Every year the winner of the Pulitzer Prize walks off with not just the Prize, but also with an unmatched glory that is worth being celebrated with much pomp and gaiety. The Pulitzer Prize winner is remembered for generations to come. But how much do we know about the man, this honour was named after?
Joseph Pulitzer (Initially Politzer) (Nicknamed Joey the Jew) was born on April 10, 1847, to Philip Politzer and Louise Berger, in Mako, Hungary. Although he had a large family, only he and his brother Albert lived up to adulthood. After his father’s retirement, the family shifted to Budapest, the most populous city of Hungary in 1853. Educated in private schools, Joseph and his siblings were well-versed in French and German. His father died when he was just 11 years old. His mother married Max Blau 6 years later and thereafter Joseph decided to move out alone.
After being rejected by the Austrian Army, the French Foreign Legion and the British Army, he was finally selected to fight for the union in the American Civil War in August 1864, in Hamburg, Germany. His short military career ended with due honour on June 5, 1865. He returned to New York in order to find a job after the war and was left unemployed and homeless due to the tough competition he faced from other veterans. He then boarded a train to St. Louis, Missouri and was left penniless to cross the Mississippi River wherein he agreed to load coals on the ferryboat to reach across the river. Pulitzer did many jobs in St. Louis like a hack driver, a gravedigger, a deckhand, a waiter, and mule caretaker. By 1867, he was a certified citizen of the United States. Travelling through Missouri on a horse to record land rights for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroads was his streak of luck. This very job prompted him to pursue law and he was admitted to the bar in 1868.
Joseph could not speak English. Notwithstanding his poor health and bad eyesight, he constantly learnt with an utmost curiosity which helped him climb the steps of success. Spending hours of learning English in the Mercantile Library, he met Carl Schurz, the co-editor and co-owner of the German Newspaper. Inspired by the young man, Carl hired him as a reporter. Never letting him down, Joseph worked tirelessly and hunted for the facts for every story which often irritated his colleagues.
While investigating the Republic State Convention in Jefferson City, he was designated to apprehend a politician, Samuel Grantham. Being a one man army, he tried to uproot corruption from his district. He introduced a bill to terminate the St. Louis County Court wherein county officials were hired and paid for building projects and also, Joseph noticed that these officials were actually friends of the court. Later on, his bill was passed by the court. During the case, he shot a building contractor on his leg when he came to fight with Joseph. Pulitzer with the help of his friends paid a huge sum for the same. Shortly after his loss of the House seat in 1870, Joseph Pulitzer became a Democrat. Although he loved politics his true passion always lied in journalism. When provided with a position of managing director and co-ownership of the Westliche Post in 1872, he couldn’t deny. Working against the clock for 4 long years, he then decided to take a break from the job and pay a visit to his home in Hungary.
Upon returning to St. Louis, Joseph purchased the bankrupt St. Louis Dispatch at a public auction and decided to merge it with the St. Louis Evening Post. Hence emerged the St. Louis Post and Dispatch which was later shortened to St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Joseph worked on every minute detail of his paper and focused mainly on the ill doings of St. Louis with an energy-packed attitude and boldly exposed tax debtors, gamblers, and every other corrupted happening of the state. His paper was his mode of transportation of truth which obviously gifted him with some number of enemies. That never stopped him from his work though, he circulated the paper amongst large populations and bought St. Louis Post-Dispatch a colossal success.
He was dating Kate Davis during the period and soon married her. Joseph’s health conditions worsened with time and so he decided to take a leave but before that, he bought the New York World when his family moved to New York City. He gave the responsibilities of St. Louis Post-Dispatch to his partner, John Dillon. By 1890’s Joseph was nearly blind and victim of a disease wherein he had to soundproof his bedroom as well as his yacht. Joseph built a 16-storey-building for the World in New York which was the tallest building in the city of that time. Continuing to fight the crimes, he equally worked for both his papers. Also, he played a major role in erecting the Statue of Liberty.
By 1895, Joseph’s competitive attitude towards William Randolph’s paper the New York Journal blindfolded him from publishing facts. He started writing pale stories with catchy headings and colourful columns just to attract buyers (Yellow Journalism) but later on, he realized his absurdity and again started writing the facts. His health worsened, but his never-ending hard work helped him control his papers. Joseph died at the age of 64 because of heart failure and his sons took charge of both his papers. While The World was shut down in 1931, Post-Dispatch is still active though it is not run by any of the Pulitzer members.
Joseph spent his life battling corruptions. He never shied away from revealing the truth regardless of the physical and legal threats he received. He was a generous man and he paid his employees well. The Columbia University School of Journalism was established with the help of Joseph’s donations and today, the school conducts the Pulitzer Prize which is an honour given to those who excel in journalism, literature, and music. The prize was first awarded in 1917 and the legacy continues to date.
Justina Susan Jose