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William Randolph Hearst

By Jeff Wierichs

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William Randolph Hearst was the founder of the Hearst Corporation.  He is considered a very dominating figure in 20th century communications and one of the leading figures of the Spanish American War period.  During his career in newspapers, magazines, radio and film broadcasting, he changed the face of the way mass media would be seen throughout the world.


William Randolph HearstWilliam Randolph Hearst was born on April 29,1863.  His father was a multi-millionaire miner named George Hearst. His mother was Phoebe Hearst, a school teacher from Missouri.  While Hearst was a boy, his father traveled through the West becoming partners in three of the largest mining discoveries ever recorded in American history:  the Comstock Lode, Homestake Mine in South Dakota and the Anaconda Mine in Montana.  These three discoveries led Hearst to his millions.

As a repayment of a gambling debt, George Hearst in 1880 accepted  a small newspaper called the San Francisco Examiner.  Hearst at this time was a U.S. Senator and had very little interest in the newspaper.  During the mid -1880’s, Hearst’s son William, now a student at Harvard University, wrote to his father demanding to take over  the newspaper.  His father actually preferred William to manage the mining and ranching interests but William refused this suggestion and became the owner of the Examiner on March 7, 1887. Young Hearst showed a lot of versatility and was determined to make the Examiner popular.  He nicknamed the newspaper "The Monarch of the Dailies" and acquired the best equipment and the most talented writers possible.  Hearst then went on to publish exposes of corruption and stories filled drama and inspiration.

In 1895, William Hearst purchased the New York Morning Journal and entered into a head-to-head circulation war with his former mentor, Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World. To increase circulation both started to include articles about the Cuban Insurrection.  Many stories in both newspaper greatly exaggerated their claims to make the stories more sensational.  Both Hearst and Pulitzer published images of Spanish troops placing Cubans into concentration camps where they were suffered and died from disease and hunger. The term “Yellow Journalism,” which was derived from the name of "The Yellow Kid" comic strip in the Journal, was used to refer to this style of sensationalized newspaper articles. The American public purchased more newspapers because of this form of writing, and this strongly encouraged Hearst and Pulitzer’s newspapers to write more sensationalized stories.  Some of the most sensationalized articles concerned “Butcher Weyler” and his reconcentration policies, and the Cuban Insurrection. Circulation continued to soar as the Journal reported that an American civilian was imprisoned without a trial and stating that no American was safe in Cuba as long as Weyler was in charge. Another major  that enraged the American public was written by one of Hearst's reporters,  Richard Harding Davis,  who came upon the story while on his way back from Cuba.  The reporter learned of the story of Senorita Clemencia Arango.  Arango was forced out of Cuba for helping the rebels, and was supposedly strip-searched by Spanish detectives.  This angered the Victorian ideals of the American public even though the story was found to be in error and that a woman searched Arango and not Spanish male detectives.

Hearst and Pulitzer Battle it Out in Cartoon
Pulitzer (right) and Hearst (left) go to war over the Spanish American War

Hearst played a huge part in arousing the public’s intention to go to war with Spain. This activity reached its zenith after several years of articles concerning the situation in Cuba, Hearst ran a series of articles blaming the Spanish for the sinking of the MAINE with a mine. Hearst’s powerful articles pushed many Americans towards war with Spain. Because of his leading role in inciting the war, Hearst was nicknamed the “Father of Yellow Journalism.”

Hearst made some very intelligent moves as he tried to out-maneuver Pulitzer.  He hired Pulitzer’s writers for more money. Hearst recruited some very talented writers including Ambrose Bierce; Mark Twain; Richard Harding Davis; talented sketch artist Frederic Remington; and the writer of  The Red Badge of Courage, author Stephen Crane. In spite of his success, Hearst still felt he needed to expand his business. Hearst chartered the yacht SYLVIA, fitted it out with offices, printing equipment and a darkroom. The vessel arrived off Cuba even before Maj. Gen. Shafter's Fifth Corps, and Hearst headed up his army of reporters, and took to reporting from the field himself.

In 1903, while on his honeymoon in Europe with his wife Millicent Wilson, Hearst decided to start his magazine, Motor .  This lead on to an international operation known as Hearst Magazines .  Today, Hearst Corp. owns 12 newspapers including the San Francisco Examiner.  Hearst Corp. also owns 25 magazines including Cosmopolitan.

Hearst had similar interests to his father.  Hearst was interested in politics, and elected twice to the U.S. House of Representatives.  His bid to become governor of New York in 1906 failed.   Hearst later expanded his business operations into radio,  the first businessperson to do this.  He later produced movie newsreels, again a first for newspaper publishers.  Hearst developed the King Features Syndicate .  This provided comic strips and text features and is now the largest distributor in the world of its kind.

William Randolph Hearst died in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Aug. 14,1951.  He was 88 years old.  All of his sons followed their father’s glory into media and became very successful.


(As a service to our readers, clicking on a book title in red will take you to that book on, clicking on a website link will take you to that website).

"Analyze the roles of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in starting the Spanish-American War" (

Biographical Dictionary (

Blow, Michael, A Ship to Remember , (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992).

"The Biography of William Randolph Hearst," The Hearst Corporation Website (

Grolliers 1994 Multi media Encyclopedia.  (CD-ROM)

O'Toole, G.J.A., The Spanish War : An American Epic--1898. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984).

"William Randolph Hearst," (History Channel)

"William Randolph Hearst," Britannica Online (

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