William Randolph Hearst was bom April 29, 1863, in San Francisco, California. His father, George, was a wealthy mine owner. Hearst was energetic from an early age and enjoyed private tutoring and travel. In 1879, he attended a private preparatory school in Concord, New Hampshire. A disruptive student, he was asked to leave the school the following year.
Took charge of the school’s fading newspaper, the Harvard Lampoon, serving as editor and writer, selling advertising, and soliciting subscriptions from students, and he made it prof table. His work on the Lampoon was his major achievement at Harvard before he was expelled from the university in 1885 for playing pranks.
His millionaire father had become interested in politics, supporting Democratic Party candidates and the newspaper that supported them, the San Francisco Examiner. After the paper could not repay loans he had extended to its owners, George Hearst took it over in 1880.
Six years later, he was appointed to complete the term vacated by the death of U.S. senator John F. Miller, and then he was elected to his own six-year term. His son, William Randolph Hearst, had been working as a reporter for the New York World and soon returned to San Francisco to run the Examiner, where he quickly became its publisher. Hearst revived a dying newspaper by hiring top reporters, including noted author Ambrose Bierce. He expected the Examiner to be the first newspaper to report an event, and to report the event more sensationally than any other newspaper. His idea was that a newspaper should be exciting to read. Hearst personally took charge of a front page column, and the Examiner staff searched for sensational news items and wrote about them in articles as lively and recklessly as possible. His newspaper was soon accused of practicing yellow journalism, that is, of exaggerating and playing up violence and scandal stories to increase sales.
Hearst agreed to direct the Examiner to support Democratic candidates in return for a share of campaign money, and he used the Examiner and, later, other papers he acquired to champion Democratic candidates and to smear their opponents. His methods were so successful that the Examiner began to prosper, and Hearst thought of starting a similar paper in the East. He acquired the NewYork Morning Journal in 1895, and a year later added the New York Evening Journal. He relocated to New York after that, and devoted most of his time to these newspapers.
While Hearst was in New York, difficulties between the United States and Spain eventually erupted into war in 1898. He had campaigned for war through his newspapers and even engineered a daring rescue of a Cuban girl held in a Spanish prison. At the same time, a newspaper war with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World began after the World investigated the Journal’s rescue story and reported that the conditions it described were a sham. But readers continued to read Hearst’s Journal and to believe what they read.
In 1898, a battleship, the U.S.S. Maine, was sunk in Havana Harbor after a mysterious explosion that killed 260 American sailors. Investigators thought that the explosion had come from outside the ship, possibly from a mine or a bomb set off by the Spanish. “Remember the Maine!" became a battle cry, especially in the Hearst papers. President McKinley called for the Spanish to leave Cuba, but Spain responded by declaring war on the United States. Hearst’s papers continued with their sensational reports, encouraged war with Spain, and even offered a $50,000 reward to solve the mystery of who was responsible for the explosion on the Maine.
Hearst was determined that his New York Journal reporters would be first to publish accounts of the battles of the Spanish-American War, and he gathered reporters, artists, writers, and a printing press, and sailed off to war with them. With Hearst as the key reporter, the team stayed close to the battle lines—so close that they were accused of drawing enemy artillery fire on American troops.
The Spanish-American War greatly increased Hearst’s influence in the publishing industry. He built an empire of dozens of newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1903, he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for four years. He ran later, unsuccessfully, for mayor of New York City and then for governor of New York.
Hearst opposed American involvement in both world wars; the New York Tribune portrayed him as a snake named Hearsssst. His newspapers eventually campaigned for an all-out effort to win World War II against the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but his previous antiwar stances had damaged his reputation. Hearst died on August 14, 1951.