#onthisday in 1935, advocate for the Saratoga Battlefield preservation, Adolph Ochs passed away.
Adolph Simon Ochs (12 March 1858 – 8 April 1935) was an American newspaper publisher and former owner of The New York Times and The Chattanooga Times. Ochs was a driving force to preserve the Saratoga battlefield land in the 1920s, along with Mayor George O. Slingerland of Mechanicville. As the owner of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs could provide editorial and financial support to the effort to preserve the battlefield. Their efforts were successful with the State of New York passing a law allowing the State to own and preserve historic sites in 1926. This was the beginning of the preservation of the hallowed grounds where world history was changed. That story of preservation continues to be written today.
The New York Times published this obituary on Ochs.
April 9, 1935
Adolph S. Ochs Dead at 77; Publisher of Times Since 1896
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
The story of Adolph S. Ochs is one of a career which, in poverty and wealth, in obscurity and eminence, was all of one piece. The qualities that his employers and associates noted when he began his newspaper career as office boy and printer’s devil in Knoxville, Tenn., were the qualities he manifested throughout his life. The principles he announced and put into practice when at the age of 20 he took charge of a bankrupt small-town newspaper were the principles he announced and put into practice eighteen years later when he took charge of the bankrupt New York Times and carried it to influence and prosperity. He knew how to publish, he believed in publishing, only one single kind of paper; and his great achievement was the proof that the publishing of that kind of paper–“clean, dignified, trustworthy and impartial,” as he phrased it in his announcement in The Times on Aug. 18, 1896–was practically possible; was not an exercise in altruism, but could be made economically as well as ethically successful.
That he made it successful was due no doubt to native ability, to a mind which, strong in its grasp of organization, also was unusually intuitional and, in flashes of inspiration, covered in an instant ground that slow-thinking men might labor over for months; but also very largely to the fact that he learned the newspaper business from the ground up, was in it all his life, and never wasted his time or his ambitions on outside enterprises or on the political aspirations that have proved a curse to so many other newspaper makers (not least to his predecessor, Henry J. Raymond, founder of The New York Times). The poverty of his parents cut short his formal schooling; but, as he told the National Editorial Association in its convention of 1916, the printing office was his high school and university, and something of the impress of the old-time printing shop and of that unique and salty breed, the old-school printers, stayed with him all his life.
Principles Learned at Home
But the principles were his before he learned how to put them into practice; he learned them at home. He was born in Cincinnati, March 12, 1858, eldest of the six children of Julius and Bertha Levy Ochs. Both his parents belonged to the group of German liberals and intellectuals who had been driven from home by the repressive measures of autocratic governments, against which the revolution of 1848 was an ineffectual protest. Julius Ochs, born in Furth, Bavaria, in 1826, came to the United States at the age of 18, possessor of an excellent education and fluent in six languages– German, French, English, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew. He taught languages in various Southern schools, a career only briefly interrupted by his volunteering for the Mexican War, as his regiment was never called into active service. In Natchez, in 1853, he met Miss Levy, and they were married in Nashville two years later. Adolph Ochs’s mother, born in Rhenish Bavaria of a family with distinguished connections in France and Alsace, had had to leave Germany in haste in 1848 to escape arrest for her connection with revolutionary committees. She traveled by sailing ship to New Orleans, where an uncle lived. The influence of this brilliant and cultured woman on her son was immense and lasting. At the age of 70 his telegram of congratulation to Alfred E. Smith on his nomination to the Presidency took this characteristic form:
“Every good mother’s son is inspired and encouraged by this well-earned climax to an extraordinary career.”
Until she moved to Cincinnati after her marriage Mrs. Ochs’s American residence had been in the South; her sympathies were with the South in the Civil War that presently broke out, and her brother served in the Confederate Army. Julius Ochs, however, despite his Southern connections and his residence in Kentucky and Tennessee, was a Union man; he enlisted in an Ohio regiment in 1861 and served throughout the war, rising to the rank of Captain. The division in politics did not affect the harmony of the family; but when Captain Ochs died in Chattanooga in 1888 the Grand Army of the Republic was prominent at his funeral; when his wife died in New York in 1910 a similar part was played by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Family Moves to Knoxville
After the war Captain Ochs found himself in the position of a good many demobilized soldiers; he had to start again from the beginning. With his growing family he moved to Knoxville, Tenn., a town that had been somewhat battered in the war but seemed to have bright prospects for future growth. That expectation was justified; but Julius Ochs, scholar and idealist, lacked the talent for material success that would have enabled him to share in the town’s prosperity. He served as Justice of the Peace and United States Commissioner, and later for a short time as Probate Judge; his continuing enthusiasm for clean and progressive politics, in an age when such ideas had fallen out of favor, carried him as a delegate to the Liberal Republican Convention which nominated Greeley in Cincinnati in 1872. Active in lodge work, he was universally popular and respected; deeply pious and a student of the religious writings of the Hebrew faith, he served his unorganized co-religionists in Knoxville as what one of the Tennessee friends later called “a first-class emergency rabbi.” But his material fortunes did not prosper, and his sons grew up in the realization that as soon as possible they must begin to contribute to the family income.
Adolph, the oldest boy, went to work at the age of 11 as office boy to Captain William Rule, editor of The Knoxville Chronicle. This Republican paper, successor of Parson Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig of pre-war days, never succeeded in winning its newest employe to its politics; Adolph Ochs grew up in sympathy with the conservative Democrats of the Reconstruction period. But Captain Rule became one of the determining influences of his life, and inspired a loyalty and affection that was enduring. Fifty-two years later, when all Knoxville declared a holiday to celebrate the eighty- second birthday of Captain Rule–then, and until his death in his ninetieth year, still in active service as an editor–the publisher of The New York Times was a sort of secondary guest of honor; and Captain Rule recalled that “he swept my sanctum and cleaned up the papers and trash so methodically that he was promoted to delivery boy,” getting up long before dawn to deposit The Chronicle on the doorsteps of subscribers, for $1.50 a week.
After a year or so of this the family decided that the boy might have a better chance in a larger city, so he was sent to Providence, R.I., where his mother’s two brothers had a grocery in which he worked as cash boy. But the next year he was back in Knoxville, working in a local drug store, where (tradition has it) he lost his job some six months later by selling a customer borax in mistake for sal soda. Early in 1872 he returned to The Chronicle, this time as printer’s devil–the old-time printer’s term for the boy who did the odd jobs and dirty work about the composing room; and this established him in the newspaper business, where he was to remain for the rest of his life.
Keen In Quest of Knowledge
In the chaotic conditions of a town recovering from the Civil War through the handicaps of reconstruction, it would be hard to say whether a boy worked outside of school hours or went to school outside of working hours. Adolph Ochs had got the beginnings of his school education at Bradford’s Hampden-Sydney Academy, a Knoxville day school, and during his next three years in The Chronicle composing room he attended classes when he could in the preparatory department of the East Tennessee University (now the University of Tennessee), where he impressed his teachers, as he impressed his employers, with his diligence and quickness. The few years he actually spent in a schoolroom might not have amounted to much, however, had it not been for what he learned outside; as an office boy, a carrier, a grocery or drug store clerk, he was always asking questions– an acquaintance of those days described him as “a human interrogation point”; and the deficiencies of his formal education were compensated by the advantages of a cultured home and the private tuition of a scholarly father.
There remained the printing office, his high school and university, as he later described it; but the thorough grounding in the newspaper business which he got in The Knoxville Chronicle shop came to him largely by accident. When the 13-year-old boy became a printer’s devil he still had no idea of making the newspaper business his life work; he went after the job because he needed the money, and was hired because his services as office boy and carrier had impressed the editor of The Chronicle with his trustworthiness.
Now it happened that the printer’s devil had to work at night, and that his duties were finished earlier than those of the journeyman printers, who were the aristocracy of the composing room. He had to go home alone, and the way home, along unpaved, poorly lighted streets, led past the graveyard of the First Presbyterian Church. A boy of 13 who had grown up in a town where there were plenty of superstitious residents, both white and colored, might be excused for sometimes forgetting the information he had no doubt received at home, that a graveyard was nothing to be afraid of. He hated to go home alone in the dark; and because the foreman of the composing room, Henry C. Collins, lived near him, little Adolph Ochs used to stay in the shop after his own day’s work was over till Mr. Collins had finished and could walk home with him.
Staying in the shop, he had to occupy his time, and the natural way to do it was by learning more about the printing trade than would come the way even of an alert and observant printer’s devil during his ordinary and well-filled working hours. He learned and he learned fast; and in later years the proprietor of The New York Times was not ashamed to admit that what really made a newspaper man of him was the need of company when he walked past the graveyard late at night. Half a century later, when Mr. Ochs returned to Knoxville for the Rule celebration, he and Mr. Collins went over that route again. Most of the landmarks had vanished, but the friendship that sprang up in the composing room still endured.
Those years as devil and later apprentice were busy ones for young Adolph Ochs; learning his trade in the printing office, going to school as he found opportunity, and acting as usher, with his younger brothers George and Milton, in Mayor Peter Staub’s Opera House, where traveling companies played “The Two Orphans,” “Monte Cristo” and “Hazel Kirke,” and ushers picked up a little extra money by selling candy between the acts.
Starts Out In Wider Field
And so it went till October, 1875, when Adolph Ochs, 17 years old, decided to go out and see what he could do in a larger field. There is a tradition that he had some idea of settling, eventually, in California, but his immediate objective was Louisville; and the letters of recommendation that he took with him when he left his home town were considered more than perfunctory discharges of obligation; they were curiously prophetic. Captain Rule, the editor of The Chronicle, wrote that he had found him “honest, zealous, reliable and trustworthy * * * quick to comprehend and faithful to execute,” and “endowed with an intellect capable of reaching the highest point of mental achievement.” Collins, his foreman, said that “He is to a foreman what money is to a miser–a necessity, hard to part with.” His associates in the composing room presented him with a volume of Hood’s poems–he kept it all his life–with an inscription on the flyleaf over all their signatures expressing the hope that “some day we shall be able to note you among the nation’s honored sons.” And Mayor Staub, losing a valuable usher from his opera house, chose to speak in his civic rather than his private capacity: “For the Mayor of any city such a loss as your departure, my young and worthy friend, is quite serious.”
Armed with these testimonials, the young printer went to Louisville and found work in the job printing department of The Courier Journal. But six months later he was back in Knoxville; and as Edward H. Edwards, a printer who worked with him there, has put it, “if there ever was a turning point in the life of Adolph S. Ochs it was when, having gone out from his father’s roof to seek his fortune, he so sorely felt the loss of family ties and the personal contact of those near and dear to him that he was impelled to return home.” Ambition as well as homesickness was a motive, however; a new paper, The Tribune, had just been established in Knoxville, and it offered perhaps a better opportunity to a boy who was indeed trusted and admired by his old employers on The Chronicle, but might never have lived down the fact that he started at the very bottom, might never have seemed to them any more than Adolph the office boy grown up.”
Attracted by Chattanooga
His year and a half on The Tribune gave him a more varied experience. He worked at first in the composing room, then as a reporter, and was presently made assistant to the business manager, Franc M. Paul–a rehearsal in each of the three departments of newspaper-making which he was soon to find invaluable. For already his ambitions, and those of some of his associates on The Tribune, were looking southward to Chattanooga. The strategic importance of this city, so great in the military operations of the Civil War, had not yet been appreciated commercially; the centre of a number of railroads, with rich mineral deposits lying in the mountains roundabout, Chattanooga had only some 12,000 people and was still in spirit a small town. Yet there were a few persons, including Adolph Ochs, who realized its possibilities; and this town of promise was served by only a single newspaper, The Times, an organ miserably inadequate from every point of view which was living from hand to mouth. Young Ochs and Colonel J. E. MacGowan, an editorial writer on The Knoxville Tribune, were planning to establish a new paper in competition with The Chattanooga Times when they discovered that their colleague Franc Paul had anticipated them and started The Chattanooga Dispatch, to which he brought them both in the Fall of 1877. Colonel MacGowan as editor and Adolph Ochs as advertising solicitor.
But The Chattanooga Times, feeble as it was, refused to fold up in the face of competition. The outcome has been succinctly described by William M. Stone, a Chattanooga printer who was afterward for many years on Mr. Ochs’s staff:
“In less than six months The Dispatch, despite Paul’s planting and Adolph’s watering, proved a hopeless failure. But this, unfortunate as it seemed at the time, proved a great blessing to Chattanooga, as it left Adolph so poor that he could not leave town.”
Paul went back to Knoxville, Colonel MacGowan stayed in Chattanooga and got another job, and Adolph Ochs was made receiver of The Dispatch, and eventually managed to liquidate its debts. But meanwhile he had to eat; and discovering that Chattanooga had no city directory, he set to work on this his first publication. He himself did all the work on it but the binding; he got the information, wrote it, set it up in type, read the proof and printed it on a hand press. And this directory had two consequences besides the urgent and immediate one of enabling its publisher to eat–it gave him a comprehensive and thorough acquaintance with all the population and all the business of Chattanooga, and it awakened the citizens to the realization that their town had possibilities that they had overlooked, but which were plain to the eyes of an observant (and hungry) young immigrant from Knoxville.
Takes Over the Local Times
The directory not only made Ochs acquainted with Chattanooga, but made Chattanooga acquainted with Ochs. The Times had been able to outlast the competition of The Dispatch; but it was about ready to give up the ghost, and its editor offered to sell it to Mr. Ochs for $800, provided he would assume the paper’s debts, amounting to $1,500 more. The young man from Knoxville would have been glad to accept the offer, but for one insuperable difficulty: he did not have $800. Indeed, he had almost nothing; but he had made acquaintances and established his personal standing in Chattanooga, and after further negotiations he discovered that he could borrow $250. With that borrowed $250 he bought a half interest in The Chattanooga Times, stipulating that his half should carry with it the control of the paper; he assumed the paper’s $1,500 debt in addition to the $250 he had borrowed to buy it; and with his own private fortune of $37.50 as working capital he became publisher of The Chattanooga Times on July 2, 1878.
The salutatory of the new publisher announced the theme around which his whole life was to be woven. The Times intended to become “the indispensable organ of the business, commercial and productive, of Chattanooga, and of the mineral and agricultural districts” surrounding the town; it would get all the news it could, at home and abroad (the earlier Times had had no telegraph news at all), and would support conservative Democratic principles while reserving independence in State politics, “being cognizant of the need of and the strongly expressed desire for such a newspaper in Chattanooga as the above outline indicates The Times to be, we have taken the people at their word and shall give them a chance to support that which they have been asking for.”
But, it was added, “in this matter of patronage we shall make no appeals, but rely upon that sense of propriety and justice which must teach every intelligent citizen that the obligation between himself and the paper is a mutual one, ours to print and circulate such a journal as we have described, his to see that he contributes his share, in proportion to the benefits such a paper confers on him as a citizen, the means to sustain it and promote its growth. * * * In short, we shall conduct our business on business principles, neither seeking nor giving sops and donations.”
Task a Formidable One
Chattanooga knew what this meant. The Chattanooga Times before Mr. Ochs’s day had, in the words of Henry M. Wiltse, “dragged itself from pillar to post, and had to lean heavily against the one or the other whenever it desired to cast a shadow or take a long breath.”
It was a failing not uncommon in the small-town journalism of the seventies, a precarious trade whose practitioners, unless they were unusually able or unusually lucky, were likely to find that they could keep afloat only by giving sops to local interests, or by accepting donations of one sort or another which were rarely disinterested.
The young man who had turned his back on this sort of thing, who had announced that he would give Chattanooga what he thought it needed and would accept from it only what he thought he had earned, had nothing behind him but his abilities and his knowledge of his trade. He had been a resident of the town for less than a year despite the mustache which he then wore to give himself an air of maturity, he could hardly conceal from his fellow-citizens that he was not yet old enough to vote. He had a newspaper plant fit for hardly anything but the junk heap, publishing a four-page paper with a circulation of 250; he owed $1,750 and his working capital amounted to just about 2 per cent of his debts. Yet from that slender beginning came not only The Chattanooga Times, but The New York Times of today.
Colonel MacGowan, another immigrant from Knoxville left behind after the collapse of The Dispatch, was hired to serve as editor of The Times in such time as he could spare from his other job, at a salary of a dollar a day.
There was one reporter and a business office staff of one; five men in the composing room, besides a foreman who also acted as proofreader and pressman; and the proprietor and publisher, besides being general editorial supervisor, was also business manager and advertising solicitor. The payroll even of this modest force, even in those times, was somewhat over $100 a week, without allowing any compensation for the publisher; and the problem of meeting the payroll in the first year was often an acute one. But it was always met, and met without any compromise with the principles announced by the new publisher in his first issue. His first year with The Chattanooga Times was perhaps the hardest, certainly the most critical, in Mr. Ochs’s whole career; but the end of the year saw him on the road to success.
Profits Put Into Business
His total receipts that year were $12,000; but his expenses were only $10,000, including $900 withdrawn for his own living, and the profit was plowed back into the business. From the first he had given The Times the telegraph service of the old Western Associated Press; this was expanded as rapidly as possible, and Colonel MacGowan was soon engaged as full-time editor, a post he held until his death twenty-five years later. When it became apparent that the new venture was going to be successful the publisher brought his family down from Knoxville, and his brothers George and Milton presently took their turn as reporters on The Times, thus beginning newspaper careers that were later to bring distinction to both. Two years after he had bought the control of The Times Mr. Ochs was able to buy the other half interest in the paper that had been beyond his reach in 1878. At that time he could have bought it for $400, or probably even less; by 1880 he had to pay $5,500 for it, every cent of the increment in value being the result of his own success with the paper.
The newspaper which was thus succeeding was fulfilling its promise of impartiality and disinterestedness. To L. G. Walker, on his appointment as editor of The Chattanooga Times years later, Mr. Ochs said: “Your only policy is to have no policy–no policy, that is, except to be right.” It was on that principle that The Times was conducted from the very first, in a day when newspapers, especially in the smaller cities, were far more likely to be affected by outside influence than they are at present; and it was that same principle that Mr. Ochs later put into practice in New York. But it never meant a weak policy or an absence of policy. It meant independence and a sense of civic duty. The Chattanooga paper prospered and the town prospered with it. In the language of William M. Stone, Mr. Ochs “took the dirty, poverty-stricken village by the nape of the neck and by sheer force of magnetic optimism and courageous enterprise lifted it to where it is today.” One of his own contributions to the upbuilding of the city was the erection, in 1892, of the substantial building of The Chattanooga Times.
Captain Rule, years before had noted that his young employe was not only honest but zealous; and it was that zeal that Chattanooga was feeling now–the zeal of a young man who had picked out a town that he thought had a future, and was resolved to make that future a pleasant reality. There was no civic improvement of those years in Chattanooga that The Times did not promote–indeed often it started them–the opera house, the firemen’s fountain, the dredging of a channel in the Tennessee River. More important, perhaps, was the Chickamauga National Park, of which Mr. Ochs was one of the originators, and which served to get him started in the park movement which was to prove one of the great interests of his life.
His Only Public Office
It was perhaps this zeal for promotion of his home town that led him to accept the only public office he ever held in his life–membership on the Chattanooga School Board in 1884 and 1885.
Mr. Ochs’s leadership in the boosting of his home town had a number of consequences, one of which was not altogether pleasant. Chattanooga was flourishing, largely because of the vigorous work of The Times; and in 1888 the town paid the inevitable penalty of a real estate boom. The publisher of The Times later admitted that he ran wild like everybody else and bought up a lot of land which for years afterward ate its head off in taxes; but the boom turned out to be only an anticipation of values that were really there, and ultimately Mr. Ochs lost no money by this demonstration of his faith in Chattanooga.
Another by-product of Mr. Ochs’s civic leadership had more agreeable and, as it turned out, more fruitful consequences. By common consent the publisher of The Times, young, affable and abundantly enthusiastic, was accepted as the unofficial reception and entertainment committee for distinguished visitors to the town. He was the better able to discharge this function since he had been married in Cincinnati on Feb. 28, 1883, to Miss Effie MiriamWise, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Isaac M. Wise, founder of the Hebrew Union College and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Marriage brought him not only an invaluable helpmate but a brilliant connection. In the early days when the whole Ochs family was collaborating in getting out The Chattanooga Times, Mrs. Ochs did her part as book reviewer and dramatic critic, besides presiding over the household at which eminent visitors to Chattanooga were entertained. To this union was born some years later a daughter, Iphigene Bertha, who was married in 1917 to Arthur Hays Sulzberger.
All sorts of people passed through Chattanooga in the later eighties and earlier nineties, and the publisher of The Times met most of them. There was President Cleveland; there were Governors, Senators, bankers, Bishops and railroad presidents. A young Republican editor from Ohio named Warren G. Harding came to town on his honeymoon, and confessed to the publisher of The Times that he wasn’t satisfied with his prospects back home and had some idea of starting a Republican paper in Chattanooga. This notion was promptly dropped when Mr. Ochs pointed out to him that the only Republicans in Chattanooga were colored people, few of whom in those days could read.
Casual Remark Prophetic
Another caller, in 1890, was Harry Alloway, a Wall Street reporter for The New York Times, who was writing a series of articles on the industrial development of the South, to whom Mr. Ochs remarked casually that he thought The Times, then in the beginnings of decay, offered the greatest opportunity in American journalism. This remark was forgotten by the young publisher; but Harry Alloway remembered it, and the rehabilitation of The New York Times was the fruit of that passing comment.
The outcome of all this entertainment of distinguished visitors, unintended but inevitable, was that the publisher of The Chattanooga Times was acquiring a national acquaintance far larger than falls to most small-city publishers, and the time was at hand when he would find it useful. In his trade, too, he was becoming widely and favorably known. Invited to address the meeting of the National Editorial Association at St. Paul in 1891, he put his finger on the great change American journalism was undergoing at the time and foretold the tendency of the future. Through the mid-nineteenth century the great papers had been essentially political and essentially personal; they were the platforms on which great editors could display their personal brilliance and the news columns were usually as biased and argumentative as the editorial page. But Mr. Ochs told the assembled editors at St. Paul: “The day of the organ, if not past is rapidly passing. A journal conducted as a newspaper (with the emphasis on the news) is the newspaper of the future.”
Many newspapers of the South, The Chattanooga Times included, were at that time getting their telegraph news from the old Associated Press, an Illinois corporation composed chiefly of Middle Western newspapers, with The New York World as its principal Eastern member. In opposition, the other New York papers were maintaining, at heavy cost, the old United Press. Southern papers were not altogether satisfied with the service they were getting, and in 1891 Mr. Ochs, as secretary of the Southern Press Association, called a meeting which organized The Southern Associated Press, of which he became general manager and later chairman of the executive committee. But the division of newspaper territory among three competing organizations did not prove successful; in 1894 the majority of Southern papers threw in their lot with The United Press. Mr. Ochs thought that the Western organization had a better prospect of surviving the struggle than the Eastern; The Chattanooga Times went into The Associated Press, and the connections there formed were presently to prove of immense value to its publisher and to the greater enterprise which he was about to undertake, as well as The Associated Press itself.
His First Call to New York
Early in 1896 Mr. Ochs received a telegram from a friend in New York–Leopold Wallach, a lawyer–informing him that “the opportunity of your life lies before you.” To an ambitious young man of 38 who had already explored and realized on about all the opportunities that were offered in Chattanooga the information was too alluring to be overlooked; Mr. Ochs went to New York to see what it was all about.
The reality was disillusioning. This great opportunity was only the business managership of The New York Mercury, a small paper dealing chiefly in theatrical and sporting news, which a group of politicians who favored free silver were planning to buy in order to give New York a silver newspaper in the Presidential campaign of 1896, in which it was already evident that the currency issue would play a large part. Mr. Ochs, however, was a believer in the gold standard, which The Chattanooga Times was valiantly supporting, even though the majority of Southern Democrats had abandoned it. With the management of a silver paper, in New York or elsewhere, he would have nothing to do; but when the silver group presently gave up its plan to buy The Mercury the owner of that paper, anxious to get rid of it before it died on his hands, offered to sell it to Mr. Ochs direct.
This was rather more of a temptation. Mr. Ochs believed that in New York at the time there was an opening for a compact paper devoting itself strictly to the presentation of news and selling at 1 cent, a price then represented in New York only by the flamboyant “yellow” papers of the time, The World and The Journal. The paper he envisioned was very much the sort of thing that another ambitious young man, Alfred Harmsworth, was just then beginning to publish in London; and it was Mr. Ochs’s notion that The Mercury could be developed into what he had in mind. But all depended on The Mercury continuing to receive, as it was then receiving, the service of The United Press, and when he found that its owner could give him no assurance of that Mr. Ochs returned to Chattanooga.
Hardly had he reached home before he had a telegram–on his thirty-eighth birthday, as it happened–from that Harry Alloway of The New York Times to whom he had remarked six years before that The Times offered the greatest opportunity in American journalism. Since 1890 The Times had sadly declined, there was talk of an imminent reorganization and Alloway–purely on his own account, and without any authority–wired to Mr. Ochs that if he were interested in The Times it could probably be bought cheap. In Mr. Ochs’s early years in New York rumor kept insisting that he had been brought to town by various personages, from President Cleveland on down, to rehabilitate The Times; but the fact is that the only man who “brought him to town” was The Times reporter who wanted to see the paper set on its feet, and believed that the Chattanooga publisher had the ability to do it.
At the moment Mr. Ochs did not take the idea very seriously; but it happened that the next day business took him to Chicago. There, at lunch, he mentioned the matter to his friend Herman Kohlsaat, publisher of The Chicago Times-Herald, who exclaimed, “Ochs, there’s your opportunity.” “But,” Mr. Ochs protested, “I don’t believe I’m a big enough man for the job.” This argument failed to impress Mr. Kohlsaat. “Don’t tell anybody,” he advised, “and they’ll never find it out.”
Becomes Interested in The Times
Thus encouraged, Mr. Ochs went to New York and began to investigate the situation, which was to prove not only his opportunity but The Times’s, too.
George Jones, who had joined with Henry J. Raymond in founding The New York Times in 1851 and had conducted it since Raymond’s death, had died in 1891. The antiquated organism, which he knew how to operate, his children were unable to conduct successfully, and within two years of his death his heirs were prepared to save themselves further losses by selling The Times to anybody who would pay the price. As it turned out, only one purchaser was willing to pay the $1,000,000 they asked for nothing but the paper’s name and good-will–a company hastily organized by the editors of the paper, with all the money they had themselves and all they could get from their friends, to prevent an institution of great and honorable tradition from falling into unworthy hands. The company thus established, under the presidency of Charles R. Miller, editor of The Times since 1883, never had a fair chance to get started. Almost at once the panic of 1893 struck a paper which had no working capital, and the only marvel is that the organization managed to keep going for three years longer.
By the Spring of 1896 the circulation of The Times had dwindled to 9,000 (the paper was printing 19,000 copies a day, but more than one-half of them were coming back unsold); it had outstanding obligations of $300,000, and was losing $1,000 a day. Mr. Miller, a brilliant scholar, thinker and stylist, but no business man, who would never have tried to be anything but an editor except under the pressure of necessity, had endeavored to interest other New York editors and newspaper managers in the rescue of The Times, but these men who were on the spot, who knew all the details of the situation, were of the unanimous opinion that it could not be done. A plan of reorganization– involving, of course, the raising of more money to be thrown into what began to look like a bottomless pit–was being formulated by Charles R. Flint and Spencer Trask, already heavily involved in the Times Company; but it was generally recognized that what the plan needed was a man to work it, and every man in New York who might have been supposed to see in The Times the opportunity of his life had declared the thing was impossible.
A Momentous Interview
In this situation the young publisher from Chattanooga came to town, and through Alloway arranged an interview with the editor and president of The Times. Mr. Miller, hard driven and worried, had so little hope of finding a solution for his troubles in this encounter that he arranged for a meeting at his home, and decided to squeeze it in between dinner and a trip to the theatre on which he had promised to take his wife and children to forget the troubles that The Times had brought down on their heads. But it needed only a few minutes to make it clear to the editor that, as Fraser Bond puts it in his life of Miller, this small-town newspaper man had forgotten more about the business than most metropolitan executives ever knew. Theatre time arrived and Mr. Miller told his family to go on, that he would join them later. But he never did join them; they came home after the play to find him still deep in discussion with Mr. Ochs; and when the two men parted after midnight Mr. Miller was convinced that The Times had found the man.
Meeting Mr. Flint and Mr. Trask the next day, Mr. Ochs impressed them so favorably that he was invited to join their syndicate. He was compelled to decline, for their plan would have required him to invest more money than he had or would have cared to try to borrow. Mr. Flint then proposed that if the plan were carried out Mr. Ochs should become the manager of the paper. He mentioned a salary of $50,000 a year–a staggering amount for a man from Chattanooga. But Mr. Ochs had decided that he could not rescue The Times unless he owned and controlled it. The Flint-Trask project thereupon collapsed, and another group at stockholders came forward with a proposal to consolidate The Times with The Recorder, another daily newspaper then also in difficulties and which went out of existence the same year. But Mr. Miller and his associate editor, Edward Cary, felt sure that Mr. Ochs could save the paper as an independent publication if he only had a little time. They therefore obtained the appointment of a receiver, who kept The Times going while Mr. Ochs worked out his own plan, obtained the approval of stockholders and creditors and raised the needed funds.
Takes Over The Times
Now at last his service as greeter and entertainer of distinguished visitors to Chattanooga bore fruit. An unknown young man from a small city, however sound his plans and heartening his enthusiasm, might have had some trouble persuading wary creditors that he could do what all the newspaper executives in New York had pronounced impossible. But, headed by a letter from President Cleveland, the Chattanooga publisher was able to produce a mass of recommendations from men whose names meant something in New York. President Cleveland’s letter, in his own handwriting, said of Mr. Ochs:
* * * “In your management of The Chattanooga Times you have demonstrated such a faithful adherence to Democratic principles and have so bravely supported the ideas and policies which tend to the safety of our country as well as our party, that I should be glad to see you in a larger sphere of usefulness.”
With such references behind him, and with the soundness of his own ideas to prove that the testimonials were not perfunctory, Mr. Ochs managed to gain acceptance of his own plan for the reorganization of The Times, which was transferred to him on Aug. 18, 1896.
The new plan was briefly this: The New York Times Company was organized with 10,000 shares of capital stock and a bond issue of $500,000. Two thousand shares of stock were exchanged for the shares of the old company on a one-for-five basis; holders of the old company’s notes received in exchange bonds of the new company, dollar for dollar, and $200,000 worth of bonds were sold at par to provide working capital. (The new publisher discovered when he took charge that the paper had about $100,000 worth of unfunded obligations, so half of that working capital was eaten up before Mr. Ochs got started.) As a needed incentive, each purchaser of a thousand-dollar bond got fifteen shares of stock with it; and Mr. Ochs himself, with all the money he had and all he could borrow–most of it was borrowed–bought $75,000 worth of bonds, carrying with them 1,125 shares of stock. Of the rest of the stock, 3,876 shares, just enough to make an absolute majority, were put into escrow, to be delivered to the publisher whenever the paper had paid its way for three consecutive years. His control, however, was to be absolute from the first.
This, of course, was a gigantic gamble: but it was a gamble in which nobody but the purchasers of bonds for cash stood to lose anything which was not hopelessly lost already; and of these bonds the new publisher had bought nearly half. The rest were purchased mainly by capitalists who considered them a good if speculative investment, but would not have been seriously discommoded if the venture had failed. Almost the only man who stood to lose much, in other words, was Adolph S. Ochs. He had mortgaged his achievements of the past and his prospects of the future; but if he won, everybody else would win with him.
Competes With Yellow Press
At the moment it seemed almost incredible that he could win; he had bought The Times with $75,000 and his abilities, but all he had bought was a great name (of late somewhat shopworn) and a deficit. Dominating New York journalism of the period were The Herald, The World and The (morning) Journal, now The American; the former with an excellent and costly foreign service which The Times could not hope to rival for years, the latter two wildly sensational, according to the ideas of that day, with immense circulations built up at a price of 1 cent, while the other morning papers, The Times included, sold for 3 cents.
It is evident in retrospect, as it was clear to Mr. Ochs at the time, that to have imitated any of these successful competitors would have been suicidal; but he would not have done it anyway. There was only one sort of paper that he knew how to or cared to publish, the sort of paper The Chattanooga Times had been ever since he took it over, and the sort of paper The New York Times had been in the best days of Raymond and Jones. His salutatory announcement on Aug. 19, 1896 (published in full elsewhere in this issue), promised “to conduct a high-standard newspaper, clean, dignified and trustworthy,” for “thoughtful, pure-minded people.” Impartial news was promised and the opening of a forum for opinion; and the continuation of the editorial policies which the paper had previously advocated, with Mr. Miller still in the editor’s chair. Despite the prosperity of the “yellows” Mr. Ochs believed that there was still a public for the sort of paper The Times had been in its best days, and he meant to seek that public out.
His influence was instantly apparent in the news columns of The Times, which in the late unhappy days had made room for items that were free publicity rather than news, and had injected some editorial bias into news reporting, which the new publisher promptly stopped. Columns of dull matter left in from mere tradition were dropped from the paper and the policy of printing news for “thoughtful, pure-minded people” was emphasized, as against the sensationalism of The World and The Journal, by the adoption on Oct. 25, 1896, of the motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” which The Times carries to this day. This definition of The Times’s purpose was Mr. Ochs’s own; it has been much criticized, but the criticisms deal usually with the phraseology rather than with its practical interpretation, and the phraseology was simply an emphatic announcement that The Times was not and would not be what the nineties called a yellow newspaper. In place of the comic supplements of the yellows The Times soon offered a pictorial Sunday magazine and a few months after Mr. Ochs took charge the Saturday Review of Books, later shifted to the Sunday issue, became a permanent feature of the paper. Letters to the editor controverting the paper’s editorial policy were admitted to the rejuvenated Times on a scale not previously known. The Times of 1896, smaller and simpler, as was necessitated by its constricted resources and by the less advanced newspaper technology of the period, was essentially The Times of today.
Road to Success a Hard One
The new paper found favor; in the first year of Mr. Ochs’s proprietorship the circulation more than doubled, and the deficit which had been $1,000 a day when he took charge, averaged less than a fifth of that at the end of the year. But there was still a deficit; and after the years of prosperity in Chattanooga the publisher had been suddenly flung back to the conditions of his beginnings as a newspaper proprietor when each week’s payroll was a problem. All the other prominent papers in New York had millions behind them; Mr. Ochs had nothing, and his personal credit had been strained to what seemed at the time the uttermost in obtaining the money to buy the paper. It turned out to be capable of extensions, because there were men in New York who began to realize what he was doing with The Times, and to see that the paper was a good commercial risk. But it was years before that problem was definitely a thing of the past; and it was years before some of the men whose investments in The Times, old and new, Mr. Ochs was saving for them began to realize how fully he deserved their trust.
Some of them knew it from the first; the faith inspired in Mr. Miller at that first interview endured, and personal friendship came to reinforce it. Another man whose confidence in and affection for the new publisher proved of immense value was Colonel Marcellus Hartley, a member of the reorganization committee, who did perhaps more than any one else to teach the young man from Tennessee his way around New York and the technique of dealing with New Yorkers.
If Mr. Ochs’s way was pretty hard in the first years, it was made hard partly by his own principles. The volume of advertising in The Times did not increase as fast as the increase in circulation warranted, because the new publisher had brought to New York not only some novel ideas about the treatment of news but an unusually rigorous conscience about advertising. Certain types of objectionable advertising that were commonly carried in the papers of the nineties were excluded from The Times from the first, and a censorship system was established to investigate all offered advertising in which there was suspicion of fraud and to exclude questionable matter. In Mr. Ochs’s opinion all good and honest advertising was in its way news, and he regarded his paper–editorial columns, news columns, advertising columns–as all of one piece.
Big Tammany Offer Rejected
Furthermore, he was alert from the first to reject advertising which seemed to have strings to it. A notable instance occurred in his first year in New York when the city government (then as usual under Tammany control) offered all its regular advertising to The Times. This amounted to $150,000 a year–a sum sufficient to insure success to Mr. Ochs’s venture, at a time when it seemed highly probable that otherwise it would end in disaster. Furthermore, The Times was assured that the offer was not expected by the Tammany leaders to change The Times’s customary attitude toward that organization; it was made simply because they felt that it was a good idea to support a conservative Democratic paper in New York in the general interest of the party.
Nevertheless, the offer was refused. It was Mr. Ochs’s opinion that regardless of the effect such a contribution to a paper of small circulation and dubious stability might have on the staff, it would be taken by the general public as proof that The Times had been bought by Tammany, and that the paper could not afford for a moment to let that belief, however unfounded, be spread abroad. Moreover, he wished to avoid that subtle and almost unrealized influence which Tammany might wield by the mere threat of withdrawing its advertising once the paper had adjusted itself to that much-needed revenue. A similar feeling led him four years later to reject the proposal of the Republican National Committee to buy a million copies (at a time when the paper’s circulation was little more than 80,000) of an issue containing an especially cogent editorial supporting the Republicans on the national issues of 1900.
The early years were frequently enlivened by controversies with advertisers who thought they were buying more than advertising space. To one such gentleman, who wanted certain guarantees from the management of The Times about its advertising policies, Mr. Ochs wrote:
“You must excuse me from discussing with you the policy of The New York Times. That is a subject we do not care to discuss with an advertiser. * * * We are seeking to secure the good-will and confidence of intelligent, discriminating newspaper readers. The advertiser is a secondary consideration. * * * If your advertisement remains out of The New York Times until you have some assurance, other than the paper as it appears every day, as to the policy of the publisher, The Times so long as it is under its present management will endeavor to get along without your business.”
In the course of time the advertiser in question discovered, as did others who raised similar issues, that The Times could get along without him better than he could get along without The Times, and he returned with the understanding that what he bought was space in the paper and no more. These advertising policies, like the policy in treating news which Mr. Ochs announced in 1896 and followed ever afterward, are now the commonplace practice of all respectable newspapers. But in the nineties they were not commonplace, and newspapers then and now counted respectable did not always adhere to them–until Mr. Ochs had demonstrated that it was possible to publish a paper of those principles, and make it pay.
Two Alarming Setbacks
Despite what many practical newspaper men of the nineties must have regarded as the handicaps of honesty and dignity, The Times was steadily, though slowly, going ahead in circulation and advertising. But in Mr. Ochs’s first two years came two external calamities, each of which in turn all but ruined the new venture before it was fairly started. In 1897 the old United Press, which most of the New York papers had been supporting at heavy cost, collapsed. Mr. Ochs, whose Chattanooga Times was a member of The Western Associated Press, immediately applied for membership in that organization for The New York Times, as did the other New York papers. The World had previously been the only member of The Associated Press in New York, and Joseph Pulitzer had the power of veto over new applicants in the city. He readily agreed to admit The Sun, The Herald and The Tribune; but at first he would not have The Associated Press service extended to The Times. The paper was dying, he said, and there was no use in prolonging the agony. Refusal of Associated Press service at a period when The Times could afford very little special correspondence would have ruined the paper; but eventually Mr. Pulitzer was persuaded to let it come into The Associated Press with a Class B non-voting membership which, though it carried a derogatory implication with it, did give The Times The Associated Press news.
A few years later, The Associated Press had to be reorganized under a New York charter; and Mr. Ochs, whose paper could no longer be stigmatized as “moribund,” became a full member, a director and member of the executive committee. He held these offices for the rest of his life, and was one of the three or four men who practically made The Associated Press of today.
The second and more disastrous external event was the war with Spain. It was largely made by the newspapers, and was perhaps the greatest opportunity for newspaper showmanship that has ever been offered. The immense expenditures for staff writers, staff artists, special dispatch boats and cable tolls in which the other New York papers competed were beyond the capacity of The Times; it had to be content with The Associated Press news, supplemented by a little mail correspondence, and consequently could not hope to share in the fantastic rise in circulation which partially compensated some of its more prosperous rivals for the money they poured out. But, inevitably, The Times lost advertising when the other papers did; and a loss that the Hearst, Pulitzer, Reid and Bennett fortunes could bear threatened to be fatal to the publisher of The Times, who had used up his meager working capital and had absolutely nothing else.
The deficit in Mr. Ochs’s second year was $78,000–larger than in the first year; the circulation had been pushed up to 25,000, but the advertising linage of 1898 showed only a 10 percent gain over 1896. Something had to be done. Mr. Ochs was advised to raise the price of the paper from 3 cents to 5 cents a copy, on the theory that people who wanted his kind of paper would as soon pay 5 cents for it as 3. To the astonishment of every one, Mr. Ochs proposed instead to cut the price to 1 cent.
Faith In Public Vindicated
This was to prove one of the most brilliant of his inspirations; but it had behind it the solid faith of a lifetime–the faith that there was a public for the only kind of paper Mr. Ochs could or would publish, and a larger public than The Times then enjoyed. Mr. Ochs believed that there were many people in the city who bought the “yellow journals” only because they cost a third as much as the other papers, and that they would buy a different sort of paper if they could get it for the same price. He was well aware that the 1-cent price was regarded as the badge of the yellow press, and that some people would suppose, when The Times went to that price, that it was going to that manner, too; he knew that there would be–as indeed at first there were–suspicions that some outside interest had subsidized the paper. His only defense against these suspicions would have to be the paper as it appeared every day; and he had faith that people who could now get for 1 cent the same kind of paper that they had formerly paid 3 cents for would realize that the suspicions were baseless.
They did. Despite the universal belief among New York newspaper men (outside The Times) that the cut in price was the beginning of the end, it was in fact the beginning of victory. The circulation of the paper instantly began to leap; the public for that kind of paper, at a lower price, which Mr. Ochs alone had discerned, was actually there. A year after the change the circulation of The Times had trebled, rising from 25,000 to 76,000, and except for a brief recession after the World War it has been rising ever since, even though in 1918, when all newspapers had to face increased production costs, the price per copy was raided to 2 cents. Mr. Ochs’s third year as publisher showed a profit of $50,000, and from then on the success of The Times was assured. So obvious was this that the reorganization committee of 1896, which was to continue until the paper was firmly on its feet, was dissolved at the end of the second year. The original agreement had stipulated that the 3,876 shares held in escrow should be turned over to Mr. Ochs when he had made the paper pay for three successive years. On July 1, 1900, he had fulfilled this condition and became the owner of a majority stock interest in The Times, which he retained ever afterward, with some increase.
Growth Financed With Profits
The great fight of Mr. Ochs’s life was won, therefore, by 1900, and he won it by himself. Other men, before and afterward, made great contributions to the paper, the value of which he was always the first to acknowledge. But he was the man who (as E. A. Bradford, a veteran of the editorial staff, put it) “found the paper on the rocks and turned them into foundation stones.” Another editorial veteran, F. J. Mortimer, amplified this a little:
“The rest of the paper, plant and men, was just the same the day before he took command and the day afterward. He was the only difference; and from the moment he came in, a paper that had been steadily going down turned right around and started going up.”
That it kept on going up was due very largely, Mr. Ochs’s opinion, to the fact that most of the profits were plowed back into the business–plowed back, needless to say, in a wise and productive fashion. The Times paid its way out of its own earnings. On Mr. Ochs’s twenty-fifth anniversary, Aug. 18, 1921, he announced that the gross income of the paper for that quarter century had been about $100,000,000, of which only $3,750,000–an average of $125,000 a year–had been withdrawn as dividends. The rest of the profits had gone into financing the growth of the paper.
The story of Adolph S. Ochs during those years was the story of The New York Times. The two are inseparably woven. He had already laid down his fundamental code of integrity, soundness and completeness, and from this he never varied. But new inventions, new ideas and the broadening horizon of world events made necessary a constantly widening interpretation of “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” As The Times grew, Mr. Ochs grew with it, seizing upon every improvement in technique that would enable his paper to get the news more quickly and more fully and to print it and get it to the reader in the best possible form and with the least possible lapse of time. The development of The Times carried the double threads of constantly improved newspaper making and of world-shaking events which put an unprecedented strain upon every facility a newspaper had.
An account of the mechanical improvements in the production of The Times since Mr. Ochs took over the paper would be a long story in itself. In 1896 The Times was still being published on Park Row, in a building which at its completion eight years earlier had been regarded as the last word in newspaper housing. With the paper’s growing prosperity this building became too small. Realizing the northward drift of business and population, Mr. Ochs resolved to build in what is now known as Times Square, then a decidedly second-rate neighborhood. The design chosen for this structure, which is still one of New York’s landmarks, was derived from the celebrated Giotto Campanile at Florence, and it was regarded as one of the architectural triumphs of its decade. Pressrooms and editorial rooms were newly equipped and enlarged, and in January, 1905, the paper was moved uptown without missing an edition.
New Quarters Soon Outgrown
Perhaps nothing so dramatically indicates the growth of The Times during this period as does the fact that this spacious building, planned with all the foresight that proprietor, architect and staff possessed, became too small in exactly seven years. The Times grew out of its quarters, then and afterward, somewhat as a healthy boy grows out of his clothes. From the Times Building, which still bears that name, the paper migrated, in 1913, to the Times Annex at 229 West Forty-third Street, just off the square. In 1924 and again in 1931 additions had to be made to the Annex. In each case Mr. Ochs took pride in erecting a dignified, appropriate and beautiful building.
Meanwhile the development of rotogravure made necessary a separate plant for that process, constructed at 636 West Forty-fourth Street in 1925. A new building was erected in Brooklyn in 1931 to print the paper’s Brooklyn and Queens edition. The processes of setting type, of stereotyping and of printing were continually being improved, and The Times, under Mr. Ochs’s direction, never lagged in taking advantage of each new improvement. Mr. Ochs, who had set type by hand and had done some of his first printing on a hand-operated press, took a personal interest in each forward step in the mechanical department. In becoming a newspaper proprietor he took pride in not ceasing to be a printer–and a good one.
In 1926 he found it necessary to become, by proxy, a papermaker as well as a printer. In that year The Times became a large stockholder in the Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company, with holdings of approximately 5,000 square miles of timber rights in Northern Ontario, and subsequently one of the greatest papermaking plants in the world was erected by the company at Kapuskasing, Ont. From this mighty plant comes now all of the newsprint used by The Times.
The mechanics of communication were always important in Mr. Ochs’s eyes. He was early interested in Marconi’s experiments with the wireless, and arranged with Marconi, in cooperation with The London Times, for the first regular transatlantic wireless news service in 1907. For a time most of The Times’s European news was transmitted in this fashion. Mr. Ochs was also a pioneer enthusiast for aviation, encouraged some of the first cross-country flights and made use of airplanes for carrying photographs and delivering papers.
He saw, too, that improved means of communication and higher speed presses would be of little value without a well-organized world-wide news service, and this he set out to get, just as he had earlier done on a smaller scale in Chattanooga. In 1901 he arranged with The London Times for an exchange of services which gave him the dispatches of that paper from all parts of the earth. It was this cooperation that gave The Times the first wireless account of a naval battle–that sent by Captain Lionel James from a dispatch boat 150 miles at sea during the encounter between the Russian and Japanese fleets in 1904. Mr. Ochs had a keen interest in exploration, both for its own sake and for its value as news, and showed it in practically every expedition of importance from Peary’s journey to the North Pole to Admiral Byrd’s flight over the South Pole and afterward. He realized, too, the value of scientific news of all kinds, and The Times gave much space to it, especially after the World War. But complete presentation of all news worth printing, whether routine or otherwise, continued to be his ideal.
The World War was a severe test not only of a paper’s ability to get and print the news, but of its editorial soundness and of the impartiality of its news columns. Editorially, The Times decided that the German Government was in the wrong. In the news columns and in the Sunday editions it aimed to present not only all the actual events of the war without bias, but also to give every point of view a chance for expression. Mr. Ochs took it as a tribute to the success of this latter policy that The Times was accused by German sympathizers of favoring the Allies and by allied sympathizers of favoring Germany. The Times organized its European news service so thoroughly that it sometimes published more special foreign dispatches than all other American newspapers combined. Of particular value to students of the war was its practice of printing all important documents in full, no matter what their length.
At the end of the war Mr. Ochs had the satisfaction of knowing that his newspaper had reached a peak of prestige and prosperity which in the earlier years he had hardly dared dream of. In June, 1918 The Times had received the first award of the Pulitzer Gold Medal for “disinterested and meritorious service” for publishing in full so many official reports, documents and speeches by European statesmen relating to the progress and conduct of the war. Advertising, circulation and the size of the paper had expanded greatly, though the records of 1918 were to be far surpassed in later years. Mr. Ochs was not the man to take this success as a purely personal triumph, and he was generous in his appreciation of the men who had worked with him to bring it about. His material success probably meant less to him than the demonstration that his ideals of journalism and his faith in the fundamental decency of human nature were sound.
In Fight for World Peace
The post-war period did nothing to shake either his ideals or his faith, though it culminated in the depression of 1929. Editorially The Times threw itself into the fight to bring about world peace through the League of Nations just as it had fought for the same end in a different way during the war. The post-war news was just as important and almost as exciting as that of the war itself, and The Times expanded its news-gathering network in Europe and all over the world. It continued to print important documents in full, beginning with the full text of the Versailles treaty, which it was the first paper in the world to publish completely. It retained its interest in science and exploration.
It adhered to its old policy of presenting the news without bias. Its success in this field was illustrated in 1932 when Walter Duranty, The Times correspondent in Moscow, received the Pulitzer Prize. Editorially The Times had as little sympathy as a newspaper could have with the ideas and policies of the Soviet Government, yet it was able, through Mr. Duranty, to give the news of the Communist experiment so impartially that it gained the confidence of readers of all shades of opinion. In May, 1930, The Times received the first award of the medal of the University of Missouri School of Journalism “for distinguished service in journalism.”
The success of The Times might have suggested to another man than Mr. Ochs the possibility of a chain of newspapers based on the same idea, which, as it always seemed to him, would work not only in Chattanooga and New York but in any other American city. In 1899 Mr. Ochs did contemplate buying The New York Telegram, then owned by James Gordon Bennett. Later, in 1901 and 1902, he bought The Philadelphia Times and Ledger and amalgamated them, his brother, the late George W. Ochs Oakes (who took the added name of Oakes in 1917), becoming editor. In 1913 Mr. Ochs sold The Ledger to Cyrus H. K. Curtis. In 1918 he had almost completed arrangements to buy The Herald and The Telegram when the death of Mr. Bennett put an end to the negotiations. In the end Mr. Ochs came to regard the management of The New York Times, with its growing circulation, not only in New York but throughout the world, as a big enough job for any man. As related but independent enterprises, however, he established The Annalist, a weekly financial review; Current History, a monthly survey of world affairs, long edited by George W. Ochs Oakes, and the Midweek Pictorial, an illustrated review of the week’s news. As component parts of The Times he developed the weekly Book Review, The Times Magazine and the Sunday feature section.
Steady Rise in Circulation
The steady growth of the paper is reflected in the circulation statistics over a period of years. The figures by two-year periods from 1896 to 1934 are as follows:
Weekday Sunday 1896 21,516 22,000 1898 25,726 34,041 1900 82,106 39,204 1902 100,738 48,354 1904 109,770 46,991 1906 124,267 59,511 1908 158,692 86,779 1910 178,708 113,325 1912 220,139 158,539 1914 270,113 231,409 1916* 327,711 376,933 1918* 339,238 434,157 1920* 327,275 499,924 1922* 344,596 542,039 1924* 345,149 576,321 1926* 356,471 610,041 1928* 405,707 700,925 1930* 437,577 757,028 1932* 467,296 780,470 1934* 466,470 716,135
*Averages as reported to Postoffice Department.
Mr. Ochs often spoke of this circulation growth as “a vindication of the newspaper reader,” in that it proved that there was a public interested in a clean, dignified newspaper. There was nothing perfunctory in his relation to anything that The Times did. He was interested in every activity as an exemplification of the ideals that he, as a publisher, was trying to carry out. He took a similar interest in the business policies of the paper, a field in which he was just as much at home as in the news and editorial departments. In his eyes The Times was a unified enterprise, with operating distinctions between the different departments, but with no difference as to fundamental principles among them. Truth in advertising was as important to him as truth in the news columns and integrity in the editorial columns, as he proved again and again, at whatever sacrifice of revenue. The Times’s censorship of advertising set a standard for American journalism. In the field of circulation Mr. Ochs never had any sympathy with artificial devices to bring in new readers. He relied on the paper itself to be its own circulation-getter, and the circulation department did its work without any offer of premiums or other special inducements.
Mr. Ochs made much of his conception of The New York Times as the accepted newspaper of record. It was the obligation of a newspaper, he thought, to present a complete record of its time. An important and logical part of this conception was the inauguration, in 1913, of The New York Times Index, listing and cross-referencing every news item in The Times’s columns. In 1927, to make the record in its files imperishable, The Times began printing each day a limited edition upon pure rag paper stock for indefinite preservation in bound files.
The personality of Mr. Ochs dominated his newspaper. Probably few other journals have ever reflected the personality of their publishers more definitely and completely than The Times has Mr. Ochs’s–but in a different way from that generally associated with such a reflection. He placed an imprint of character upon the organization. He did not permit The Times to exploit himself, his personal interests, antipathies or likes, or to swerve in the slightest degree because of his own opinions from the balance of impartial news presentation. His name rarely appeared in its columns.
Mr. Ochs believed that a single authority should control and direct a newspaper. He thought that committee management was fatal, ineffective. But though he was supreme he welcomed the frank expression of opinions contrary to his own. He once said that one of the most valuable men on his staff was one who rarely agreed with him. Mr. Ochs always could count upon this man for a strong, reasoned statement of the other point of view.
Pioneer in Many Ways
Mr. Ochs’s eager, active mind, devoting itself constantly to The Times, was generally so far in advance of others that some of his associates felt their task was to serve as a brake upon his audacity.
Generally he was looked upon as a conservative. Yet it was he who pioneered in many fields of newspaper building. He was the first to bring rotogravure printing for newspaper picture sections to the United States. He looked upon this beautiful process of printing as the best means of presenting news in pictures to readers. The Times rotogravure section has not shown oddities and notorious persons, but has accepted its task as gathering the important news of the world in pictures. The Times’s own Wide World Photo Service, with bureaus and correspondents all over the world, for the purpose of assembling the best news pictures, was Mr. Ochs’s idea of what such a department of a newspaper should be.
Again Mr. Ochs was a pioneer in the improvement of newspaper printing. He developed the idea of The Times’s typographical standards, which forbade display advertisements to use unlimited areas of crude blacks in type or illustration of bizarre arrangements of type–a forward step now adopted by more than a score of other important newspapers.
Mr. Ochs had a habit of making friendly and unostentatious tours of the building, often with some distinguished visitor. His use of power had nothing of arbitrariness; rather was it exerted as an influence. The editorial page, for instance, commanded his keenest interest, and when at the office he was accustomed to interrupt his executive duties at noon each day to preside over the editorial conference which argued out and decided on the editorials for the following issue. In consonance with his general theory of newspaper policy he believed that an editorial page should be temperate in statement and should recognize that there is usually something to be said on both sides of a question. Coming up from Chattanooga he had described himself as a conservative Democrat, a term which had some meaning in Grover Cleveland’s day. Mr. Ochs had a whole-hearted admiration for Woodrow Wilson, as he had had for Cleveland. But his Democratic principles did not prevent him giving support to the President of whatever political faith so long as the administration policies warranted it.
In this and other matters of policy the editorial page was a reflection of Mr. Ochs’s personality. Naturally he did not bring to The Times editorial writers who were not in sympathy with its general principles; he did not believe that it would be fair to the writers or to The Times to do so. Yet The Times editorial staff under Mr. Ochs’s direction had room not only for the full freedom of the individual writer’s conscience, but for a considerable variety of temperament and opinion. On points not involving his fundamental principles Mr. Ochs was always ready to listen to argument; in fact, he enjoyed the clash of opinions. On certain issues which he felt keenly he did not yield, but even then no man ever had to write against his own convictions. The power of Adolph S. Ochs was not that of the money which had come to him, but of his personality and his ideas. To The Times he was more than a proprietor; he was what he had been to Foreman Collins of The Knoxville Chronicle–“a necessity, hard to part with.”
The least pretentious of men, he refused to make a mystery of his own success. The principles he had followed seemed to him self-evident, and he believed that they would have the same results if they were followed anywhere else. To a newspaper man, who observed in later years that Mr. Ochs had come to New York and taught New York journalists something new he remarked that he had only reminded them of something they had forgotten. Speaking at the convention of the National Editorial Association in 1916 he said that he had practiced no new journalism in New York–only the old journalism, the kind that succeeded best in small towns. The policy of having no policy except to be as right as you know how–this had been his sole admonition to a new editor of his Chattanooga paper–was what he had followed in Chattanooga and in New York as well. It means that clear, honest thinking, not expediency or partisanship, dictated the editorial decisions.
He seemed hardly aware that high principles, though they make success a public good instead of a public evil, do not guarantee success; and that his own achievement was due not only to the ideas and ideals which he cherished, but to his boundless energy, his supreme confidence, his willingness to stake everything on what he believed to be right and sound, and the confidence he inspired in other men. He had the qualities of a born leader. He had the rare ability, as he showed in 1896, to win victories with a defeated and discouraged army.
Paper’s Leader to the End
Mr. Ochs continued to direct The Times all his life, keeping in close touch by telephone or cable whenever he was away from the office. As one of his subordinates testified before a Senate committee which once had some suspicions of absentee influence on The Times, he was, when in town, “there every day.” His town house was for many years at 308 West Seventy-fifth Street, until in the Fall of 1931 he bought an estate in White Plains. During the war Mr. Ochs purchased the country seat of George Foster Peabody, Abenia, on Lake George, and there used to spend his Summers in a colony where he had many friendships and where he could enjoy a daily game of not very laborious or too serious golf; but even during the Summer absences at the lake he was in communication with The Times by telephone, morning, afternoon and evening. In his later years he traveled in Europe more frequently than he had done before the war, became acquainted with virtually all the leaders of politics and public opinion, and devoted himself with all his private energies as well as those of his paper to the endeavor to smooth out misunderstandings and promote a better relation between Europe and the United States.
The publishing of The Times was his avocation and his hobby as well as his vocation. He put into it the best that he had to give to his fellow-men, with a high seriousness and an unremitting sense of responsibility. He was a religious man in his daily work as well as outside of it, and many of his statements bore testimony thereto. Not only by tradition but by conviction he was a firm adherent of the reformed Jewish faith. He said at the Cleveland convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, in January, 1927:
“What we as a religious people have preserved through centuries of oppression is rapidly becoming the accepted concept of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. It is called Modernism, but it harks back to the underlying faith of an ancient people, who gave to civilization the Ten Commandments, the prophets and the Psalms.”
It was in keeping with his conception of his faith and of his people’s place in history that he was opposed to Zionism. In a statement in The American Israelite in 1922 he said that “the greatest heritage of the Jew is his religion. * * * As a distinctive race the Jews need no place in modern civilization.” Nevertheless, he was open-minded enough to be immensely impressed, during his travels in Palestine, by the achievements and the spirit of the Zionist pioneers, however much he questioned the ultimate validity of their objective.
Active in Well-Doing
For many years he was a trustee of Temple Emanu-El in New York, and in 1924 he gave to the congregation in Chattanooga a new building which was named, in honor of his parents, the Julius and Bertha Ochs Memorial Temple. In 1926 he undertook the chairmanship of the committee which succeeded in raising more than $4,000,000 for the Hebrew Union College, which his father- in-law had founded.
One of the principal interests of his later years was the park movement, in which he had been active long before as one of the advocates of the proposal for the Chickamauga National Park, near Chattanooga. It was due chiefly to him that the Lookout Mountain National Park was later instituted to preserve this historic battlefield nearer the city; he was active also in the organization which preserved the battlefield of Saratoga. The Times’s consistent endeavors to protect New York City parks against encroachment is, of course, well known. In recognition of this stand the Park Association of New York City awarded its medal to Mr. Ochs in 1931.
Of his contributions to public causes, perhaps the most notable was the gift of $500,000 which he caused The New York Times to make to finance the preparation of the manuscript of the Dictionary of American Biography, whose successive volumes have met a need of American scholarship which had long been felt. The New York Times also began in 1928 the preparation and publication of The American Year Book.
Of the numerous foreign decorations which he might have had Mr. Ochs accepted only one– membership in the French Legion of Honor, in which he was later promoted to be Commander. He made an exception of the Legion because it was so universally looked upon as being free from political significance. To the acceptance of academic honors, fittingly bestowed on a publisher who had done his best to make his paper an educational institution, he was more hospitable. He was made an honorary Master of Arts by Yale in 1922, and in subsequent years received honorary doctorates from Columbia University, the University of Chattanooga, New York University, Dartmouth and Lincoln University. In 1927 he received the gold medal of the National Institute of Social Sciences, in 1929 he was one of seven citizens of New York cited for distinguished service by the Chamber of Commerce, and in 1931 he became a member of the American Philosophical Society.
No honor gratified him more, however, than the title of Citizen Emeritus of Chattanooga, which was formally conferred on him in July 1928, at the conclusion of a three-day celebration of his semi-centennial as proprietor of The Chattanooga Times. This celebration was organized by the city and county governments and attended by deputations from The Associated Press, the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the newspaper publishers and the Advertising Club of New York City and the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York. He always retained an affection for Chattanooga and an interest in its affairs, and the friendships which he had made there as a struggling young man were broken only by death.
Welfare of the Staff
Of the welfare of the army of employes required to get out The Times Mr. Ochs was always solicitous. On March 12, 1918, he celebrated his sixtieth birthday by the establishment of group insurance for all employes, increasing the maximum amount on later anniversaries. His quarter- centennial as publisher of The Times was marked by the institution of a system of sick benefits and a retirement pension fund. For Mr. Ochs’s unusual thoughtfulness and generosity in individual instances hundreds of The Times staff in both important and humble positions had cause to be grateful. An incident illustrates his unvarying thoughtfulness. Junior employes of The Times receiving less than $18 weekly have a lunch card which permits them to purchase a complete 50- cent lunch for 10 cents. When The Times Annex was enlarged in 1931 it was necessary to close the restaurant for two weeks, and due notice was given. Upon the reopening of the restaurant every employe having a lunch card was surprised to receive, at Mr. Ochs’s orders, a check to cover the extra cost of their lunches for the period of closing.
The Hundred Neediest Cases
A charity which came close to Mr. Ochs’s heart and engaged his warm personal interest was the collection of funds, each year at the Christmas season, for “The Hundred Neediest Cases.” This feature was inaugurated by him in 1912, when a fund of $3,630 was collected, to be distributed to persons in direst need chosen from lists furnished by the leading charitable organizations of the city. The appeal was and still is made solely through the publication of brief individual narratives in The Times. In this way Mr. Ochs tried to bring home to his readers the poignant facts of destitution and to enlist their cooperation in relieving it. There was no personal solicitation; the contributions were wholly spontaneous, sometimes coming from readers who did not even give their names; and every cent collected went to relieve want, the expense of administration being met by the charitable organizations sending in the lists of cases and the other expenses by The Times. No feature of the paper had more importance in Mr. Ochs’s eyes during the Christmas season than this. He followed the campaign closely, even in its details, and rejoiced as the totals mounted.
The number of cases relieved during the first twenty years totaled more than 5,000 and the number of individuals nearly 18,000. For the Christmas season of 1930 the total of gifts was $345,790. In many instances contributions came from persons who were themselves out of work and limited as to funds. Trust funds, gifts given in memory of the dead and repeated contributions from readers who took pride in keeping up the annual totals made “The Hundred Neediest Cases” a notable institution, and its success was a source of real joy to Mr. Ochs.
Monuments He Leaves
Mr. Ochs leaves behind him two newspapers–he retained his controlling interest in The Chattanooga Times–the building of which occupied nearly all his energies for nearly all the working years of his life. Both were close to his heart. He could not have existed without intimate daily contact with their affairs. Each was created out of next to nothing by his personal efforts, in the face of discouragements which would have defeated most men and of obstacles which seemed insuperable. These newspapers are his monuments, and he would now be willing to be judged by them.
But his greatest monument is invisible–the principle of clean, temperate and impartial presentation of news and of higher standards in advertising. These are now such commonplaces of decent newspaper practice that many newspaper men of today may think they have obtained from time immemorial. But they did not secure a foothold easily or automatically; they did not prevail in New York City until Adolph S. Ochs came to town from Chattanooga and risked everything he had on his faith that not only could such a newspaper be published but that there was a public which wanted it.
Mr. Ochs was more than a publisher. He was a man who had faith in humanity and who backed that faith by all the intelligence, all the energy and all the fighting spirit that was in him.
His Views on Life’s Meaning
In October, 1931, Will Durant, in preparing his book “On the Meaning of Life,” asked Mr. Ochs for his views. The following paragraphs are quoted from that book:
Evidently religion does not die; in the vast majority of men it is still a living force for good and ill. I find a sincere note of it in the reply of Adolph Ochs, publisher of that finest achievement in modern journalism, The New York Times; by this letter I am better able to understand the solid, quiet success of this man in making his paper the most respected and most influential in America without ever catering to the mob.
“New York, Oct. 22, 1931.
“Dear Mr. Durant:
“* * * You ask me what meaning life has for me, what help–if any–religion gives me, what keeps me going, what are the sources of my inspiration and my energy, what is the goal or motive-force of my toil, where I find my consolation and my happiness, where in the last resort my treasure lies.
“To make myself clearly understood, if I were able to do so, would take more time and thought than I can give the matter now. Suffice it for me to say that I inherited good health and sound moral principles; I found pleasure in work that came to my hand and in doing it conscientiously; I found joy and satisfaction in being helpful to my parents and others, and in thus making my life worth while found happiness and consolation. My Jewish home life and religion gave me a spiritual uplift and a sense of responsibility to my subconscious better self–which I think is the God within me, the Unknowable, the Inexplicable. This makes me believe I am more than an animal, and that this life cannot be the end of our spiritual nature.
“Adolph S. Ochs.”
More and more it stands out that a man must combine action with thought in order to lead a life that shall have unity and significance. Surely a monument like The Times is meaning enough for one life.
Saratoga has been defined by the people who by choice or by chance make up this community. There are many individuals like Adolph Ochs that help define this country and our community. It is the determination of our forefathers, in surmounting overwhelming odds that help define the American spirit – the will and ability to shape a better future. It is the people it is that define this community by choice or by chance have changed this country and even the world political development. That is why studying the people of Saratoga is integral to a good understanding of the condition of being human.