A fruitful career dedicated to public and private service is a brief description of the varied accomplishments of Joseph R. Knowland’s lifetime. The son of Joseph and Hannah Knowland, Joseph Russell Knowland was born in August 1873 in Alameda.
Joseph’s formal education began in Alameda, continued at John Hopkins Academy in Oakland and was concluded at the University of the Pacific, which was then in San Jose.
In 1894 he married Ellie J. Fife. Their three children were Mrs. Edgar H. Lion, the late Joseph R. Knowland Jr. and William F. Knowland, the former publisher of The Oakland Tribune.
After graduation, Joseph associated with his father in the wholesale lumber and shipping business. In 1898, Joseph, at the age of 25, was elected to the California State Assembly, where he served for two sessions.
Four years later, he was elected to the California State Senate where he served as the chairman of its banking committee.
He was elected to represent California as a congressman from 1904 to 1915.
Joseph Knowland’s terms as a congressman had far-reaching results on many fronts. He took particular interest in the construction of the Panama Canal and was instrumental in the passage of legislation to establish the Interstate Trade Commission.
For his home front, he obtained several million dollars for the improvement of Oakland Harbor and the Tidal Canal. He was also one of the most active supporters of the Mare Island Navy Yard.
Retiring from public office, Knowland on Nov. 3, 1915, became publisher of The Oakland Tribune, a paper that was his domain and voice for the next 50 years. He always fought for good government and right progress.
In 1932, plans for the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge were stalled by the inability to finance the project. With the help of Leland W. Cutler of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Harrison Robinson, an Oakland attorney, he persuaded the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to advance $62 million for the project.
A leader in the Republican Party, Knowland attended every national convention from 1908 to 1956, 13 consecutive sessions, either as a delegate or newsman.
As a chairman of a committee representing nine statewide organizations, Knowland conducted a study of the administration of justice in California. This led to the enactment of four initiative measures creating the State Department of Justice.
From 1902, when he became chairman of the Historic Landmarks Committee of the Native Sons of the Golden West, Knowland was an avid student of California history.
In that capacity, over a period of nearly 60 years, he visited virtually every spot of historical interest in the State of California, dedicating plaques and monuments to designate them for posterity. His investigations and his experiences were recorded in a book, “California: A Landmark History,” which he wrote and published in 1944.
During this period he was continuously active as a leader in the movement for restoration of California’s early missions. He was signally honored for this work by the Franciscan Order. A plaque at Mission San Antonio de Padua, in Monterey County, crediting Knowland with saving that mission from destruction, was dedicated in 1955. He was the first to be named the Mission Man of the Year, a distinction reserved for those who have led the way toward preservation of missions throughout the state.
Knowland took an active part in the preservation of park land. He served as the chairman of the State Park Commission from 1937 until his retirement in 1960. He also headed up the California Centennials Commission from 1948 to 1950.
In the business world, he was director of the Associated Press for 28 years. Other activities included advisory director and member of the executive committee of Wells Fargo Bank, president of the Franklin Investment Company, director of the Smith-Corona Marchant Inc., director of the Tribune Building Company and director of the Peralta Hospital Association.
Joseph Russell Knowland, who died in 1966, was truly a man of many talents and ambitions. He left his mark as an editor, a statesman, businessman, historian and civic leader.
*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.*