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Hearst, William Randolph

American, 1863 - 1951

Biography

One of the most successful newspaper publishers in America, William Randolph Hearst built an extraordinary communications empire and profoundly influenced the development of American journalism. The only son of George Hearst, a gold mine owner and US Senator from California, Hearst attended Harvard College, but was expelled after two years. He returned to California, and at age 24 took control of the San Francisco Examiner. Hearst displayed considerable flair, and within two years the struggling paper was showing a profit. Utilizing a system he would later hone to an art, Hearst reworked the Examiner into a combination of reformist investigative reporting and sensationalism.

Transferring to New York, he purchased a paper that would become known as the New York Journal-American. He aggressively pursued the best writers, including some of rival Joseph Pulitzer's top men. Through the use of glaring headlines, illustrations and color magazine sections, not to mention sensationalistic articles on crime and foreign affairs, the New York Journal-American enjoyed unprecedented readership. It became involved in a war of circulation with Pulitzer's New York World; the resulting battle of increasingly bombastic reporting and promotional schemes gave rise to the term "yellow journalism."

Despite a four-year turn in the House of Representatives, Hearst's political attempts in the early 1900s were unsuccessful. He continued building his communications empire, and by 1925 owned newspapers and magazines in every section of the US. During this period, he was a prodigious collector of European art, amassing so many objects, most procured unseen, that they filled seven warehouses and his large castle in San Simeon, CA. He purchased a 12th century Spanish Cistercian monastery in entirety, and was fond of armor, English silver, Greek vases and more. His true love, however, was acquiring native arts of the Southwest, dating between 1650 and 1920. He vigorously sought out the finest examples from this period, and, with the assistance of Hermain Schweizer of the Fred Harvey Company Indian Department, he accumulated 200 extraordinarily fine examples of blankets and serapes.

The combination of his extravagance and the Depression severely impacted his empire, forcing him to sell part of his art collection in 1937. By 1940 he had lost personal control of his vast financial holdings, and he lived his final years in virtual seclusion.

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