Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #31

Joseph Pulitzer (1847 – 1911)


Publisher of the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer was one of the most influential figures in American journalism. Seen as both heroic and villainous (he hired Nellie Bly and launched her career as a pioneer of investigative reporting, but he also exploited his paper boys and provoked them to strike), he was an innovator in techniques of yellow journalism and sensational reporting designed to appeal to the tastes and interests of the common man. His most visible contribution to New York stands in the harbor. The Statue of Liberty was supposed to be unveiled in 1876 in honor of the U.S. centennial. But Jay Gould, from whom Pulitzer had purchased the World in 1883, had played a dirty game in the gold market and hurtled the country into such an immense economic depression that no one wanted to donate any money for the statue’s pedestal. The French were prepared to take their gift back from what they saw as ungrateful American neighbors, when Pulitzer launched a massive publicity campaign to solicit donations from ordinary Americans, chiding them for waiting for donations from the millionaires and proclaiming “Let us hear from the people!” By the time the statue was unveiled in 1886, Pulitzer had published the name of every single donor in his paper. Today, of course, the Pulitzer Prize carries on his legacy, awarding excellence in drama, history, literature, music, poetry, and of course journalism.


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