Joseph Pulitzer, spoofed by Frederick Burr Opper for the cover of Puck magazine of 18 January 1898.

Joseph Pulitzer was a Hungarian-American newspaper tycoon who owned the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The New York World. Together with William Randolph Hearst he was the leading U.S. newspaper publisher of the late 19th and early 20th century. Both men were controversial for frequently publishing smear campaigns, gossips and fabricated stories. During their heydays both held tremendous business power and could influence public opinion by building up or destroying people's careers. And just like Hearst, Pulitzer was also a seminal figure in the history of comics. Despite never having written or drawn a comic strip in his life, Pulitzer was a major force in the industrialization of the medium. He printed various daily comics and launched the careers of numerous cartoonists. Hearst and Pulitzer fought such fierce battles over the legal ownership of certain comics titles that all newspapers in the world soon realized that they had to have their own comics pages. Pulitzer was the second newspaper owner in history to started a full-colour comics supplement, but the first to publish it on Sundays, launching the "Sunday funnies" phenomenon. His newspapers harboured some of the earliest comics to become extraordinarily popular among readers. The term "comics" itself was launched by one of his staff members. Pulitzer furthermore lives on in the annual Pulitzer Prizes, which have a special award for Editorial Cartooning, the first prestigious award to take newspaper cartoons seriously.

Early life
Józszef Pulitzer was born in 1847 in Makó, Hungary. His father was a merchant of Jewish descent, but passed away when his son was only 11 years old. His death was a major blow for his store and the firm quickly went bankrupt. Since the army provided a living, Pulitzer tried to enlist, but was rejected by the Austrian, British and French troops. Yet the U.S. Army could still use extra forces and didn't care whether these people were immigrants or not. Like many poor Europeans, Pulitzer therefore emigrated to the United States. In 1864 the 17-year old arrived in Boston, Massachussets. The teenager changed his mind when he heard that most of his enlistment money would be kept by the recruitment office. Pulitzer therefore went to New York City and enlisted in a different recruitment center. He served in the Lincoln Calvary during the last stage of the American Civil War (1861-1865), where he was commanded by general Philip J. Sheridan.

Back in civilian life, Pulitzer returned to New York City, where he succumbed into poverty. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri, which had a large population of German immigrants. Here his German knowledge was an advantage, but he still studied English in his spare time. Pulitzer worked various physically demanding jobs, like mule tender, riverboat loader, bookkeeper and restaurant waiter, but rarely kept them long.


Pulitzer's early life was chronicled in picture story format for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of 6 April 1947 by W.A. Byrnes at the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Pulitzer's birthday.

Westliche Post
His destiny was determined when he and a couple of men read an ad for a job at a sugar plantation in Louisiana. The payment seemed attractive, but once they took a boat trip to get to their destination, the ship only sailed 30 miles outside the city, after which they were forced to go back ashore again. Like his compatriots, Pulitzer was furious. But only he had the bright idea to write an article about this scam and go to the nearest newspaper office, the Westliche Post. They liked his story and instantly published it. Convinced of his writing talent, the newspaper editors gave him his first commission. He was asked to write a report about the building of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. His colleagues helped him study law, but his accent was a hindrance to obtain clients. Luckily the Westliche Post still was in need of a reporter and thus Pulitzer began his professional journalistic career. This wasn't a cosy job, as he soon found out. In 1870 a lobbyist accused him of inaccurate reporting. In the ensuing brawl, Pulitzer shot the man, but luckily he was only wounded. A court ordered him to pay his victim a compensation sum.

Pulitzer became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1867 and converted to episcopalianism when he married an American woman in 1878. Yet many people still nicknamed him "Joey the German" or "Joey the Jew" because of his accent. While Pulitzer's English remained rusty, he could speak and write very fluently. His knowledge of French and German also helped his career foward. By 1870 he was already managing editor of the Westliche Post and by 1871 became part owner. One of his close friends was cartoonist Joseph Keppler, an Austrian immigrant. In 1872 Pulitzer sold his interest in the Westliche Post so he could use the money to travel through Europe for a year. Three years later he became a delegate to the Missouri constitutional convention, where he lobbied for state support of public education.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
1875 was also the year when Pulitzer became a Washington Correspondent for The New York Sun. In 1877 he bought two local papers, the St. Louis Dispatch and the St. Louis Post, and merged them into the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The first issue appeared on 12 December 1878. Among the cartoonists who appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were Walter Quermann, Leon Searl and Harry J. Tuthill. In 1901 Harry B. Martin's cartoon feature 'Weatherbird' debuted in its pages. The series would be continued throughout the next century by such artists as Oscar Chopin, S. Carlisle Martin, Amadee Wohlschlaeger, Albert Schweitzer and Dan Martin. As of 2020 it still the longest running newspaper mascot still used by its original publication and one of the longest-running newspaper cartoons of all time. Still, controversy kept surrounding Pulitzer. In 1882 a reporter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch got into an argument with a congressional nominee and murdered the man. Pulitzer defended his journalist, which made his paper lose a considerable amount of readers.

Hogan's Alley by RF Outcault
Richard F. Outcault's 'Hogan's Alley' from the World of 13 September 1896.

The New York World
In 1883 Pulitzer bought The New York World. The paper became the best-selling newspaper in the United States, mostly thanks to its sensational headlines. Many articles were spiced up by adding gossips and speculations. Some stories were even downright fabricated. But it generated in high sales which made Pulitzer a millionaire. By 1889 he was rich enough to let architect George Brown Post build a skyscraper in which their office could be housed: the New York World Building. After its completion in 1890 it was the tallest building in New York City for a period of five years. One of Pulitzer's most enduring accomplishments was raising money to help the completion of the Statue of Liberty in 1889. When the iconic statue was inaugurated, New York City held its first ticker-tape parade.

The New York World also attracted readers with actual quality articles. In 1883 a report about inhuman housing conditions in New York City which led to many poor children dying from a heat wave led to the city council actually taking reforming measures. Between 1889 and 1890 one of its reporters, Nellie Bly, travelled the world in an attempt to mimick the plot of Jules Verne's novel 'Around the World in 80 Days'. The stunt received a lot of publicity and every day people could follow her diary in its pages. Bly managed to complete her trip in 72 days time. She even met Verne in Paris. It was the first time in history that anyone had tried to imitate the world voyage depicted in Verne's novel, but not the last. In 1903 Bly's record was broken by theatre critic James Willis Sayre, who managed to travel the globe in 54 days. The most famous person to imitate Verne's journey was Monty Python member Michael Palin with the TV series 'Around The World In 80 Days' (1988), which also set off all his other travel-related programs.


Collective take on the summertime by Pulitzer's team of cartoonists, published in the New York World on 11 July 1897. Clockwise from top left: Art Young, Dan McCarthy, Frank Ladendorf and Ferd Long. Diamond exterior: A.N. Boyd. Diamond interior: George Luks (left) and Walt McDougall (right).

Sunday comics
In 1889 The New York World featured an illustrated cartoon section. Readers, particularly children, liked these humoristic picture-stories. They were advertised and referred to as "funnies" or "comics", because of their comedic nature. The term "comics weekly" is said to have been invented by staff member Merl Goddard. On 21 May 1893 The New York World introduced a comics supplement in full colour, which was published on Sundays. The idea was borrowed from a rival newpaper, the Chicago Inter Ocean, which had already launched its own full colour comics supplement, The Illustrated Supplement, on Thursday 23 June 1892. Yet Pulitzer's editors had the bright idea to publish this comics supplement on Sundays, when most people had a day off and thus time to relax with a newspaper. As such, the long tradition of the "Sunday funnies" was born. Two of the most popular comics series of the 1890s ran in its pages, namely Charles Saalburg's 'The Ting-Lings' (1894-1897) and Richard F. Outcault's 'Hogan's Alley' (1894-1898). Both were basically lavishly illustrated one-panel gag cartoons, but their amount of detail and stories-within-stories would have a significant impact on the history of comics. Other cartoonists who published in the New York World were A.N. Boyd, Charles Forbell, Syd B. GriffinF.M. Howarth, Frank Ladendorf, Ferd G. Long, George Luks, Dan McCarthy, Walt McDougall, William Steinigans and Art Young.


Joseph Pulitzer, portrayed on the cover of Harper's Weekly of 28 December 1901 by W.A. Rogers (©HarpWeek).

Rivalry with Hearst
One publisher looked at Pulitzer with admiration, envy and the conviction that he could do better: William Randolph Hearst. Hearst had started his journalistic career by buying the San Francisco Examiner, where he used many of the same sales strategies Pulitzer had used. Sensational headlines, twisted facts and rich, detailed illustrations livened up the pages. He soon emerged as Pulitzer's biggest rival. In 1895 Hearst bought Pulitzer's The New York Morning Journal, which had been in the red for a while. He revitalized the paper and made it a best-seller again. Naturally he copied the idea of having a Sunday comics supplement and even bought the entire Sunday funnies staff of Pulitzer's New York World away to publish in his own papers instead. Buying people away from his rivals was Hearst's easiest, dirtiest but most effective tactic. He convinced some cartoonists in Pulitzer's papers to work for him and take their series with them. Or, if the rights of the title remained with the original owners, create a similar series with the same characters under a different title. On 18 October 1896 Hearst bought Richard F. Outcault, the most succesful cartoonist at that moment, and let him publish in his Sunday colour supplement of The New York Journal, The American Humorist. His succesful title 'Hogan's Alley' was renamed 'McFadden's Row of Flats', though many readers referred to it as 'The Yellow Kid', which eventually became its permanent title.

Naturally, Hearst and Pulitzer's papers claimed that only "they" had "the official Yellow Kid" in their pages. Screaming and sleazy headlines were used to badmouth one another. In the end the matter was solved by letting Pulitzer keep the title 'Hogan's Alley' and have one of his own illustrators, George Luks, continue the feature, while Outcault created 'The Yellow Kid' in Hearst's pages. This mediatized rivalrly over 'The Yellow Kid' coined the name "yellow journalism" for such marketing and journalism techniques. The association stuck since cartoonists in other papers who satirized Hearst's lack of ethics often caricatured The Yellow Kid within the same drawing. By 1898 'The Yellow Kid' had lost its popularity and thus Outcault returned to Pulitzer's New York World and the St. Louis-Dispatch to create new comics series. Another cartoonist bought away by Hearst from Pulitzer was Leon Searl, while Pulitzer bought away Gene Carr and Rudolph Dirks from Hearst.


Cartoon by Leon Barritt spoofing the rivalry between Hearst and Pulitzer, both in Yellow Kid outfit, claiming "ownership" of the Spanish-American War (Vim magazine, June 1898).

While Hearst and Pulitzer were bitter rivals, they also had a lot in common. Apart from building a newspaper empire on sensationalism and popular comics, both men were politically active. Joseph Pulitzer was a member of the Republican Party between 1869 and 1872, but joined the Democratic Party in 1874. A decade later he was elected into the U.S. House of Representatives in New York City, but had to resign because his newspaper activities took up most of his time. In 1898 Hearst and Pulitzer set their differences aside when the military ship USS Maine exploded and sank in the Harbour of Havana, Cuba. At the time Cuba was still a Spanish colony and thus many Americans assumed it had been a military attack. In reality it was merely an explosion on board of the ship. Hearst and Pulitzer united in their quest to blow this incident out of proportion and send their country to war with Spain. Their papers sensationalized the event and directly accused Spain of having attacked the U.S. Anti-Spanish sentiments spread and soon public opinion became convinced that war was the only solution. Three months long the Spanish-American War raged, while Hearst and Pulitzer's papers fed their readers propaganda. The United States won the war and the Treaty of Paris (1898) gave them control over Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam and Cuba. Even though all became independent in the 20th century the U.S. still maintained a strong military and economic presence in these areas.

Between 18 July and 2 August 1899 various newspaper delivery boys went on strike in an united effort to force Hearst and Pulitzer to raise their payments. In a time when promotion in the streets was still very important to motivate people to buy newspaper copies this strike hurt both newspaper tycoons considerably. Particularly Pulitzer saw his circulation drop from 360.000 papers a day to 125.000. Many people sympathized with the young newsboys and refused to buy any copies from Hearst and Pulitzer's papers. In the end the boys' demands were accepted and their earnings duplicated. The 1899 Newsboys' Strike inspired the comics characters 'The Newsboy Legion' by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. They debuted in issue #7 of Star-Spangled Comics (April 1942).

Later life and death
In 1887 Pulitzer endured a ruptured blood vessel, which made him lose his eyesight. His stressy job caused insomnia and he suffered from diabetes, asthma, rheumatism and sensitivity to noise too. Already in 1890 an executive board took over much of his daily duties. Yet Pulitzer kept a strong hand on his media empire from the quiet comfort of his home. By 1907 his son took over the company. Joseph Pulitzer died in 1911 in Charleston at age 64.


Joseph Pulitzer's life story, fitted into one comics page by Joe Simon ('Highlights From The Lives of 48 Famous Americans', 1947).

Legacy
One year after his death. the Columbia University established a School of Journalism, which had been a lifelong dream of Pulitzer. It is currently the oldest journalism school in the world, only behind the École Supérieure de Journalisme de Paris (1899) and the Missouri School of Journalism (1908). The New York World wrote history in December 1913 by publishing the first crossword puzzle. Nevertheless the paper was discontinued on 27 February 1931, after being sold to Roy W. Howard, owner of the Evening Telegram. He took part of its title and named his paper The New York World-Telegram. The New York World Building was demolished in 1955, but its large glass window still exists, only fit inside the Columbia University School of Journalism. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is also still in circulation as of 2020.

Pulitzer's most enduring legacy are the annual Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and more non-journalistic cultural categories like novels, poetry, history, drama and music. The first ceremony was held in 1917. Since 1922 an annual Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning has been awarded too. The institute has also given special awards to artists which don't quite fall into their categories. For instance, in 1984 all works of Dr. Seuss received a special Pulitzer Prize. In 1992 Art Spiegelman's 'Maus' became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. Joseph Pulitzer's art museum is still visitable in St. Louis, as is his grave memorial at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. In 1989 he was posthumously inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. In 2001 the Pulitzer Arts Foundation was established in St. Louis, Missouri.

In a fitting tribute, Joseph Pulitzer's life was adapted into a comic strip too. In 1947 the J.C. Penney Company published an educational comic book titled 'Highlights From The Lives of 48 Famous Americans' (1947), in which 48 biographical comics were written and drawn by Joe Simon. Pulitzer was among the many famous historical figures who saw his lifestory appear in comic book form.

Books about Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper comics
For those interested in the beautiful comics from the early Pulitzer Sunday pages, 'The World On Sunday - Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper (1898-1911)' (Bulfinch Press, 2005) by Nicholson Baker and Margaret Brentano is highly recommended.

Series and books by Joseph Pulitzer in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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