Born in California’s Nevada County on April 2, 1870, William Prisk was the second son of English immigrants who were lured to the West by the promise of a better life.
When he was 10 years old, he went to work as a newspaperboy for the Grass Valley Tidings. Later, while still attending school, he served as a printer’s apprentice. In time, he became a reporter and performed general duties.
Prisk graduated from Grass Valley High School when he was 17 and, before a year passed, he became publisher of his first newspaper, in partnership with Rufus Shoemaker. Their newspaper, the Evening Telegraph, made its first appearance in Grass Valley on Feb. 23, 1889. Prisk was typesetter, reporter and business manager.
After selling his interest in the paper about two years later, Prisk went to San Francisco and worked as a market reporter. He later acquired a half-interest in the Fresno Review, subsequently disposing of his share and accepting notes in payment for the undercapitalized publication.
He next spent a brief stint as a reporter for the Sacramento Union and covered the state assembly.
On June 13, 1893, he became editor and publisher of the Grass Valley Union after borrowing most of the money for the purchase. Under Prisk’s guidance, The Union became the first “country” newspaper in the state to receive Associated Press service.
In 1897, Prisk was elected to the state senate and at the age of 27 was the youngest member to the Legislature. State politics were not to Prisk’s tastes, however, and he declined to stand for re-election.
In 1906, feeling that the southern part of the state had a great future, Prisk and younger brother Charles purchased the Pasadena Star. Charles stayed in Pasadena while William moved on to Long Beach. In 1916, the Star merged with the News to become The Star-News.
William H. Hosking, who had been associated with Prisk in Grass Valley, joined him in the Long Beach enterprise and, in 1924, The Press merged with The Daily Telegram to become the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Prisk’s intense drive to make Long Beach into one of the great cities on the West Coast made him a vigorous champion of harbor development.
For 40 years, his typewriter poured forth a barrage of pleas for harbor improvement, and he lived to see the one-time flat transformed into one of the world’s most active ports and a base for the U.S. Navy.
Perhaps the outstanding characteristic of Prisk was his unswerving loyalty to his friends or to any cause he felt to be right. It mattered not to him if a good public servant had temporarily lost popularity. W.F. would back him more vigorously than ever, saying, “He has been an honest, capable public servant and deserves our support.”
A fellow publisher, Carson Taylor of the Manilla Times, recalls that in 1920 he stood with Prisk on top of Signal Hill. With a sweeping gesture of his arm, Prisk looked from the bay toward Lakewood and said, “Some day you will see one million people living in the range of our vision.” He lived to see that prophecy fulfilled.
Certain of the population growth, Prisk worked for the Metropolitan Water District plan when it became a red-hot local issue. Largely through Frisk’s personal efforts, Long Beach became one of the original 13 cities in that enormous project that has pumped life into Southern California’s development.
Prisk, who died Dec. 21, 1962, served as editor-publisher of The Press-Telegram for 42 years, until the Ridder family purchased the newspaper in 1952. At the time of the sale, The Press-Telegram’s circulation had climbed to 100,000.
Few editors worked as hard as William F. Prisk to make their hometowns into an ideal community, but such was the goal of this gentleman who was long known as “Mr. Long Beach.”
From his desk at The Press-Telegram he looked back on 52 years of service to the city that he loved and which in turn loved him.
*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.*