12 Facts About Joseph Pulitzer, the Man Behind the Awards

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Pulitzer Prize has long been an object of desire for writers, photographers, cartoonists, and even some musicians. But many of them know little or nothing about Hungarian native Joseph Pulitzer, for whom the prize is named. The Pulitzer name didn’t always have so much clout—in fact, as a young immigrant, Pulitzer found himself in a series of dead-end gigs, and was even homeless at times.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prizes—first awarded June 4, 1917—here are 12 facts about the man whose name now evokes the highest distinction.

1. HE WAS REJECTED BY SEVERAL ARMIES.

As a teenager, Joseph Pulitzer was turned down by Austrian, British, and French armies because of his poor eyesight. But the U.S. Civil War was then in full swing, and a Union army recruiter approached Pulitzer about enlisting as a substitute for a draftee. Pulitzer arrived in America in September 1864 by way of Boston Harbor, but reportedly dove into the harbor as his ship approached land in an effort to keep the enlistment bounty. He made his way to New York, where he enlisted on his own behalf, thereby keeping the enlistment bounty instead of letting it go to the agent. He briefly served in a Union cavalry unit, and was honorably discharged at the Civil War’s end.

2. HIS FIRST U.S. YEARS WERE HARDSCRABBLE.

After the war, the young and nearly penniless veteran was unable to make it in New York—where he slept on park benches—and headed for St. Louis, Missouri. Arriving by train in East St. Louis, Illinois, he was too broke to pay his way across the Mississippi River, so he shoveled coal on a ferry in exchange for free passage. Upon reaching St. Louis, he waited tables, tended to mules, and—in a clear sign of desperation—worked as a gravedigger during an 1866 cholera epidemic.

3. HIS FIRST BIG CAREER OPPORTUNITY CAME THANKS TO CHESS.

A stamp featuring Joseph Pulitzer
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

While observing a chess match between two German speakers at a St. Louis library, Pulitzer critiqued a move. Though some chess players might take offense, these two—who worked as editors at the area’s main German-language newspaper—took an interest in the sharp young Pulitzer. He soon was working with them as a reporter at the Westliche Post, where he later became a part-owner.

4. HE ALSO HAD A POLITICAL CAREER.

Many prominent newsmen have identified with a political party, but Pulitzer took it a step further, actually serving as a politician. He worked in the Missouri state legislature, and later as a Congressional representative from New York’s 9th district. He also served as a delegate for the Liberal Republican Party in 1872 and for the Democratic Party in 1880.

5. HE COMMUNICATED IN SECRET CODE.

After eventually owning such major outlets as the New York World, and endlessly striving to expose high-level corruption, Pulitzer made rivals and enemies in high places. In order to encrypt his communications, he devised a code for speaking with his editors, attorneys, and family that consisted of some 20,000 names and terms. Examples included “Andes” (himself), “Glutinous” (Theodore Roosevelt), “Malaria” (The Republican Party), and “Geranium” (the New York Journal).

6. HE SHOT SOMEONE.

While in political office, he made enemies with a building contractor. On January 27, 1870, they argued at a hotel in Jefferson City, Missouri. After being called a liar, Pulitzer went to get his old army pistol. He then returned to the hotel and demanded an apology, but was punched instead. So he produced his pistol and shot the contractor in the leg. Though his victim survived, had the incident occurred today Pulitzer would likely face serious jail time and the destruction of his journalistic and political careers. Instead, he was only fined heavily, but managed to retain his political position, though he did lose the ensuing election.

7. HE HAD A THING FOR THE NUMBER 10.

A sepia-toned photograph of Joseph Pulitzer in profile.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Pulitzer, who was born on the 10th of April and reportedly gained control of both the Saint-Louis Evening Dispatch and the New York World on the 10th of the month, often refused to “do any important thing” until the 10th day of any given month. But when his Manhattan residence of 10 East 55th Street burned down in 1900, he moved to 11 East 73rd Street.

8. HE WENT BLIND.

The publishing mogul who brought printed stories to countless millions lost his eyesight, and did so at the young age of 40. Though he maintained his newspaper enterprise with assistance, his blindness exacerbated lingering mental conditions. He became increasingly reclusive and also suffered a nervous breakdown.

9. EVEN AFTER GOING BLIND, HE WAS AN ART ENTHUSIAST.

A 1909 magazine profile describes Pulitzer as surrounded by a “splendid and costly” art collection “he cannot see.” Connoisseurship would run in the family, as grandson Joseph Pulitzer III, himself a publishing mogul, would acquire one of the world’s most sterling modern art collections before his death in 1993.

10. HE BECAME VERY, VERY SENSITIVE TO NOISE.

For such a media dynamo, he certainly valued his quiet time, especially as his somatic and psychological troubles grew more severe. He even soundproofed the bedroom of his Manhattan residence along with his yacht, and his vacation estate in Bar Harbor, Maine was dubbed the “Tower of Silence.”

11. HIS BROTHER WAS ALSO A NEW YORK NEWSPAPERMAN.

Pulitzer’s younger brother Albert also immigrated to the U.S., and in 1882, he founded the New York Morning Journal, a one-cent daily paper. The brothers, both running competing Gotham publications, reportedly became bitter rivals. Albert Pulitzer would sell his paper to William Randolph Hearst (his brother’s arch-rival) and ultimately committed suicide in Vienna, Austria, in 1909. Though the brothers had been estranged, the surviving Pulitzer spent $15,000 to give him a fitting farewell and burial.

12. HIS LAST WORDS WERE IN GERMAN.

At age 64, Joseph Pulitzer died of heart failure on October 29, 1911, while on board his yacht in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Right before his death his German secretary was reading to him a narrative about the French King Louis XI, and just as she reached the part about the monarch’s death, the ailing Pulitzer said, “Leise, ganz leise, ganz leise”—“Silently, very quietly, very quietly”—an instruction to lower her voice.

Why We Eat What We Eat On Thanksgiving

monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images
monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images

When Americans sit down with their families for Thanksgiving dinner, most of them will probably gorge themselves on the same traditional Thanksgiving menu, with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie taking up the most real estate on the plates. How did these dishes become the national "what you eat on Thanksgiving" options, though?

Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

It's not necessarily because the pilgrims did it. Turkey may not have been on the menu at the 1621 celebration by the Pilgrims of Plymouth that is considered the first Thanksgiving (though some historians and fans of Virginia's Berkeley Plantation might quibble with the "first" part). There were definitely wild turkeys in the Plymouth area, though, as colonist William Bradford noted in his book Of Plymouth Plantation.

However, the best existing account of the Pilgrims' harvest feast comes from colonist Edward Winslow, the primary author of Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Winslow's first-hand account of the first Thanksgiving included no explicit mention of turkey. He does, however, mention the Pilgrims gathering wild fowl for the meal, although that could just as likely have meant ducks or geese.

When it comes to why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving today, it helps to know a bit about the history of the holiday. While the idea of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest was popular in certain parts of the country, it was by no means an annual national holiday until the 19th century. Presidents would occasionally declare a Thanksgiving Day celebration, but the holiday hadn't completely caught on nationwide. Many of these early celebrations included turkey; Alexander Hamilton once remarked, "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

When Bradford's journals were reprinted in 1856 after being lost for at least half a century, they found a receptive audience with advocates who wanted Thanksgiving turned into a national holiday. Since Bradford wrote of how the colonists had hunted wild turkeys during the autumn of 1621 and since turkey is a uniquely North American (and scrumptious) bird, it gained traction as the Thanksgiving meal of choice for Americans after Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Moreover, there were pragmatic reasons for eating turkey rather than, say, chicken at a feast like Thanksgiving. The birds are large enough that they can feed a table full of hungry family members, and unlike chickens or cows, they don't serve an additional purpose like laying eggs or making milk. Unlike pork, turkey wasn't so common that it seemed like an unsuitable choice for a special occasion, either.

Did the pilgrims have cranberry sauce?

While the cranberries the Pilgrims needed were probably easy to come by, making cranberry sauce requires sugar. Sugar was a rare luxury at the time of the first Thanksgiving, so while revelers may have eaten cranberries, it's unlikely that the feast featured the tasty sauce. What's more, it's not even entirely clear that cranberry sauce had been invented yet. It's not until 1663 that visitors to the area started commenting on a sweet sauce made of boiled cranberries that accompanied meat.

There's the same problem with potatoes. Neither sweet potatoes nor white potatoes were available to the colonists in 1621, so the Pilgrims definitely didn't feast on everyone's favorite tubers.

How about pumpkin pie?

It may be the flagship dessert at modern Thanksgiving dinners, but pumpkin pie didn't make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims probably lacked the butter and flour needed to make a pie crust, and it's not clear that they even had an oven in which they could have baked a pumpkin pie. That doesn't mean pumpkins weren't available for the meal, though; they were probably served after being baked in the coals of a fire or stewed. Pumpkin pie became a popular dish on 17th-century American tables, though, and it might have shown up for Thanksgiving as early as the 1623 celebration of the holiday.

This article originally appeared in 2008.

15 Colorful Facts About Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s enchanting floral still life paintings are now a deeply ingrained part of American culture—so much so that they often eclipse her other colorful accomplishments. For a more complete portrait of the artist, who was born on November 15, 1887, brush up on these 15 little-known facts about her.

1. Flower paintings make up a small percentage of Georgia O'Keeffe's body of work.

Though Georgia O'Keeffe is most famous for her lovingly rendered close-ups of flowers—like Black Iris and Oriental Poppies—these make up just about 200 of her 2000-plus paintings. The rest primarily depict landscapes, leaves, rocks, shells, and bones.

2. Georgia O'Keeffe rejected sexual interpretations of her paintings.

For decades, critics assumed that O'Keeffe's flowers were intended as homages—or at the very least, allusions—to the female form. But in 1943, she insisted that they had it all wrong, saying, “Well—I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.” So there.

3. Georgia O'Keeffe was not a native of the American Southwest.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

O'Keeffe was actually born on a Wisconsin dairy farm. She'd go on to live in Chicago; New York City; New York’s Lake George; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Amarillo, Texas. She first visited New Mexico in 1917, and as she grew older, her trips there became more and more frequent. Following the death of her husband in 1946, she moved to New Mexico permanently.

4. Georgia O'Keeffe’s favorite studio was the backseat of a Model-A Ford.

In an interview with C-SPAN, Carolyn Kastner, former curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, explained how the artist customized her car for this use: "She would remove the driver's seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger car, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford."

Painting inside the car allowed O'Keeffe to stay out of the unrelenting desert sun, where she painted many of her later works. The Model-A also provided a barrier from the bees that would gather as the day wore on.

5. Georgia O'Keeffe also painted skyscrapers.

While nature was O'Keeffe's main source of inspiration, the time she spent in 1920s Manhattan spurred the creation of surreal efforts like New York With Moon, City Night, and The Shelton with Sunspots.

6. Georgia O'Keeffe immersed herself in nature.

While in New Mexico, O’Keeffe spent summers and falls at her Ghost Ranch, putting up with the region's hottest, most stifling days in order to capture its most vivid colors. (The rest of the year she stayed at her second home, located in the small town of Abiquiu.) When she wasn't painting in her Model-A, O'Keeffe often camped out in the harsh surrounding terrain, to keep close to the landscapes that inspired her.

7. Not even bad weather could keep Georgia O'Keeffe away from her work.

The artist would rig up tents from tarps, contend with unrelenting downpours, and paint with gloves on when it got too cold. She went camping well into her 70s and enjoyed a well-documented rafting trip with photographer Todd Webb at age 74. Her camping equipment is occasionally exhibited at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

8. Georgia O'Keeffe married the man behind her first gallery show.

"At last, a woman on paper!" That’s what modernist photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz cried when he first saw O'Keeffe's abstract charcoal drawings. He was so enthusiastic about this series of sketches that he put them on display—before consulting their creator.

When O'Keeffe arrived at his gallery, she wasn't pleased, and brusquely introduced herself: "I am Georgia O'Keeffe and you will have to take these pictures down." Despite their rocky beginnings, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe quickly made amends, and went on to become partners in art and in life.

9. Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz wrote 25,000 pages of love letters to each other.

When the pair met in 1916, Stieglitz was famous and married; she was unknown and 23 years his junior. All the same, they began writing to each other often (sometimes two or three times a day) and at length (as many as 40 pages at a time). These preserved writings chart the progression of their romance—from flirtation to affair to their marriage in 1924—and even document their marital struggles.

10. Georgia O'Keeffe served as a muse to other artists.

Thanks in part to Stieglitz, O'Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. Stieglitz made O'Keeffe the subject of a long-term series of portraits meant to capture individuals as they aged, and she made for a striking model. Though he died in 1946, the project lived on as other photographers sought out O'Keeffe in order to capture the beloved artist against the harsh New Mexican landscapes she loved so dearly.

O'Keeffe later wrote:

"When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than 60 years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person—but it doesn't matter—Stieglitz photographed her then."

11. Georgia O'Keeffe quit painting—three times.

The first break spanned several years (the exact number is a matter of debate), when O'Keeffe took on more stable jobs to help her family through financial troubles. In the early 1930s, a nervous breakdown led to her hospitalization, and caused her to set aside her brushes for more than a year.

In the years leading up to her death in 1986, failing eyesight forced O'Keeffe to give up painting entirely. Until then, she fought hard to keep working, enlisting assistants to prepare her canvas and mix her oil paints for pieces like 1977's Sky Above Clouds/Yellow Horizon and Clouds. She managed to use watercolors until she was 95.

12. After going blind, Georgia O'Keeffe turned to sculpting.


By Alfred Stieglitz - Phillips, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although her vision eventually made painting impossible, O'Keeffe's desire to create was not squelched. She memorably declared, "I can see what I want to paint. The thing that makes you want to create is still there.” O'Keeffe began experimenting with clay sculpting in her late 80s, and continued with it into her 96th year.

13. Georgia O'Keeffe is the mother of American Modernism.

Searching for what she called “the Great American Thing,” O'Keeffe was part of the Stieglitz Circle, which included such lauded early modernists as Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen. By the mid-1920s, she had become the first female painter to gain acclaim alongside her male contemporaries in New York's cutthroat art world. Her distinctive way of rendering nature in shapes and forms that made them seem simultaneously familiar and new earned her a reputation as a pioneer of the form.

14. Georgia O'Keeffe blazed new trails for female artists.

In 1946, O’Keeffe became the first woman to earn a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Twenty-four years later, a Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective exhibit introduced her work to a new generation. Fifteen years after that, O'Keeffe was included in the inaugural slate of artists chosen to receive the newly founded National Medal of Arts for her contribution to American culture.

15. Georgia O'Keeffe wasn't fearless, but she rejected fear.

O'Keeffe was purported to have said, "I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER