Joseph Pulitzer, one of the most well known journalists of all time and the inspiration for the much sought after literary award, was born on April 10, 1847 in Mako, Hungary. During his young years, Joseph was educated in Budapest by private tutors and private schools, paid for by his father, who was a wealthy merchant. At the age of 17, Joseph began to aspire to a military career; however, his was unable to fulfill this dream due to poor health. He then traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where he enlisted as a substitute for a draftee in the U.S. Union Army under the Civil War draft system. After arriving in Boston, he served for a year in the Lincoln Cavalry. After his stint in the army, he began to make his way to St. Louis, working odd jobs. During this time he brushed up on his English and also began to study law. Spending much time in the library, he came to meet two editors of the most important German daily newspaper, the Westliche Post. He obtained a job with the newspaper and within four years had built quite a reputation as a strong journalist. By this time the owners of the newspaper were nearly bankrupt and offered Pulitzer a controlling interest. Although he was only 25, he became a publisher and began to make very shrewd business deals, which eventually led him to become owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by the time he was 31.
Around this same time, he married a woman named Kate Davis, who hailed from one of the most important families in Washington. After taking over the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he worked tirelessly to build up the circulation of the paper, frequently working well into the night and steering the direction of the newspaper toward investigating reports and editorials that focused on government corruption as well as articles highlighting the goings-on of wealthy citizens who sought to avoid taxes and gamblers. His strategy was effective.
Pulitzer’s health and eyesight, both of which had never been strong, began to worsen the more he dedicated himself to his career. In 1883, he sought to take an extended European vacation with his wife under orders from his physician; however, he instead purchased The New York World, just as he was about to board the ship. Just as he had immersed himself in the making a success of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he now turned his attention toward his new business acquisition. Using similar tactics, he focused this newspaper on private and public corruption, frequently using illustrations to drive home the point of his articles. During the next ten years, circulation of the paper increased to more than 600,000 readers.
Before long an all out battle began between Pulitzer and the publisher of the The Sun, to become and remain as the largest circulating newspaper in the nation. Charles Anderson Dana, publisher of The Sun, would stop at nothing it seemed to gain the leading role. He utilized personal and racist attacks on Pulitzer to drive the Jewish community in New York away from The World. The whole ordeal was rather trying and did nothing to improve Pulitzer’s already failing health. At the age of 43, he found he had no other alternative but to remove himself as editor. By this time he was all but blind and was battling severe depression. The next twenty years were spent searching for cures for the various illnesses that plagued him. Although he worked diligently at finding a cure to improve his health, his dedication to the field of journalism never wavered. In 1904 he began drafting a proposal to found a school of journalism. He died in 1911 aboard his yacht.
One year later the Columbia School of Journalism was founded and five years after that the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.