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Joseph Pulitzer

Joseph Pulitzer (April 10, 1847 - October 29, 1911), born in Budapest, was an American newspaper man and journalist. The Pulitzer Prizes, first awarded in 1917, was set up by Pulitzer's will. (His name, often mispronounced, should actually sound like "Pull it, sir.")

Pulitzer immigrated to the United States in 1864, where he served in the American Civil War. He then settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where in 1868 he began working for a German-language daily newspaper, the Westliche Post. He joined the Republican Party and was elected to the Missouri State Assembly in 1869. In 1872, Pulitzer purchased the Post for $3,000. Then, in 1878, he bought the St. Louis Dispatch for $2,700 and merged the two papers, which became the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which remains St. Louis' daily newspaper.

A wealthy man by 1883, Pulitzer purchased the New York World, a newspaper that had been losing $40,000 a year, for $346,000 from Jay Gould. Pulitzer shifted its focus to human-interest stories, scandal, and sensationalism. In 1885, the same year he would be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he recruited Richard F. Outcault to draw cartoons based on life in the slums, and circulation reached 600,000--from a circulation of 15,000 when he bought the paper--making it the largest newspaper in the country. In 1887, he recruited the famous investigative journalist Nellie Bly.

The editor of the rival New York Sun attacked Pulitzer in print, calling him "The Jew who abandoned his religion" (Pulitzer's father was Jewish, while his mother was Roman Catholic and his wife, Kate Davis, was Episcopal) in 1890. The move, intended to alienate Pulitzer's Jewish readership, caused Pulitzer's already failing health to deteriorate rapidly and he resigned his editorship, although he maintained financial control of his newspapers.

In 1895, William Randolph Hearst purchased the New York Journal, which led to a journalism war between Pulitzer's World and Hearst's Journal. This competition with Hearst, particularly the coverage before and during the Spanish-American War, linked Pulitzer's name with yellow journalism. In 1896, the World began a color supplement, an innovation at the time.

After the World exposed a fraudulent payment of $40 million by the United States to the French Panama Canal Company in 1909, Pulitzer was indicted for libeling Theodore Roosevelt and J. P. Morgan. The courts dismissed the indictments, in a victory for freedom of the press.

In 1892, Pulitzer offered Columbia University's president, Seth Low, money to set up the world's first school of journalism. The university initially turned down the money. In 1902, Columbia's new president Nicholas Murray Butler was more receptive to the plan for a school and prizes, but it would not be until after Pulitzer's death that this dream would be fulfilled. Pulitzer left the university $2 million in his will, which led to the creation in 1912 of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, but by then the first school of journalism had been created at the University of Missouri. In 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded, in accordance to Pulitzer's wishes, and the Graduate School of Journalism remains the most prestigious in the nation.

Joseph Pulitzer died aboard his yacht in the harbor of Charleston, North Carolina in 1911. He is interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.