The 1900s


Immigration and industry both boomed in the United States in the 1900s. These immigrants, seeking better opportunities in the U.S., found hazardous working conditions in factories and squalid living conditions in tenements. Big business led to big questions for many journalists of the 1900s. From Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle to Ida Tarbell's investigation of John D. Rockefeller, newspapers and magazines in the 1900s were full of exposés. President Theodore Roosevelt described these journalists as muckrakers.

In the quest for increased readership, newspaper editors began to publish sensational headlines and lurid stories. The age of yellow journalism was in full flower.

International communication was made advanced by Guglielmo Marconi, who sent the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean. Thomas Edison harnessed electricity and started one of the first movie companies. His execution movie told the tale of President William McKinley's assassin's death.

Journalists and media personalities

Joseph Pulitzer

Joseph Pulitzer

A Hungarian immigrant with few resources, Pulitzer rose to purchase the struggling New York World newspaper in 1883 after many successes in St. Louis. Pulitzer used his newspapers to crusade for the rights of immigrants, the poor and the working class. Sensational headlines such as "Baptized in Blood" competed with those of the New York Journal owned by William Randolph Hearst.

William Randolph Hearst

William        Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst, the only son from a rich family, took control of his father's newspaper in 1887 after an unsuccessful stint at Harvard. Hearst became a major competitor of Joseph Pulitzer when he purchased The New York Journal in 1895. Under Hearst's direction, the paper fanned the flames of war, urging it's readers to "Remember the Maine", a U.S. navy ship that exploded mysteriously in Cuba. Hearst's efforts contributed to the start of the Spanish-American War. Hearst is quoted as saying, "War makes for great circulation." Hearst used the expansion of his newspaper chain to further his political ambitions, though without the same level of success as his media empire.

R. F. Outcault

R. F. Outcault

Creator of The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown comics. The Yellow Kid would symbolize the circulation wars between Pulitzer and Hearst; the comic appeared in both newspapers simultaneously. The term "yellow journalism" derives from his popular comic strip. Outcault's creations also generated the first comic merchandising; key rings, statues and other Yellow Kid paraphernalia predated Happy Meals by decades.

Lincoln Steffens

Lincoln Steffens

New York Post reporter and managing editor of McClure's Magazine. Steffens wrote a series of articles that exposed corruption in the local governments of Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York City; later collected in the book The Shame of the Cities (1904). The Struggle for Self-Government (1906) told of investigations of state politicians. He joined other muckrakers like Tarbell and Ray Stannard Baker to form the American Magazine.

Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell

As a teenager, Ida Tarbell witnessed first hand the efforts of the Standard Oil Company's efforts to monopolize oil production in Pennsylvania. Tarbell wrote The History of the Standard Oil Company articles in McClure's Magazine criticizing the business practices of Standard Oil and its president, John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller responded to these attacks by describing her as "Miss Tarbarrel".

Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair

A muckraker and novelist known for his best seller The Jungle, first serialized in 1905 by the socialist journal of tiny Girard, Kansas, Appeal to Reason. Upton Sinclair's classic book described the unsanitary practices of a Chicago meat packing company and led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906).

"There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was moldy and white - it would be dosed with borax and glycerin, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption."
-- excerpt from The Jungle

Ray Stannard Baker

Ray Stannard Baker

A muckraker on the staff of McClure's Magazine, Ray Stannard Baker joined Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, William Allen White and others to found American Magazine in 1906. Baker's articles investigated labor relations and race relations; the latter were collected together in Following the Color Line, illuminating Jim Crow laws, lynching, and poverty. Baker later served as press secretary to President Woodrow Wilson during the Paris Peace Treaty, and wrote a multi-volume biography of Wilson.

"But the mob wasn't through with its work. Easy people imagine that, having hanged a Negro, the mob goes quietly about its business; but that is never the way of the mob. Once released, the spirit of anarchy spreads and spreads, not subsiding until it has accomplished its full measure of evil.
-- excerpt from an article entitled What is Lynching?

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

A pseudonym for Elizabeth Cochrane, Nelly Bly is known for numerous journalistic and business accomplishments. As a reporter, Bly pioneered techniques in investigative journalism by faking her own insanity in order to go undercover in New York's insane asylum on Blackwell's Island. During her lifetime, Bly also circumnavigated the globe in 72 days, managed two multi-million dollar companies at the same time, and was the first female correspondent to cover the eastern front during World War I.

Political scene

Social climate

Media moments

1900 –Thomas Edison's execution movie

A still from Edison's execution movie

An actuality -- a short non-fiction film -- of the execution of the assassin of McKinley carried out from the description of an eyewitness. Motion pictures became popular, first as single-viewer kinetoscopes, then as films projected for mass audiences. Edison's company, Thomas A. Edison, Inc., produced films showing famous people, news events, disasters, and everyday people doing everyday activities.

1901: Trans-Atlantic radio transmission

Guglielmo Marconi and his transmitter

Guglielmo Marconi, the "father of radio", took a simple interest in "Hertzian Waves" and invented one of the most important new media's of the new century. Having first experimented with radio transmissions in the attic of his parent's home, Marconi traveled to England in a search for investors. There, he founded the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited which began building radio equipment in 1889. To publicize the new invention, Marconi gave numerous demonstration, including one to Queen Victoria. In 1901, Marconi successfully transmitted the first radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean.

1903 – The Great Train Robbery

A photo still from Edison's "The Great Train Robbery"

One of Edison's most famous 'actualities', this eight-minute action film depicted a robbery by Butch Cassidy. Enormously popular, it is one of the first films to tell a coherent story. Later, when the audiences became bored with "real" events, Edison and his company began producing action, drama and comedic films.

April 18, 1906 – San Francisco's devastation captured on film

A battered San Francisco building

Only days after and earthquake and fire destroyed much of San Francisco, the first "newsreels" were there to capture the devastation. This disaster would be the first major event of its kind to be captured for the viewing audiences around the United States and the world, though much the "ongoing destruction" was staged for the cameras.

1907 – First Trial of the Century

Evelyn Nesbit

Girl meets boy: Evelyn Nesbit, a 16-year-old showgirl, enjoyed some, but not all of the affections of Standford White, the famous New York architect who designed Madison Square Garden. Boy meets girl: Henry K. Thaw, an "eccentric" millionaire met and eventually married Evelyn, but grew to hate her former seducer, White. Boy flies into a jealous rage and kills wife's ex-lover: Thaw shot White as he entertained on the roof garden of Madison Square Garden and was immediately arrested. Press has field day: supposedly even President Theodore Roosevelt followed the coverage in the newspapers. Justice served?: Thaw was eventually freed and immediately divorced Evelyn.

1908: – Electric Light

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison — having already conceived, built and marketed an amazing number of devices like the motion picture camera — invents the electric light. Now taken for granted, the electric light changes society. It became much easier for people to to stay up late in the evening and enjoy more social activities. The night was somewhat tamed by the spread of street lamps, headlights and illuminated signs. The stars disappear in urban areas, and life becomes a 24-hour experience with the simple flick of a switch.

Trends in journalism