William Randolph Hearst, by W.A. Rogers

William Randolph Hearst, the famous American newspaper tycoon and publisher, was born in San Francisco in 1863, as the son of a wealthy father who made his fortune in mining. Hearst studied journalism at Harvard, where he was influenced by the great newspaper man Joseph Pulitzer, whose biggest rival he would later become. He got his first newspaper in 1887, at age 23, when his father gave him The San Francisco Examiner which he had accepted earlier as payment for a gambling debt. William Randolph Hearst set out a new course for journalism, reforming investigative reporting and not shunning sensationalism, introducing banner headlines and lavish illustrations. He hired famous reporters such as Ambrose Bierce, Jack London and Mark Twain.

William Randolph Hearst

Hearst acquired The New York Morning Journal in 1895, and launched The Evening Journal a year later. Soon he was the chief of a whole chain of American newspapers and magazines, giving him tremendous power over the distribution of information. Some say he used this to initiate the Spanish-American War of 1898, inciting anti-Spanish sentiments, with the object of increasing sales. He is also said to have inspired political assassination, writing an editorial piece about it just before President McKinley was killed. Hearst's ferocious and often immoral style of journalism was soon called "yellow journalism", after the strip 'The Yellow Kid' by R.F. Outcault which was printed in one of Hearst's papers.

The start of the Spanish-American War, 25 April 1898
The start of the Spanish-American War, 25 April 1898

William Hearst has meant a great deal for newspaper strip artists. Aware of how strips and illustrations lured a devoted audience, he set out to hire the greatest comic artists, such as Winsor McCay, George Herriman, James Swinnerton, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Doc Winner, Carl Anderson, Edgar Wheelan, Harry Hershfield, Frederick Opper, Clare Briggs, Tad Dorgan, Milt Gross, Hal Foster, Otto Soglow and Jimmy Murphy. They had great artistic freedom, often being able to show their work in entire color supplements. Of course, this inspired rivalling newspapers to employ comic artists as well, and until the 1930s Depression, newspapers provided an unequaled opportunity for many comic artists.

The newspaper war between Pulitzer and Hearst
The newspaper war between Pulitzer and Hearst;
drawn in the style of 'The Yellow Kid'

On the other hand, Hearst's treatment of his artists, which were basically no more than newspapermen, working solely for the purpose of attracting readers, has set the scene for disagreements between comic artists and newspapers ever since. In the early days, the copyright of newspaper strip lay with the newspaper, as well as licensing rights. Many artists have lost their own creations in fierce courtroom fights after they left the newspaper and wished to take their work with them. William Hearst founded the famous King Features Syndicate, which helps artists distribute their comics nation-wide, but also gives them unfavorable deals when it comes to copyright and licensing.

Hearst as a democrat, by Bergman 1906
Hearst as a democrat, by Bergman 1906

Having an interest in politics, like his father, William Hearst ran for governor, but failed to win in 1906. He also turned to animation and film, producing over 100 titles.

In 1919, Hearst started the building of his famous Hearst Castle, an architectural masterpiece which took almost three decades to build and contains around 165 rooms, as well as underground vaults. The Hearst estate is located in the Santa Lucia Mountains and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It is now a State Historic Monument and one of the most popular tourist destinations in California.

Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle

Starting with his role in the Spanish-American war, when a Spanish army captured a timberland wood belonging to Hearst, he nurtured a deep hatred against "those lazy pot-smoking Spaniards and Mexicans." In 1936-38, the Hearst newspapers led a fierce campaign against marihuana (probably for the first time introducing this word in the English language), claiming it led to violence, and laying the groundwork for the American drugs policy of today.

Hearst caricatured as politician

In 1941, young film maker Orson Welles made the movie 'Citizen Kane', which was completely based on William Randolph Hearst, depicting him as a ruthless newspaper man. Hearst tried to shut the film down but failed.

Hearst was also a philanthropist, giving money to various good causes. He founded the Hearst Foundation in 1945, which is still active. William Randolph Hearst was one of the most influential and controversial eccentrics of his time. He influenced American history in many important ways - some bad, but also good. His role in the development of newspaper comic strips is unequaled. Hearst was a publishing magnate that laid the roots for comics to become the great cultural asset they are today.

William Randolph Hearst speaks to his reporters
William Randolph Hearst speaks to his reporters

More about Wm R Hearst
About W.R. Hearst and comics
Hearst's assault on marijuana
The Hearst Castle website

caricature of William R. Hearst

Series and books by William Randolph Hearst in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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