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Adolph S. Ochs

[oks] publisher of the New York Times

Adolph  Simon Ochs

Adolph Simon Ochs was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 12, 1858, the first of six children for Julius and Bertha Ochs. His mother had been raised in the South and sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, but his father served in the Union Army. Despite the obvious conflict, the differences between his parents did not break the household. The family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, after the war.

Adolph's newspaper career began when he was eleven years old, when he became a delivery boy for the Knoxville Chronicle to help his family with expenses. After about a year his parents sent him to work at his uncle's grocery store in Providence, Rhode Island, but he was back in Knoxville a year later. He was back at the Chronicle by 1872, and subsequently worked his way up from printer's devil to office assistant and then to reporter. Although he had to work many hours in order to earn the money his family needed, he managed to get some schooling from Bradford's Hampden-Sydney Academy, a Knoxville day school, and in the preparatory department of East Tennessee University (now the University of Tennessee). In October of 1875, Ochs moved to Louisville to take a job in the printing department of the Louisville Courier Journal. Returning to Knoxville barely six months later, he took a job at the newest paper in Knoxville, the Tribune, where he worked for the next year and a half, first in the composing room, then as a reporter, and finally as assistant to the business manager.

In the fall of 1877, Ochs moved to Chattanooga to work as an advertising solicitor for The Chattanooga Dispatch. When the paper failed less than six months later, Ochs was made receiver of the paper and eventually managed to liquidate its debts. To pay his own bills while he settled those of the paper, Ochs established and published Chattanooga's first city directory.

In the spring of 1878, Ochs was given the opportunity to purchase The Chattanooga Times, which had been failing for some time. He acquired half interest in the paper on July 2, after borrowing $250 and putting up his own personal "fortune" of $37.50 for working capital. The very first issue of the Times published under his leadership described the paper as "clean, dignified and trustworthy" because it distinguished between news and editorial opinions, and it soon became one of the most respected and prosperous dailies in the South. By 1880 he was able to buy the other half interest, for $5,500.

As the Times grew in prosperity, so too did Chattanooga. Ochs helped establish the town's first library and Chickamauga-Chattanooga Military House, contributed to the building of an opera house, and led the movement to preserve much of Lookout Mountain. He also invested heavily in area real estate and organized syndicates to develop nearby lands. He suffered greatly, however, when land values suddenly crashed in 1887. He suffered another severe blow with the Panic of 1893, and was virtually bankrupt by 1896. The paper continued to thrive, however.

In early 1896, Ochs learned that the New York Times was for sale to the right buyer. After a series of negotiations with the paper's current owners and potential investors, he was able to acquire the funds necessary to make the purchase, and took official control of the Times on August 18, 1896; he continued ownership of the Chattanooga Times. As had the first issue of Och's Chattanooga paper, the August 19, 1896, issue of the New York Times bore the promise that it would be "clean, dignified, trustworthy and impartial," and that promise was always upheld by Ochs. On October 25, 1896, the Times debuted its now famous motto "All the news that's fit to print," with Ochs deciding what was fit until his death. Although the Times lost money its first couple of years, Ochs refused to compromise his principles in order to sell more papers. He never accepted advertising he believed to be either deceptive or to come with "strings attached," and never accepted contracts with governments. He encouraged letters to the editor that contradicted the newspaper's editorials, and was always looking for ways to make the paper better. At one time he was advised to raise the cost of a single paper from three cents to a nickel as a way of telling readers that the Times was superior to other New York papers. Ochs not only refused to raise the per issue cost, he actually dropped it to a penny, equalling the cost of those other papers.

Under Ochs's leadership, the Times became one of the most respected newspapers in America. In 1905, the paper moved into a brand new building in what is now Times Square, and in 1913 to the Times Annex at 229 West Forty-Third Street. When Ochs bought the paper in 1896 it had a circulation of barely 9,000; by the 1920's the circulation had risen to 780,000.

In 1900 Ochs became a member of the executive committee and the director of the Associated Press, both of which positions he held until his death. From 1902 until 1912 he also owned the Philadelphia Times and Philadelphia Public Ledger, which he consolidated into one paper under the latter name.

Despite his enormous success in New York, Ochs never forgot his newspaper roots in Chattanooga, and visited there often. He died during one of those visits, on April 8, 1935.


Jewish Virtual Library

See Also

Civil War
Chattanooga, Tennessee

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The Robinson Library >> Journalism >> United States

This page was last updated on September 12, 2018.