph became more and more disillusioned with the corruption he saw. He decided to put aside his political career and focus more on opportunities for writing.
By the age of 30, Joseph had enough funds to buy a failing newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He transformed the paper into a populist based source for investigative journalism. The paper became popular very quickly. However a series of political skirmishes ruined his reputation, and he moved to New York City.
Joseph was able to buy the New York World newspaper and quickly turn it into the most read paper in the country. In the remaining years of life, Joseph continued to be involved in politics and openly feuded with others in and out of journalism.
In 1892, Joseph offered $2 million Columbia to establish the first school of journalism. The gift was not accepted until after his death. He also helped create a school of journalism at the University of Missouri. In 1917, Columbia initiated the Pulitzer Prizes in literature, poetry, history, music, and drama. Joseph died at age 64.
What would our society be like without a strong press? Think of the scandals that have been brought to light by investigative journalism. While Joseph didn’t create the first newspapers in the country, he gave them an important voice.
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“Our republic and its press will rise or fall together.” – Joseph Pulitzer (Quote appearing on a commemorative stamp issued in 1847)