Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) was the owner and editor of the New York World and the benefactor of the Pulitzer Prize. Born in Hungary, he gained passage to America in 1864 by enlisting with a Union Army recruiter in Hamburg, Germany. After the Civil War, he worked on a German-language paper in St. Louis, became a United States citizen, passed the Missouri state bar, and won a seat in the Missouri state legislature. In 1878, he purchased the St. Louis Dispatch for $2500; by 1883, he was netting more than $80,000 a year from the paper.
In 1883, Pulitzer acquired the New York World from Jay Gould. Formerly a religious penny paper, the World under Pulitzer grew into one of the city's most profitable secular penny papers. In 1896, he engaged in a fierce circulation battle with William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. The Spanish-American War provided Pulitzer and Hearst with the material for sensational headlines; both publishers printed distorted, exaggerated stories aimed at attracting new readers. The two editors were subsequently criticized for engaging in "yellow journalism."
After the war, Pulitzer tried to rebuild his paper's reputation as a serous source of news. He lost the circulation battle with Hearst, but by the time of Pulitzer's death the World was more respected as a serious newspaper. In his will, Pulitzer bequeathed funds for the founding of a graduate school of journalism at Columbia University and the creation of a set of annual awards in journalism and literature subsequently named the Pulitzer Prize.