Joseph Pulitzer: History, Pulitzer Prize, Major Works & Accomplishments

Joseph Pulitzer’s overall success goes to prove the authenticity of the “American dream.” Though he entered the United States penniless, he was armed with a dream many would have considered too ambitious. However, Pulitzer was eager, hungry and passionate enough. He went from working odd jobs through acquiring three failing newspapers to owning the biggest newspaper in America at the time. He founded the Pulitzer Prize, which is a set of annual honors regarded as the most prestigious for high-quality journalism and works that have left an indelible mark on letters and music.

Below, World History Edu presents everything that you need to know about the life of Pulitzer as well as his unparalleled success as a journalist and a newspaper owner.

The Hungarian-American politician and newspaperman revolutionized journalism in so many ways.

Early Life and Training

The son of a Jewish well-to-do grain merchant, Pulitzer was born in Mako, Hungary in 1847.

He was mostly taught by private tutors from whom he also learned the German and French languages. Pulitzer was passionate about enlisting in the Austrian army. However, his efforts failed to yield fruits because of his weak eyesight and frail build. Eventually, he joined the United States Army and fought in the Civil War from 1864 to 1865, when he was honorably discharged.

After the Civil War, a penniless and homeless Pulitzer headed to St. Louis, where he took up odd jobs. His earliest jobs included cab driving, waiting on tables and taking care of donkeys. Determined, however, he immersed himself in a lot of studies as well as improving his English. His determination paid off as he was admitted to the bar in 1868.

In 1868, he was hired as a reporter by a German daily newspaper, Westliche Post. The coeditor and co-owner of the newspaper, Carl Schurz, had taking a strong liking to the diligent and industrious Pulitzer; and in 1872, Pulitzer was offered part ownership of the newspaper. He also became the managing editor of the newspaper.

Pulitzer carved quite a niche for himself in the journalistic field, and by 1878, had started his own newspaper, the St. Louis Post- Dispatch.


Before founding the Post-Dispatch, Joseph Pulitzer had married Kate Davis, a wealthy Georgetown socialite. They couple went on to have seven children, but lost two as a result of ill health.

Journalistic Style of Joseph Pulitzer

Pulitzer achieved immense success with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His publications addressed issues regarding government corruption, gambling, lotteries and tax evasion.

These trending national topics were fascinated his audience and over time, widened the scope of his readership. During his trip to New York in 1883, he acquired the ailing New York World. With his magic, the newspaper became just as successful as its predecessor.

Much of  Pulitzer’s journalistic success was rooted in his aim to make his publications not about the interest of any one political party but about the interest of the common people. He used an investigate style to attempt to get to the bottom of such social ills as fraud, abuse, corrupt practices in big companies while promoting ideals and principles of democracy and honest business practices.

Joseph Pulitzer's achievements

Over time, he introduced entertaining subjects such as sports and fashion. His articles became the voice of the regular Joe, and often, he threw his support behind union strikes.

He employed a witty reporter, Nellie Bly who through her own unique style made the newspaper even more successful with her critically acclaimed and well-researched investigative stories. With the help of Bly, Pulitzer’s newspaper launched investigative pieces about labor conditions in New York City,  housing and more.

In 1909, the New York World accused President Theodore Roosevelt’s family of a fraudulent foreign deal of about $40 million from the purchase of the French Panama Canal Company. In spite of the pressures and the lawsuit that were thrown Pulitzer’s way, the journalist did not back down. In the end, the lawsuit against Pulitzer was  dismissed by the courts, showing to all journalists in the country that unbiased journalism was key!


In 1911, Joseph Pulitzer died of a heart disease aboard his yacht, the Liberty, in South California. The cause of death was said to be a heart failure. The tireless journalist, aged 64, was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Pulitzer’s Achievements

Hungarian-American newspaper journalist Joseph Pulitzer

During his time as a journalist and a newspaper owner, Pulitzer was able to accomplish a lot of outstanding things. Some of his major accomplishments are as follows:

Voice for the Voiceless

By exposing the evils of the system and the ills associated with the administration of justice through his investigative campaign, Pulitzer helped to set in motion considerable remedial action. He was also an advocate of organized labor, fair competition, and made effective of his platform to speak for the voiceless and the underdog. An expert at “yellow journalism”, he did however sometimes go overboard, using sensationalism to garner attention to important issues.

The Columbia Journalism School

In 1892, Pulitzer offered the Columbia University $1 million to establish the nation’s first school of journalism. The offer was however declined. A decade later, under the University’s new president, Nicholas Butler, Pulitzer’s dream was posthumously realized. He had earlier set aside about $2 million (in his will) to the project.

In I912, the Columbia University Graduate School of journalism was started. For Pulitzer, the university would mean higher standard of journalistic excellence and proper training of would-be pressmen and presswomen

The Pulitzer Prize

In his will, Joseph Pulitzer set aside funds for the establishment of the Pulitzer Prize. The Prize is administered by Columbia University. Image: The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service gold medal, designed by American sculptor Daniel Chester French in 1917

The Award is given annually in recognition to remarkable accomplishments in newspaper and online journalism, musical composition, photography and literary work. In his will, Pulitzer assigned $250,000 to the prize and scholarships.

The first Pulitzer prizes were given in 1917,  a year after his death. The Scheme is supervised by 19-member board made up of the best editors and news executives, academics of the Columbia University and distinguished members of the community.

As of 2021, in the various categories of the Prize, winners get a cash award of around US$ 15,000. The Public Service category, perhaps the most distinguished of the categories, entitles the winner to a gold medal.

Free Press

Pulitzer allocated funds toward the establishment of the Columbia University School of Journalism so that journalists can be trained to safeguard our nation’s democracy. He envisaged having a free and unbiased press that would hold business leaders and government officials accountable.

Thanks to the Pulitzer’s work towards free press, exposé of corruption and scandals have become part of mainstream media. Over the years, journalists have exercised their rights by asking “uncomfortable” questions, scrutinized not just major private enterprises but government agencies and officials.

Legacy & Recognition

Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911)

On Pulitzer’s 100th birthday, the United States Post Office introduced at 3-cent stamp in honor of his works.

Mount Pulitzer, located within the Olympic Park in Jefferson County, is named after him.

In Marshall Goldberg’s book, “The New Colossus,”  he made references to Pulitzer and his reporter, Nellie Bly.

Did You Know?

Pulitzer got involved in politics and rose to become a prominent personality in the Democratic Party. Early on, he was a known Republican.

Pulitzer quotes

When Joseph Pulitzer first came to the United States, he could not speak English; however, with sheer determination he not only became a master of the language, he went on to become a citizen of the U.S. in March 1867. He also ventured into politics, becoming a Congressman from New York between 1885 and 1886

Notable Facts about the Pulitzer Prize

The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded annually in a number of categories relating to journalism, letters, fiction, and arts. Some of the most notable categories are: Public Service, Breaking News Reporting, Explanatory Reporting, Local Reporting, Commentary, Editorial Writing, Fiction, and Biography or Autobiography.

In 2022, The Washington Post emerged the winner of the Public Service category for reporting on the January 6 United States Capitol attack 2021. A year prior to that the New York Times was honored with the Prize for its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is not always the case that large media houses like the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal take the coveted prize. For example, in 2010, the Public Service prize was present  to the Bristol, Va., Herald Courier. The small newspaper received the honor for exposing corrupt practices in the management of natural gas royalties.

As of 2022, John F. Kennedy is the only US president to receive a Pulitzer Prize. The honor, which was in the category of Biography/Autobiography, was for his 1957 book “Profiles in Courage”.

In 2008, the Pulitzer board made the decision to start considering  content published in online-only news platforms. For example, in 2013, the National Reporting prize was awarded to  InsideClimate News, a small online news organization.

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