Hearst, William Randolph
Hearst, William Randolph
American Newspapers, Inc.
Founder of one of the most extensive newspaper empires in history, William Randolph Hearst was a dominant and controversial figure in American journalism and politics for many years.
An only child, William Randolph Hearst was born in a hotel in San Francisco, California on April 29, 1863. His father, George Hearst, was a self-taught geologist who made a fortune in mining before becoming involved in politics later in life. Hearst's mother, Phoebe (Apperson) Hearst, became a philanthropist and was a regent of the University of California.
Since his father was often away on mining trips, Hearst was raised mostly by his mother, and led a sheltered and privileged life as a child. His mother took him to Europe when he was 10 years old for tutelage in art and antiquities; in 1879 she sent him to St. Paul's preparatory school in New Hampshire, which Hearst left abruptly two years later. He was tutored at home, then entered Harvard University in 1882. He did not stay long enough, however, to graduate: he was expelled in 1885 for a prank. While at Harvard, Hearst spent much of his time working on the school's humor magazine, Lampoon, which he made into a money-making publication.
After leaving Harvard, Hearst had the chance to manage his father's ranches and mines, but instead began an apprenticeship as a reporter for Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper, the New York World. In 1886, he finally talked his father into turning his unsuccessful newspaper, the San Francisco Daily Examiner, over to him.
In addition to his career in newspapers, Hearst also had some encounters with politics. He won election to the House of Representatives in 1902 and 1904, which proved to be his only two successes in the political arena. In 1904 he put great effort into a bid for the presidency, but didn't get the nomination. The next year, he ran for mayor of New York City as an independent candidate. He lost that race, as well as the one for governor of New York in 1906, for which he ran as the Democratic candidate. The governor's race was Hearst's last major political campaign, although he remained involved in politics in a behind-the-scenes role, using his newspapers to garner votes for his preferred candidates.
Hearst didn't marry until 1903, a day before his 40th birthday. He had a long-term relationship up until that time with Tessie Powers, a waitress whom he had supported since his Harvard days. Hearst's wife, 21-year-old Millicent Wilson, was a Broadway dancer, and they had five sons together. In 1917, however, Hearst met Marion Davies and began a love affair with her that lasted until his death. During the 1920s, he spent millions on her acting career, which never was a great success.
Hearst's infamous career in journalism began with his publication the San Francisco Examiner in 1887. Hearst modeled the newspaper after Pulitzer's World, which printed the most shocking, sensational news it could find (or create) in order to attract a large audience. Hearst's newspaper placed a special focus on scandals and murders, but also attempted to expose injustice and corruption. He hired a talented and well-paid staff, and after running up a debt of nearly $800,000 an astronomical sum at the time the newspaper finally began to show a profit in 1890. Eventually the Examiner began to overtake the other local newspapers in circulation.
In 1895, Hearst moved the Examiner to New York City and continued to "make up" news in order to gain the reading public's attention. The same year, he purchased the decrepit New York Morning Journal. With the purchase of the Journal, Hearst began a circulation war with Pulitzer. He hired away several of Pulitzer's best writers, including Arthur Brisbane, and slashed the price of the newspaper to one cent. Thus began what Hearst termed an era of "new journalism." Later renamed "yellow journalism" by Ervin Wardman, Hearst's new journalism was known for its use of crude, theatrical, and most often inaccurate accounts of sensational news, meant to appeal to a wide audience. Hearst and Pulitzer engaged in a circulation war during the next few years that ignored both truth and principle in journalism.
In 1900 Pulitzer gave up the field, and Hearst began a steady acquisition of newspapers. His newspaper enterprise was helped by the new technologies of the early twentieth century, including telephones, cables, cameras, faster presses, cheap paper, color printing, and better sorting and folding machines. He was able to print thousands of papers daily and sell them cheaply. In 1900, Hearst bought the Chicago American, followed soon afterward by the purchase of papers in Boston and Los Angeles (1904), Atlanta (1912), and San Francisco (1913). He also moved into the magazine business, founding Motor in 1903. He then purchased Cosmopolitan (1905), Britain's Nash Magazine (1910), Good Housekeeping (1911), and Harper's Bazaar (1912). Hearst also started nationwide services for supplying news and features with the creation of King Features Syndicate and the International News Service, both founded in 1910.
During the 1920s, Hearst branched out into the radio business, purchasing stations in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Milwaukee. In 1935 he consolidated his 90 newspapers under the name American Newspapers, Inc. At the time his assets were estimated at $197 million. His wealth started to erode due to several factors, however. One was his extravagant personal spending, which at its peak reached $15 million a year. In 1919, upon the receipt of his father's fortune, he spent $50 million on New York real estate and $50 million on his art collection—the largest ever assembled by a single individual. In that year he also started construction on a 37-million-dollar castle in San Simeon, California. Combined with his refusal to sell any of his properties or cut salaries, Hearst's extravagence had a serious impact on his financial situation. This impact was intensified by the effects of the Great Depression, and by 1937 Hearst faced a financial crisis. In June of that year, Hearst suddenly gave up control of several of his properties. His legal advisor, Clarence Shearn, became the sole voting trustee of Hearst's stock in American Newspapers. Shearn immediately cut back by selling some of the newspapers and radio stations, shutting down one of the magazines, and liquidating parts of Hearst's real estate holdings. He also halted construction on the castle that Hearst had begun in 1919 and sold many of the antiques that Hearst had collected to furnish it.
The Hearst empire survived the crisis and as a result of wartime prosperity and corporate reorganizing, Hearst regained some control over his publishing enterprise. Although somewhat diminished, by the end of World War II Hearst's publishing conglomerate was still the largest in the United States.
Social and Economic Impact
The journalistic legacy Hearst left was not necessarily a positive one according to some critics. Many feel that the period of yellow journalism was not a shining moment in history, though some observers say that Hearst's influence was not felt beyond the time when his approach to news went out of style, soon after his death. W. A. Swanberg, author of Citizen Hearst, called Hearst "essentially a showman and propagandist, not a newsman." Whatever the impact Hearst had on the future of journalism, he certainly had influence during the time he was in power, albeit less than he may have liked. Although he did have some power in national Democratic politics, his influence was due more to his status as a millionaire than as an opinion-maker.
One example of the effect of Hearst's yellow journalism came during the Cuban revolt against Spain and the resulting Spanish-American War. Hearst had early favored American intervention and printed stories in the Journal that played up sympathy for the Cubans and hatred for the Spanish, as well as sensationalizing the situation. When the American battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor, Hearst immediately blamed it on the Spanish, although there was never proof that they were responsible, and demanded war. Hearst's wish was granted when President McKinley declared war against Spain on April 11, 1898. Although historians disagree about how much influence Hearst and his newspaper had on bringing about the Spanish-American War, Swanberg insists that had it not been for Hearst's effort, "there would have been no war."
An accidental effect of Hearst's actions resulted in 1927 when Hearst newspapers printed unchecked, forged documents charging that the Mexican government had paid several U.S. senators more than $1 million to support a Central American plot to wage war against the United States. Hearst emerged from the scandal unaffected, but the fiasco led President Calvin Coolidge to appoint Dwight Morrow as ambassador to Mexico, and this move launched a new era in U.S.-Latin American relations.
Chronology: William Randolph Hearst
1887: Took over father's newspaper.
1895: Bought the New York Journal.
1903: Started in the magazine business, beginning with Motor.
1903: Began four-year stint in Congress.
1910: Created King Features Syndicate and International News Service.
1913: Started in motion picture business with newsreels.
1935: Incorporated his 90 newspapers.
By the 1920s, Hearst owned 31 newspapers, and one in every four Americans read a Hearst newspaper. Hearst had become, according to John Ingham, "one of the best-known, best-hated, and most thoroughly publicized figures in the land." Many believe that his life was portrayed in Orson Welles's classic film Citizen Kane, the release of which Hearst tried to suppress. He was unsuccessful, however, and the film was released in 1941, ten years before his death.
Sources of Information
Contemporary Authors. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986.
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.
Garraty, John A., ed. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977.
Garraty, John A., and Jerome L. Sternstein, eds. Encyclopedia of American Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Ingham, John N. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983.
McGuire, William and Leslie Wheeler. American Social Leaders. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1993
Who Was Who in America. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1966.
Hearst, William Randolph
For almost half a century William Randolph Hearst was the American publisher, editor, and proprietor (business owner) of the most extensive journalistic empire ever assembled by one man. His personality and use of wealth permanently left a mark on American media.
On April 29, 1863, William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco, California. He received the best education that his multimillionaire father and his sophisticated schoolteacher mother (more than twenty years her husband's junior) could buy—private tutors, private schools, grand tours of Europe, and Harvard College. Hearst's father had been a keen geologist (student of the earth's history as recorded in rocks) and lucky gold miner during the 1849 Gold Rush. As partner in some of the largest mines in America, George Hearst easily entered politics as a California Senator. To help him politically, he purchased the then failing San Francisco Examiner. Meanwhile, his son, William Randolph, was routinely being expelled from school due to pranks. He was even expelled from Harvard after sending engraved silver chamber pots (prior to indoor plumbing, people kept pots under their beds to use for relieving themselves at night) to his professors. But Hearst inherited his father's ambition and energy. William's mother, the cultured parent, took William on two art tours in Europe before he was sixteen years old.
Young Hearst's journalistic career began in 1887, two years after his Harvard expulsion. "I want the San Francisco Examiner, " he wrote to his father, who owned the newspaper and granted the request.
When William's father died, he left his millions in mining properties, not to his son, but to his wife—who compensated by giving her son ten thousand dollars a month until her death. In turn the gray-eyed, soft-spoken William Randolph Hearst invested frantically and heavily.
Building a journalistic empire
The Daily Examiner became young Hearst's laboratory, where he gained a talent for making fake news and faking real news in such a way as to create maximum public shock. From the outset he obtained top talent by paying top prices.
To get an all-star cast and an audience of millions, however, Hearst had to move his headquarters to New York City, where he immediately purchased the old and dying New York Morning Journal. Within a year Hearst ran up the circulation from seventy-seven thousand to over a million by spending enough money to beat the aging Joseph Pulitzer's World at its own sensationalist (scandalous) game. Sometimes Hearst hired away the World 's more aggressive executives and reporters; sometimes he outbid all competitors in the open market. One of Hearst's editors was paid twice as much in salary as the sale price of the New York World.
Hearst attracted readers by adding heated reporting of sports, crime, sex, scandal, and human-interest stories. "A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut," said Hearst writer Arthur James Pegler. Hearst's slam-bang showmanship attracted new readers and nonreaders.
During the last five years of the nineteenth century, Hearst set his pattern for the first half of the twentieth century. The Journal supported the Democratic Party, yet Hearst opposed the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) in 1896. In 1898 Hearst backed the Spanish-American War (1898; a war in which the United States aided Cuba in its fight for freedom from Spanish rule), which Bryan and the Democrats opposed. Further, Hearst's wealth cut him off from the troubled masses to whom his newspapers appealed. He could not grasp the basic problems the issue of the war with Spain raised.
Having shaken up San Francisco with the Examiner and New York City with the Journal, Hearst established two newspapers in Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago American in 1900 and the Chicago Examiner in 1902; a newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts, the Boston American; and a newspaper in Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Examiner in 1904. These added newspapers marked more than an extension of Hearst's journalistic empire, they reflected his sweeping decision to seek the U.S. presidency. Perhaps his ambition came from a desire to follow in his father's footsteps. His personality and fortune were not suited to a political career however.
In 1902 and 1904 Hearst won election to the House of Representatives as a New York Democrat. Except, his journalistic activities and his $2 million presidential campaign left him little time to speak, vote, or answer roll calls in Congress. His nonattendance angered his colleagues and the voters who had elected him. Nevertheless, he found time to run as an independent candidate for mayor of New York City in 1905, and as a Democratic candidate for governor in 1906. His loss in both elections ended Hearst's political career.
In 1903, the day before his fortieth birthday, he married twenty-one-year-old Millicent Willson, a showgirl, thus giving up Tessie Powers, a waitress he had supported since his Harvard days. The Hearsts had five boys, but in 1917 Hearst fell in love with another showgirl, twenty-year-old Marion Davies of the Ziegfeld Follies. He maintained a relationship with her that ended only at his death.
When Hearst's mother died, he came into his inheritance and took up permanent residence on his father's 168,000-acre ranch in southern California. There he spent $37 million on a private castle, put $50 million into New York City real estate, and put another $50 million into his art collection—the largest ever assembled by a single individual.
During the 1920s one American in every four read a Hearst newspaper. Hearst owned twenty daily and eleven Sunday papers in thirteen cities, the King Features syndication service (organization that places featured articles or comics in multiple papers at once), the International News Service, the American Weekly (a syndicated Sunday supplement), International Newsreel, and six magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Harper's Bazaar.
Despite Hearst's wealth, expansion, and spending, his popularity with the public as well as with the government was low. Originally a progressive Democrat, he had no bargaining power with Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1859–1919). Hearst fought every Democratic reform leader from Bryan to Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945), and he opposed American participation in both world wars.
In 1927 the Hearst newspapers printed forged (faked) documents, which supported an accusation that the Mexican government had paid several U.S. senators more than $1 million to support a Central American plot to wage war against the United States. From this scandal the Hearst press suffered not at all.
In the next ten years, however, Hearst's funds and the empire suddenly ran out. In 1937 the two corporations that controlled the empire found themselves $126 million in debt. Hearst had to turn them over to a seven-member committee whose purpose was to save what they could. They managed to hold off economic failure only by selling off much of Hearst's private fortune and all of his public powers as a newspaper owner.
William Randolph Hearst died on August 14, 1951, in Beverly Hills, California.
For More Information
Davies, Marion. The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.
Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Swanberg, W. A. Citizen Hearst, a Biography of William Randolph Hearst. New York: Scribner, 1961. Reprint, New York: Galahad Books, 1996.
Hearst, William Randolph
HEARST, WILLIAM RANDOLPH
"Yellow journalism" was a phrase coined in the early twentieth century to describe a type of journalism that was principally developed by William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951). The term described a newspaper that focused on sensationalism to sell papers, including frenzied reporting of sports, crime, sex, and scandal. Writer Arthur James Pegler said, "A Hearst Newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." But this legacy does not begin to describe the complex and talented William Randolph Hearst.
George Hearst made a fortune in the California gold rush, bought huge tracts of land, and became a U.S. Senator. His wife Phoebe Apperson Hearst gave birth to their son, William Randolph Hearst, on April 29, 1863, in San Francisco. A schoolteacher, Hearst's mother ensured her son received the best education his father's wealth could buy. Young Hearst went to private schools, had private tutors, and was given tours of Europe. Eventually, Hearst entered Harvard University, but he was expelled from the school for misconduct after only two years.
While at Harvard, Hearst was the student editor of the Lampoon, spent time at the Boston Globe, and afterward served as a cub reporter for Joseph Pulitzer (1841–1911) at the New York World. Hearst's father had purchased the financially ailing San Francisco Examiner in 1880. In 1887 the younger Hearst asked his father for ownership of the paper, and it was given to him. This newspaper was William Randolph Hearst's start as a newspaper mogul. At the Examiner, Hearst began his run at faking news and using sensationalism to sell papers. He paid top wages, attracted the best journalism talent, and sold newspapers.
Moving his base of operations to New York City in 1895, Hearst took a $7.5 million gift from his mother (taken from his father's estate) and purchased the failing New York Morning Journal. Within a year, Hearst's style of shock news ran the circulation from 77,000 to over one million. In New York he continued his penchant for paying top dollar for talent. Hearst supported the Democratic Party with his newspapers, although he had little in common with either his newspaper's readers or the party's candidates and workers. Hearst opposed Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) in the presidential campaign of 1896, and backed the Spanish-American War in 1898. During that war, Hearst spent a half million dollars covering the news of military actions.
In 1900 Hearst established the Chicago American and, in 1902, the Chicago Examiner. He added the Boston American and Los Angeles Examiner in 1904. His media empire was expanding rapidly, but by this time the acquisition of newspapers was more than a business ploy. It was an attempt to control the news to further Hearst's rising political ambitions. William Randolph Hearst wanted to be president of the United States. Hearst won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1902 and 1904 as a Tammany Democrat, but he was not a good congressman. Chronic absenteeism from Congress, which he found necessary to run his newspaper business and campaign for president, cost him his political support. He ran for mayor of New York in 1905 and for governor of New York in 1906 but lost both races. These loses finished him as a candidate in politics. Hearst then went on to use his newspapers and wealth to influence political decisions as best he could behind the scenes.
Hearst married Millicent Willson in 1903. He was 40; she was 21 years old. They had five boys, several of whom followed their father into journalism. But in 1917 Hearst followed his father's lead of unfaithfulness and took a young mistress, 20-year-old actress Marion Davies. Hearst continued his relationship with Davies until his death, and settled her in the castle he built on his father's land at San Simeon, California. The $37 million castle, which he stocked with many pieces of his $50 million art collection, was an ostentatious display of wealth, even for the flamboyant newspaper publisher. Hearst used the castle for opulent parties, wining and dining the rich, famous, and powerful. (After his death, the Hearst family gave the castle to the State of California, who operates it as a public park, providing guided tours of the castle and its mostly intact art collection.)
At the height of his career in 1935, Hearst owned 26 daily and 11 Sunday newspapers in 19 cities, with nearly 14 percent of the total U.S. daily circulation. He owned the King Features syndication service and the International News Service. He owned a Sunday supplement, the American Weekly, and International News Reel. He owned six magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, and Good Housekeeping. He had lesser holdings in radio stations, and had spent millions in Hollywood, much of it to promote the career of Davies. Hearst possessed over $50 million in New York real estate, the castle at San Simeon, and homes in several locations. His art collection was the largest ever assembled by a single individual.
Hearst turned more conservative in his older years. He fought with progressive Democrats, though he had little to do with Republicans either. He fought against an emerging writers' union, the American Newspaper Guild and opposed U.S. involvement abroad until the Japanese attach on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, changed his mind. Hearst was strongly anticommunist.
Scandal, including a famous 1927 incident where Hearst newspapers printed, unchecked or unverified forged documents alleging Mexican government bribery of U.S. Senators, made no dent in Hearst's empire. But the Great Depression (1929–1939) did have an enormous impact on the Hearst holdings. By 1937 Hearst's two corporations were $126 million in debt. He had to relinquish control of his empire in order to save it, and he lost much of his personal fortune in the process. He died on August 14, 1951, with his newspaper holdings down to just eight papers. Breaking with their father, his five sons, who continued in the newspaper business, worked to give the remaining papers credibility and shed the yellow journalism label. The Hearst Foundation continues to provide scholarships to journalism students.
See also: James Gordon Bennett, Muckrakers, Joseph Pulitzer
Bowman, John S., ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, s.v. "Hearst, William Randolph."
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1998, s.v. "Hearst, William Randolph."
The Media in America. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1995.
Street, Sarah. "Citizen Kane." History Today, March 1996.
Swanberg, William A. Citizen Hearst. New York: Scribner, 1961.
William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) was the American publisher, editor, and proprietor—for almost half a century—of the most extensive journalistic empire ever assembled by one man.
On April 29, 1863, William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco. He received the best education that his coarse-grained, multimillionaire father and his refined, schoolteacher mother (more than 20 years her husband's junior) could buy: private tutors, private schools, grand tours of Europe, and Harvard College. Hearst inherited his father's ambition and energy, but neither his father's fortune nor need to make his own way in the world. George Hearst had amassed millions in mining properties, which he left, not to his son but to his wife—who compensated for his crass unfaithfulness by wantonly spoiling their only offspring.
Young Hearst's journalistic career began in 1887, 2 years after he was expelled from Harvard. "I want the San Francisco Examiner," he wrote his father, who owned the newspaper and granted the request. The Daily Examiner became young Hearst's laboratory, where he indulged a talent for making fake news and faking real news in such a way as to create maximum public shock. From the outset he obtained top talent by paying top prices. Ambrose Bierce, at the peak of his fame, became Hearst's first star performer.
Building a Journalistic Empire
But to get an all-star cast and an audience of millions, Hearst had to move his headquarters to New York City in 1895, 4 years after his father's death. By this time his mother had liquidated $7,500,000 of her husband's mining properties and turned over the proceeds to her son, who immediately purchased the decrepit New York Morning Journal. Within a year Hearst ran up the circulation from 77,000 to over a million by spending enough money to beat the aging Joseph Pulitzer's World at its own sensationalist game. Sometimes Hearst hired away the World's more aggressive executives and reporters; sometimes he outbid all competitors in the open market, as when he got Richard Harding Davis to report and Frederick Remington to illustrate the ongoing Spanish-American War.
The Journal had got its start by raiding the World of its talents and its readers. Next, to Arthur Brisbane's portentous front-page column entitled "Today," and to black-and-white daily comic strips and colored Sunday supplements, Hearst added frenetic reporting of sports, crime, sex, scandal, and human-interest stories. "A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut," said Hearst writer Arthur James Pegler. Hearst's slam-bang showmanship attracted new readers and nonreaders, but on no one did the Journal cast so potent a spell as on its master of ceremonies.
During the last 5 years of the 19th century Hearst set his pattern for the first half of the 20th. The Journal supported the Democratic party, yet Hearst opposed the free-silver campaign of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in 1896. In 1898 Hearst backed the Spanish-American War, which Bryan and the Democrats opposed. Further, Hearst's wealth cut him off from the troubled masses to whom his newspapers appealed. He could not grasp the rudimentary problems raised by the issues of free silver and the war with Spain. Thus, for 5 years Hearst stood in the mainstream of the history of his time and did not even get his feet wet.
Having shaken up San Francisco with the Examiner and New York with the Journal, Hearst established the Chicago American in 1900, the Chicago Examiner in 1902, and the Boston American and the Los Angeles Examiner in 1904. These acquisitions marked more than an extension of Hearst's journalistic empire, they reflected his sweeping decision to seek the U.S. presidency. However, he had chosen the wrong path to the wrong goal at the wrong time. To begin with, journalism and politics rarely mix; each is a full-time occupation. Furthermore, Hearst never even qualified as a great journalist. At most he was a showman whose very flair for a certain type of metropolitan journalism did him more harm than good in national politics. Finally, he had little preparation and less aptitude to win success in either field in the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of 20th-century America. The contrasts between his towering presence and his close-set eyes, his courtly manner, and his high-pitched voice did not present the typical image of a successful politician.
In 1902 and 1904 Hearst won election to the House of Representatives as a New York Tammany Democrat. But his journalistic activities and his $2 million presidential campaign left him little time to speak, vote, or answer roll calls in Congress. His absenteeism disgusted his colleagues and dismayed his constituents. Nevertheless, he found time to run as an independent candidate for mayor of New York in 1905 and, in 1906, as Democratic candidate for governor. His loss in both elections ended Hearst's political career.
The 45 years of anticlimax that followed gave ample scope to those defects of character, inheritance, and environment which a perverse fate had bequeathed Hearst. In 1903, the day before his fortieth birthday, he married 21-year-old Millicent Willson, a show girl with whom he had been smitten for several years, giving up Tessie Powers, a waitress he had supported since his Harvard days. The Hearsts had five boys, but in 1917 Hearst fell in love with another show girl, 20-year-old Marion Davies of the Ziegfeld Follies. He maintained a liaison with her that ended only at his death. He spent millions on her career as a movie actress, backing such sentimental slush as When Knighthood Was in Flower and Little Old New York, while ignoring her real talents as a comedienne.
When Hearst's mother died in 1919, he came into his patrimony and took up permanent residence on his father's 168,000-acre San Simeon Ranch in southern California. There he spent $37 million on a private castle. He put $50 million into New York City real estate and another $50 million into his art collection—the largest ever assembled by a single individual.
During the 1920s one American in every four read a Hearst newspaper. Hearst owned 20 daily and 11 Sunday papers in 13 cities, the King Features syndication service, the International News Service, the American Weekly (a syndicated Sunday supplement), International News Reel, and six magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Harper's Bazaar.
Yet, for all his getting and spending, Hearst had few powers to lay waste and none to hoard. Originally a progressive Democrat, he had no truck with the Republican expressionists—Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Elihu Root—who supported the Spanish-American War, which Hearst claimed he had made but which actually had made his Journal. Hearst then fought every reform Democratic leader from Bryan to Franklin Roosevelt; he opposed American participation in both world wars.
In 1927 the Hearst newspapers printed unchecked, forged documents charging that the Mexican government had paid several U.S. senators more than $1 million to support a Central American plot to wage war against the United States. (Ironically, this fiasco led President Calvin Coolidge to appoint Dwight Morrow as ambassador to Mexico, thereby launching a new era in U.S.-Latin American relations.) From this scandal the Hearst press suffered not at all. Nothing was lost save honor, and that had gone long since.
In the next 10 years, however, Hearst's funds and the empire suddenly ran out. In 1937 the two corporations that controlled the empire found themselves $126 million in debt. Hearst had to turn them over to a seven-member conservation committee, which managed to stave off bankruptcy only at the expense of much of Hearst's private fortune and all of his public powers as a newspaper lord. He died on Aug. 14, 1951.
Some of Hearst's biographers have stressed his split personality—as if that differentiated him from the rest of mankind. The word "nihilist" provides a more precise clue. Not that Hearst's nihilism incorporated any of the revolutionary passion that impelled the Bolshevik Lenin or the destructive passion that impelled the Nazi Hitler. Hearst's nihilism had no more substance than Hearst himself possessed. In fact, no notable of his time left so faint an imprint on its sands.
Edmund D. Coblentz, ed., William Randolph Hearst: A Portrait in His Own Words (1952), is a compilation of Hearst's public and private documents. Judicious interpretations of Hearst's life are Oliver Carlson and Ernest Sutherland Bates, Hearst: Lord of San Simeon (1936); John William Tebbel's sympathetic The Life and Good Times of William Randolph Hearst (1952); and William A. Swanberg, Citizen Hearst (1961). Ferdinand Lundberg, Imperial Hearst: A Social Biography (1936), is a scathing attack. See also John K. Winkler, William Randolph Hearst: A New Appraisal (1955). □
Hearst, William Randolph
HEARST, WILLIAM RANDOLPH
William Randolph Hearst (April 29, 1863–August 14, 1951) was from the 1890s until his death the most powerful newspaper publisher in the United States. Born in San Francisco to millionaire miner George Hearst and philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst, William Randolph Hearst, known to his friends and employees as "the Chief," built a media empire that at its height in the late 1920s encompassed twenty-six daily newspapers in eighteen cities; a Sunday supplement; nine magazines, including Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan; newsreel, wire, and syndicated feature services; a film production company; and several radio stations.
When, in October and November of 1929, the stock market crashed, Hearst called for calm, arguing that the American economy was fundamentally sound. Although his personal fortunes were not immediately harmed—his primary investments were in real estate—his media empire, particularly his newspapers, suffered from a fall in advertising revenues. Hearst had borrowed heavily to support his extravagant lifestyle and purchase new media properties, and he could not afford the slightest loss of revenues. In May 1930, to raise funds to pay off outstanding debts, he incorporated Hearst Consolidated Publications, Inc., and offered preferred stock in the new corporation to the public. While the preferred stock offered a 7 percent dividend, which was paid regularly until mid 1938, it carried no voting rights.
By the late spring of 1931, when it had become apparent that no rapid economic recovery was in store, Hearst urged President Herbert Hoover to authorize the immediate expenditure of $5 billion to provide public works jobs for the unemployed at prevailing wages. When Hoover declined to follow his advice, Hearst became determined to oppose his bid for reelection. Instead, Hearst endorsed Texas congressman and Speaker of the House John Nance Garner for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1932, but Hearst switched his endorsement to Franklin Delano Roosevelt when it became clear that Garner could not win the nomination. Hearst became an enthusiastic supporter of Roosevelt and contributed advice and funds to his campaign. Though the publisher opposed the National Industrial Recovery Act and other New Deal economic measures, he did not turn against the Roosevelt presidency until 1935, when Roosevelt notified Hearst that he was going to raise income taxes in an effort to preserve democracy and capitalism from threats on the left and on the right. Hearst, still deeply in debt from overspending for business and personal purposes, responded that Roosevelt's graduated income tax was "communistic" because it redistributed wealth. Hearst promised to oppose the president and the tax increase with all his resources.
Hearst's anti-Communist tirades and his newspapers' attacks on Roosevelt and the New Deal were so vicious, especially during Roosevelt's campaign for a second term in 1936, that many of Hearst's readers were forced to choose between the president and the publisher. When large numbers chose Roosevelt and boycotted the Hearst publications, the resulting circulation and advertising decline pushed the Hearst corporations towards bankruptcy. In 1937, the Hearst corporations went into receivership and Hearst was forced to sell off many of his assets, including significant real estate holdings, portions of his art collections, and several publications.
As newspaper circulations increased during World War II and costs declined with the rationing of newsprint and the printing of smaller issues, the Hearst corporations were able to refinance their outstanding loans. By the middle of the 1940s, William Randolph Hearst had regained control of his publishing empire. He spent the last years of his life in Beverly Hills, and died in August 1951 at age eighty-eight.
Coblentz, Edward D., ed. William Randolph Hearst: A Portrait in His Own Words. 1952.
Hearst, William Randolph. Correspondence and Papers. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
"Hearst." Fortune 13 (October 1935): 42–55, 123–161.
Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. 2000.
Hearst, William Randolph
Hearst was born on April 29, 1863, to a U.S. senator and his schoolteacher wife. Young Hearst attended an elite New England prep school, St. Paul's, and went on extensive tours of Europe. He was accepted into Harvard University, where he studied for two years before being expelled for misconduct.
Hearst's father acquired the financially failing San Francisco Examiner in 1880. He gave his son ownership of the newspaper in 1887. The younger Hearst hired the best writers of the era and paid them top wages to write reports of events that never happened. He soon discovered that stories on crime, sex, scandal, and sports sell newspapers; reporting actual facts did not really seem to matter.
Broadens his horizons
Using a $7.5 million gift from his mother, Hearst moved his operations to New York City in 1895 and bought the failing New York Morning Journal. Using the same unethical reporting techniques that brought him success in the recent past, Hearst brought circulation of the newspaper up from seventy-seven thousand to more than one million within a year. Through yellow journalism, Hearst's personal fortune grew exponentially. In 1898, Hearst papers published many sensational articles about the Spanish-American War . Hearst and a group of writers and artists reported directly from the battle lines.
By the time Hearst married Millicent Willson in 1903, he had established two new newspapers: the Chicago American and the Chicago Examiner. His wife was just twenty-one years old when she married the forty-year-old publisher. They eventually had five sons. In 1917, Hearst began a romantic relationship with twenty-year-old actress Marion Davies (1897–1961). It was an affair that would last until his death.
In 1904, Hearst added the Boston American and the Los Angeles Examiner to his empire. By this time, he was buying newspapers not only to expand his wealth, but also to control the news in an attempt to further his political ambitions. Hearst dreamed of being president of the United States. Although in 1902 and 1904 he won a Democratic seat in Congress as a U.S. representative from New York , he was not an effective congressman. He rarely showed up for his congressional duties, and his absenteeism cost him his political career.
Life goes on
By 1935, Hearst owned twenty-six daily newspapers and eleven Sunday editions in nineteen cities across the country. He claimed nearly 14 percent of the total U.S. daily circulation. In addition, he owned the International News Service and the King Features syndication service. Newspapers were not his only interest. Hearst owned six magazines, including the popular Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan. His investments extended to radio and Hollywood, and he owned over $50 million in New York real estate. Aside from his castle in San Simeon, California (worth $37 million), Hearst owned homes throughout the nation and decorated them with his art collection, the largest ever assembled by one person.
By the time Hearst died in 1951, he owned just eight newspapers. The hardship of the Great Depression (1929–41; a period of depressed economy and high unemployment) forced him to give up much of his empire. Hearst's sons continued their father's newspaper business, but worked to rid the family name of the bad reputation it had earned. They set up the Hearst Foundation, which continues in the twenty-first century to give scholarships to journalism students.