Frederick Birchall attended several schools in Lancashire but left college when he learned his parents intended him to enter the ministry.
Frederick became a volunteer reporter for the Warrington Examiner. He then worked as a reporter for several other British newspapers, including the Pall Mall Gazette. In 1893 Birchall immigrated to the United States, going first to Philadelphia. Failing to find permanent employment there during that panic year, he went to New York City and worked as a police reporter for the New York City News Bureau. In 1895 he joined the staff of the New York Tribune as a copy editor. In 1897 Birchall went to the Morning Sun as an assistant city editor, and in 1905 he moved to the New York Times as night city editor. He frequently slept in a small room adjacent to the city room and appeared for duty dressed in his pajamas and a bathrobe. He wanted the facts dressed up in what might be called literary journalism.
Carl Van Anda, managing editor of the Times, later named Birchall as his assistant. On January 1, 1926, Birchall succeeded Van Anda as acting managing editor. At the end of 1931, when Birchall was considered too close to retirement age to be named managing editor, the Times sent him to Europe on a sort of sabbatical leave preliminary to retirement. He exchanged places with Edwin L. James, who became managing editor, and Birchall was appointed director of the paper's European news service, with headquarters in London. Birchall assumed this new position during the rise of Hitler and Nazism.
In 1940 Birchall published The Storm Breaks: Panorama of Europe and the Forces That Have Wrecked Its Peace. On December 3, 1941, Birchall was granted a leave of absence to assist promotion of the British War Relief Society. After completing this leave, he served for a brief period as head of the Times bureau in Ottawa, Canada, before retiring in 1943. Birchall owned a farm in Rockland County, New York, and maintained a residence in Riverdale, New York. After his retirement he and his wife moved to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, where he died.
Quotes from others about the person
"Birchall's dispatches from Germany have done more than anything else to arouse the American people against the outrages and brutalities of the Hitler regime. The ability to maintain his restraint and his composure under the most difficult and trying conditions is what makes Birchall's performance the more remarkable. " - Irvin S. Taubkin
On October 6, 1895, Birchall married Annie Hood of Wycliff, New Jersey; they had no children.