William Randolph Hearst

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William Randolph Hearst

Born April 29, 1863
San Francisco, California
Died August 14, 1951
Beverly Hills, California

American newspaper publisher

Spanish-American War">

"Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."

William Randolph Hearst quoted in The Correspondents's War: Journalists in the Spanish-American War.

The Spanish-American War (April-August 1898) pitted the United States against Spain in a battle to drive Spain from its colony of Cuba. During the conflict, the owners of two New York newspapers fought each other to increase circulation and readership. Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) had been running the New York World for twelve years when William Randolph Hearst bought the New York Journal in 1895. A rivalry quickly developed between Pulitzer and Hearst, and they used the Second Cuban War for Independence (1895-1898), and later the Spanish-American War, to fuel their fight. In the end, America won its war, Hearst won his, and the Cuban rebels found themselves at the mercy of an American military government.

Early career

William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco on April 29, 1863. His father, George Hearst, owned and operated profitable gold, silver, and copper mines; consequently, the younger Hearst grew up with the privileges that wealth often brings. After getting expelled from Harvard Universityin 1885 thanks to poor grades, Hearst wanted to enter the newspaper business. He asked his father to give him the San Francisco Examiner, a daily newspaper that George Hearst had bought to help advance his own political career. George refused his son's request, and Hearst instead went to work for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World beginning in 1886.

Pulitzer had purchased the World three years earlier, when he was just thirty-six, and he used it to create a reporting style called "new journalism." The World catered to readers from the immigrant and working classes. It featured sensational stories about crime and corruption in business and government. The Sunday edition carried a comics section that included cartoonist Richard Outcault's popular character, The Yellow Kid.

Hearst studied Pulitzer's methods while working as his apprentice (a person who works for another, often without pay, in return for learning a trade). In 1887, George Hearst became a U.S. senator. No longer able to work on the Examiner, he transferred control of the newspaper to his son. Hearst headed west, as his father had done before him in 1849. And, like his father, he struck gold—building newspaper readership using a combination of sensational stories, high-paid writers and artists, publicity stunts, and old-fashioned hard work.

Yellow journalism

By 1895, Hearst needed money for a new journalistic challenge. Already a success in San Francisco, he set his sights on New York by purchasing the New York Journal for $150,000. Hearst got the money from his mother, who had inherited a large fortune when George Hearst died in 1891.

Hearst published his first issue of the Journal on November 7, 1895, immediately creating a rivalry with Pulitzer's World. The papers fought each other for greater circulation with sensational stories and dirty business tactics. After Hearst stole cartoonist Richard Outcault to write Yellow Kid comic strips for the Journal, Pulitzer substituted artist George Luks to continue creating the strip for the World. "Yellow journalism" became a term commonly used to describe both Hearst and Pulitzer's tactics and journalistic styles.

The Cuban revolution

When Hearst published his first issue of the Journal in November 1895, Cuba was nine months into a revolution against colonial rule by Spain. The revolution began in part because the United States had raised the tariff—import tax—on sugar, Cuba's main product; in return, Spain had raised tariffs on United States imports. The small farmers and working people of Cuba suffered from these tariffs and struggled with rapidly rising costs of living. By rebelling, they hoped to free Cuba from Spanish control in order to improve their lives financially and socially.

The U.S. government refused to take sides officially in the Cuban revolution. Supporting Spain would make the United States seem heartless. On the other hand, supporting Cuba would make the United States appear to be too friendly with the working classes and black rebels who fought among Cuba's revolutionary ranks. American businesses and their pro-business president, William McKinley (1843-1901; served 1897-1901; see entry), did not want to see the working classes prevail in Cuba.

As a champion of the working classes, Hearst wanted the United States to help the Cuban rebels in their cause. In January 1897, he hired writer Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916; see entry) and illustrator Frederick Remington (1861-1909) to travel to Cuba to capture scenes of the rebellion. (Davis and Remington were only two of the many correspondents that Hearst, Pulitzer, and others sent to Cuba.) Soon after he arrived, Remington got bored and sent a telegram to Hearst saying, according to Charles H. Brown in The Correspondents' War, "Everything is quiet. There is no trouble. There will be no war. I wish to return."

Hearst's response to Remington became one of the most famous quotes of the war: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." While Hearst denied ever saying this, he clearly wanted action in Cuba to help the Journal grow.

The Dupuy de Lôme letter

In February 1898, McKinley was still avoiding war with Spain, which had installed a reform government in Cuba. Spanish reform may have been a response to McKinley's State of the Union message in December 1897, in which McKinley had urged Spain to end the fighting and clean up the corrupt government on the island. Revolution continued, however, because the rebels wanted independence, not reform (improvement or change). In January 1898, after riots in the Cuban capital of Havana, McKinley sent the U.S. warship Maine to protect American interests in the region.

Sometime after McKinley's message, the Spanish minister to the United States, Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, wrote a letter to a friend in Cuba. In it he said, "McKinley is weak and catering to the rabble and, besides, a low politician who desires to leave a door open to himself and to stand well with the jingoes of his party," according to Philip S. Foner in The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism." (A jingo was a person who wanted America to wage war in order to expand its power worldwide.) Dupuy de Lôme also said that military victory was the only acceptable result for Spain in Cuba, which meant that the reform government was a fake.

Rebels in Cuba stole the letter and sent it to New York to the Cuban Junta (pronounced HOON-ta), which was the revolutionaries' public relations organization in the United States. The Junta turned the letter over to Hearst's Journal. Not waiting to verify its accuracy, Hearst printed it on February 9, 1898, under the headline, "Worst Insult to the United States in Its History."

Remember the Maine

Six days later, the Maine exploded mysteriously in the Havana harbor the evening of February 15, killing over 250 people. In correspondence with officials in Washington, D.C., Maine captain Charles D. Sigsbee asked the public to withhold opinion on the disaster until after a full investigation.

Hearst needed no investigation, however. Awakened in the middle of the night with news of the explosion, Hearst said, "This means war," according to David Nasaw in The Chief. On February 17, the front page of the Journal had a blazing headline: "Destruction of the Warship Maine Was the Work of An Enemy." A caption under a drawing of the warship read, "The Spaniards, it is believed, arranged to have the Maine anchored over one of the Harbor mines. Wires connected the mine with a power magazine and it is thought the explosion was caused by sending an electric current through the wire."

Hearst played up the event for all it was worth over the next several weeks. He offered a $50,000 reward for identification of the culprit and began a fundraising drive for a Maine memorial. While McKinley patiently waited until the end of March for the official naval investigation to issue its report, Hearst criticized the president for siding with the American business leaders who wanted to avoid war. Across the nation Americans cried, "Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!"

The Journal 's war arrives

At the end of March, a naval board concluded that an external mine had destroyed the Maine. (A follow-up naval investigation, completed in 1976, concluded that it actually was more likely to have been an internal explosion in the ship's ammunition magazines, while a National Geographic Society-sponsored computer study in 1997 said external and internal causes were equally likely.) While the board could not identify the culprit, the United States was already on a course for war with Spain. On April 11, the president asked Congress for permission to use the U.S. Army and Navy to end the rebel conflict in Cuba. Congress granted this permission on April 19. The following day, the Journal headline read, "NOW TO AVENGE THE MAINE !" Only one week after the United States declared war on April 25, the front page of Hearst's paper asked, "How do you like the Journal 's war?"

After calling loudly for war for over a year, Hearst decided he had to fight in it. After all, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919; see entry) had called for war and later resigned as assistant secretary of the navy to be second-in-command of a volunteer cavalry regiment called the Rough Riders. In late May 1898, Hearst wrote to President McKinley offering to equip an army regiment with his own money and fight with the regiment as a soldier. McKinley, whom Hearst had opposed in the presidential election of 1896, rejected the idea.

Undaunted, Hearst approached the navy, offering to donate one of his yachts, arm it for action, and serve on it as a commander. The navy took the Buccaneer but refused to let Hearst serve aboard it. Meanwhile, rumors spread that a Spanish fleet was sailing from Spain to attack U.S. admiral George Dewey (1837-1917; see entry) in the Philippines. Hearst asked a colleague in Europe, James Creelman, to buy a vessel to sink in the Suez Canal in order to block the Spaniards. When the Spanish fleet turned back to Spain, however, Hearst's daring and illegal plan became unnecessary.

Hearst in Cuba

Rejected for military service by both the army and the navy, Hearst appointed himself as a correspondent to cover the war in Cuba for the Journal. In the middle of June 1898, Hearst and a team of colleagues boarded the steamship Sylvia, which Hearst had equipped with a printing press, dark room for photographs, kitchen, and telegraph equipment.

Once in Cuba, Hearst got to interview several of the war's top military leaders, including U.S. general William R. Shafter (1835-1906; see entry), Cuban general Calixto García; (1839-1898; see entry in Primary Sources section), and Spanish admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete (1839-1909; see entry). On July 1, 1898, near Santiago, Hearst watched American soldiers and volunteers storm the Spanish ground troops in the longest, deadliest battle of the war.

Two days later, on July 3, the Spanish navy tried to escape the harbor at Santiago, only to be crushed by an American fleet led by Commodore Winfield S. Schley (1839-1909). On American Independence Day, July 4, Hearst and the other passengers on the Sylvia steamed among the wrecked Spanish vessels in search of a story. What they found were twenty-nine Spanish sailors stranded on a nearby beach. Approaching closely in a small boat, Hearst leapt into the water to reach the beach and captured the men as prisoners of war. Back onboard the Sylvia, Hearst convinced the prisoners to give three cheers for the United States while capturing the stunt in a photograph. When Hearst finally turned the prisoners over to military authorities, he got a receipt to prove that the story was true.

Hostilities between Spain and the United States ended soon after the two countries signed a peace protocol on August 12, 1898. Back in New York, Hearst celebrated victory with the same theatrical flair with which he had called for war. When Admiral William T. Sampson (1840-1902) sailed the Atlantic fleet up the Hudson river in a naval parade, the Journal declared a holiday for the celebration, much to the anger of local authorities.

On August 21, 1898, Hearst declared that the daily circulation of the Journal exceeded that of its nearest competitor by over two hundred thousand. By the end of the year, he claimed that his New York papers had reached a combined daily circulation of 1.25 million readers—the largest readership in the world. Hearst had won the circulation war.


Hearst spent the rest of his life displaying the flair that had made him famous. He built a diversified media empire that included newspapers, magazines, news services, and movies. Hearst died on August 14, 1951, remembering his time in Cuba as one of the greatest adventures of his life.

For More Information

Brown, Charles H. The Correspondents' War: Journalists in the Spanish-American War. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967.

Foner, Philip S. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Frazier, Nancy. William Randolph Hearst: Modern Media Tycoon. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Marketing, 2001.

Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Procter, Ben. William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863-1910. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Whitelaw, Nancy. William Randolph Hearst and the American Century. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 1999.

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