The life story of Edward Wyllis (“E.W.”) Scripps reads much like a fairy tale. Though known throughout the newspaper world as a great journalist, he was but a name to the general public.
His is a story of how the “laziest boy in the country” could start a newspaper on two bits and then run it on a shoestring.
It tells how his early papers were housed in alleys and on back streets in disreputable neighborhoods. The farther back in the street and the more disreputable the neighborhood, the better Scripps seemed to like it.
He was responsible for the establishment of more newspapers than any other man or set of men in the history of American journalism. He rose from an unpaid teen-age reporter to a multimillionaire founder and publisher.
At the time of his death, there were 35 daily papers scattered over the United States for whose existence he was primarily responsible, and 25 others of which he was the controlling stockholder.
Born in 1854 on a farm near Rushville, III., Scripps credited his boyhood on the farm as the most important factor for his success in life, and he practiced throughout his life the ideals and philosophies he developed there.
Scripps’ journalistic career began in early November 1872, when he left the farm with $80 sewn into his coat to strike out for Detroit, where he was to join a cousin and learn the drugstore business. He secretly longed to become a journalist, but he promised his father to give the drugstore a try.
He spent only one week at the store before he quit to join the Detroit Tribune as an office boy.
It was on his 24th birthday, during a visit to the unearthed Coliseum in Rome, that Scripps laid the plans for his life’s work. He decided to add one paper to another, consciously building for power.
Returning from Europe in August 1878, Scripps headed for Cleveland to study its newspaper conditions and decide whether it was the location for him to launch a career. He decided it was, and in the fall he joined forces with brothers George and James, and a cousin, John Scripps Sweeny, to raise $10,000 and found the Cleveland Penny Press. At last Scripps’ ambition had resulted in a paper with himself as its editor, and he was free to give the public the kind of newspaper he believed it wanted.
The policy of The Penny Press was sensational at the time it was announced. Almost without exception, newspapers of the day were political party organs, but not The Penny Press. It was independent and refused to affiliate with any one party.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Scripps considered The Press his child, although he had only a minority interest in it when it was founded. He always considered The Press to be something special.
As soon as The Press was making a profit and well on its way to success, Scripps began searching for another job to tackle.
Scripps first came to California in 1890 while visiting an ill aunt in the San Diego area. He found the climate there exactly what he needed for his poor health.
The 65-suite, 2,130-acre estate he built in nearby Miramar came to be known as “The Ranch,” and instead of just spending winters there, he decided to live there year-round.
It wasn’t long after his move to the West Coast that Scripps began to again expand his newspaper chain. His first new venture came in 1893 when he loaned two young newspapermen, E.C. Hickman and Paul H. Blades, 3,000 to buy the San Diego Sun. other California papers Scripps successfully bought or started in this manner included the Los Angeles Record in 1895, the San Francisco News in 1902, the Sacramento Star in 1904, the Fresno Tribune in 1905, the Berkeley Independent in 1907, the Oakland Mail in 1909, and a host of others.
Early in 1908, at age 54, Scripps announced his retirement from active management of his concern and appointed his eldest son, James G., chairman of the board with full power of attorney.
Prior to his death in 1926, he stated that of all his journalistic contributions to public service, his greatest was the foundation of an independent press association and the great news monopoly he felt it prevented. The association, of course, was United Press, later to become the United Press Association and later known as United Press International.
Scripps spent the last years of his life sailing his three yachts, the “Evelyn,” then the “Kemah” and finally the “Ohio,” on which he was aboard when he died of apoplexy March 12, 1926. The announcement of his death brought cablegrams from all over the world, and the American public he had served so long and faithfully learned more of the man from his obituaries than they had during his lifetime.
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*