San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Call, San Francisco Bulletin 1856-1935
Fremont Older, a great San Francisco editor, was the most dynamic crusading newspaperman in the first half of the 20th century.
He was a “no holds barred” battler against graft and corruption, and a fighter for the rights of the people.
Born on a Wisconsin farm in 1856, he started work at 10 years of age. At 12, he had a year’s schooling. After many jobs, he became a printer’s devil.
Older came west at 17 and worked as a typesetter on the San Francisco Morning Call. Forty-five years later he took his last job as editor of The Call.
Ten years after traveling west, he became editor of the Redwood City Weekly Journal. He fought a corrupt local situation, but the political bosses bought the paper, and The Journal soon died.
The San Francisco Bulletin hired Older as a reporter, and in 1895 he became its managing editor. Fremont Older’s “fireworks” of screaming headlines and unbridled attacks on crime built the circulation from 9,000 to 20,000 in one year.
The Southern Pacific Railroad’s political octopus felt his shots. Mayor Eugene E. Schmitz and Abe Ruef, the political bosses, were blasted daily.
His editorial policy seemed to sell papers, but the public failed to respond to Older’s pleas. However, Ruef was later sentenced to prison for “boodling.”
Like his contemporaries, Older gave the people of San Francisco what did interest them rather than what should.
By 1905, The Bulletin was being acclaimed as the leading paper of the West. But there was a conscience behind the screaming headlines, a conscience that expressed itself in provocative questions about the running of the city.
Older showed his inconsistency later by attacking the state penal code and seeking Ruef’s parole, when he became convinced that not all the blame rested with Ruef, but also with society and the system.
Older later defended a radical union man named Mooney who was charged with the Preparedness Day Parade bombing of 1916.
Hiram Johnson attracted Older’s vigorous successful support in the 1916 gubernatorial election as did the measures providing for the initiative, referendum and recall to combat corporation influence in the Legislature and judiciary.
The conscience of Fremont Older had asserted itself, initiating a new era, the age of crusade.
The Bulletin’s publisher was unwilling to support Older in the Mooney affair, so Older resigned and became editor of the San Francisco Call.
The Bulletin’s circulation dropped almost half within a year, and The Call’s almost doubled. In 1927, the Call bought The Bulletin, and at 73, Older became editor in chief of The Call-Bulletin.
Older was a brilliant fighting editor until his death, and he was a great credit to the constructive power of the press. He represented the best in San Francisco journalism at a time when the game knew no rules.
The state Legislature on March 5, 1935, adopted a memorial resolution and called him one of the most revered citizens of the state ... for almost half a century of good government and the cause of the underdog.
The life of Fremont Older is a story of personal journalism. He was a man of action and the papers he edited were dynamic. He stood steadfast for a cause, using his paper to convey his beliefs and to sway the world to share his views.
To him, the victory of his newspaper was as essential as eliminating graft.
It was a violent battle. There were threats on his life and a kidnapping that almost succeeded. But he never hesitated and was an unrelenting fighter for what he believed was right.
*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.*