Eugene C. Pulliam · 1966
By Beverly Pitts
Eugene Collins Pulliam, founder of Sigma Delta Chi, publisher of over 50 newspapers, friend of presidents, was initiated into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 1966.
Eugene Collins Pulliam was born May 3, 1889, in a dugout shelter in Ulysses, Kansas, the only son of Irwin Brown and Martha Ellen Collins Pulliam. Irwin Pulliam was a home missionary for the Methodist church. Pulliam, an early entrepreneur, began selling newspapers at age six.
After graduating from Baker Academy at Baldwin, Kansas, Pulliam entered DePauw University in 1906. The university had been his mother’s alma mater when it was known as Asbury College. He pressed pants to help finance his college education and became involved in journalism early in his college career by taking on the campus correspondent’s job for the Indianapolis Star, the paper he would buy 38 years later. He worked during his first summer vacation at the Chanute (Kansas) Sun and during his sophomore year started the DePauw Daily, the campus paper. He and nine of his classmates started a journalism fraternity in 1909 which they named Sigma Delta Chi. Pulliam graduated from DePauw in 1910.
His first job as a reporter came when the editor of the Kansas City Star read Pulliam’s story about a dishpan sale that almost caused a riot when 600 women converged on the store. In one of his first scoops as a reporter, he interviews W.K. Vanderbilt after sneaking into an unlocked railroad car.
In 1912, he took over editing and publication of the Atchison (Kansas) Champion becoming the youngest publisher of a daily newspaper at age 23. Three years later he sold out and bought the Franklin (Indiana) Star. By 1923 he sold the Star to buy the larger Lebanon Reporter, beginning a steady career of buying and selling papers.
He moved to Oklahoma in 1929 and bought six small papers on credit floating bonds to raise the capital to form the Oklahoma Newspapers, Inc. His empire quickly expanded to include papers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Florida. During the depression he operated 23 papers never defaulting on a single bond issue; he traveled over 100,000 miles a year to keep his papers operating. He was elected president of Vincennes Newspapers in 1930 and four years later named president of the successor company, Central Newspapers, Inc., which expanded to include other Indiana cities and Arizona cities.
In 1944 Pulliam purchased the paper he had wanted since his days as a correspondent, the Indianapolis Star. Two years later, he bought the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette, the largest morning and afternoon papers in the state. In that same year he also purchased the Muncie Newspapers, Inc., publisher of the Star and Press. In 1948, he purchased the Indianapolis News, the largest evening paper in Indiana. During his lifetime, he owned more than 50 newspapers.
Although his business interests centered on the newspaper field, he was involved in other areas of journalism. He was a director of the Associated Press from 1958 to his retirement in 1970 and served as a vice president. He also headed Indiana radio stations WAOV and WIRE prior to 1960. He served on the advisory committee for Stanford University’s professional fellowship program and in 1966 was named a trustee of the William Allen White Foundation at the University of Kansas. He was on the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard and on the board of directors of the Union Printers Home Association.
Pulliam was a publisher, but always like to be thought of as a simple newsman. He never lost his flair for reporting. He and his wife traveled to over 100 countries after World War II; during his travels he frequently interviewed heads of state sending dispatched back to his papers and the North American Newspaper Alliance. He continued to write occasional editorials until his death.
Many presidents knew Pulliam as a personal friend. When he was a young reporter he became acquainted with Theodore Roosevelt and remained his friend until Roosevelt’s death.
He was recognized with numerous honors during his lifetime, but two which he treasured most highly were voted by fellow journalists. In 1966 he received the John Peter Zenger Award from the University of Arizona for his support of the freedom of “the people’s right to know.” In 1965 he was awarded honorary membership in the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America in recognition of the “years of harmonious relationship that have existed between the local union and Mr. Pulliam’s organization.” He prided himself in the good working relationship he had with his employees.
Sigma Delta Chi recognized Pulliam in 1967 by electing him a fellow in the Society, and in 1969 by awarding him the Wells Key, the Society’s highest honor for a member. He was elected national honorary president in 1959. Other honors included honorary degrees from Wabash College, Indiana University, Huntington College, Franklin College, Indiana Technical College and Vincennes University in Indiana. Also he received honorary degrees from Arizona State University, Baker University in Kansas, and Norwich University in Vermont.
Pulliam died at his retirement home in Arizona on June 23, 1975, having served as a publisher for 63 years. He had been married three times. His son, Eugene Smith Pulliam, was born to his first wife who died in 1917. By his second marriage, he had two daughters: Martha Corine, who married James Quayle, and Helen Suzanne, who married William Murphy. Nina Mason Pulliam, whom he married in 1941, was secretary-treasurer of all of his corporations. He is survived by his wife and three children. In 1969 he established a trust which stated that neither his Indianapolis papers nor his Phoenix papers could be sold until 108 years after his death. He is buried in Lebanon, Indiana.
Eugene C. Pulliam was among one of the last of a breed of independent publishers who were interested in newspapers for their own sake. He believed that financial success insured journalistic independence.
Throughout his lifetime, he championed a free, independent press. “The basic foundations of the newspaper business are spiritual,” he said. “As newspaper people, we have got to preserve the freedom of the United States by always exercising our right to protect against those who could become bureaucratic despots.” His nameplates carried the motto, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.”
A major contribution to journalism was his founding of Sigma Delta Chi with nine fellow journalists at DePauw. That simple beginning led to the formation of the most highly regarded professional journalism organization, Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, which has over 30,000 members throughout the United States.
Pulliam’s papers all took on his trademark, a conservative editorial view with some room for liberal opinion. But, he was not a follow-the-leader conservative. He used his power as a publisher to support candidates best suited to the office. He refused to support conservative candidate Homer Capehart in his senatorial bid in 1962 and gave only lukewarm support to Barry Goldwater in 1964. Pulliam came under criticism for managing news in the 1968 Indiana primary when he was accused of limiting coverage of Robert Kennedy. Pierre Salinger requested an investigation of Pulliam’s papers by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, but the action was seen as a political move. Pulliam answered the charges by calling Kennedy a spoiled child.
Reporting by Pulliam helped depose a dictator in 1958. When he and his wife were on a routine news gathering trip to Turkey, they were shocked by the actions of the oppressive Prime Minister Adnam Menderes. Pulliam sent back a widely published expose on Menderes. When editors in Turkey later printed Pulliam’s articles, they were jailed, and that led to the downfall of Menderes who was convicted and hanged by a revolutionary court in 1961.
Another contribution of Pulliam was his attitude as an employer. He helped break a stereotype of the publisher who just wants to make money by his support of his own employees. He believed in backing his reporters. The Pulliam newspapers own a 23-acre park in Arizona and a 16-acre park in Indiana for the exclusive use of employees. He offered special vacation and Christmas bonuses, set up a credit union, and employed over 60 widows of staffers on his papers.
In addition, he supported the development of young journalists. The Eugene C. Pulliam Scholarship program was established in 1946, and in 1967 a Pulliam scholarship was established in journalism at Ball State University. His foundations have brought young foreign reporters to the United States to travel and study.
Above all, he was a champion of the First Amendment. He maintained that no civil right including that of a fair trial is “worth a tinker’s damn unless it is protected by the right of free expression.” He said, “The First Amendment must take precedence over the Sixth Amendment, because without the First Amendment, the Sixth Amendment would become a mockery of justice.”
President Lyndon Johnson said, upon Pulliam’s receipt of the Zenger Award, “By his courage and convictions, he has enlarged the freedom of the American press and American people.”
Pulliam was active in state and national government in many volunteer capacities. During World War II, he was War Bond Chairman for Indiana for which he was honored by the Treasury Department in 1973. He was a member of the Citizen’s Committee on Postal Reorganization and the Keep America Beautiful Committee.
He has been a director of the American Institute of Foreign Trade and a director of the New York Central Railroad. From 1925 to 1967 he was a trustee of the New York Foundation for Economic Education. He was named a director of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in 1962. He was also a member of the Herbert Hoover Cave Man Camp in Bohemian Grove, California.
Pulliam felt that one of his outstanding achievements was in persuading General Eisenhower to run for president. Pulliam, who knew the general because they were both from Kansas, saw Eisenhower in Paris twice urging him to come back to run. Pulliam had conducted polls in Indiana and Arizona and used the information to convince Ike that Senator Taft could not win. Pulliam remained friends with both Taft and Eisenhower until their deaths.
He was especially interested in the education of youth. He served on board of trustees at DePauw from 1934 to 1966 and established numerous scholarship programs including the Hilton U. Brown Memorial Scholarship at Butler University. He sent hundreds of young people to college through the Central Newspapers Foundation, established in 1952. Foundations established by him continue to support students.
His philanthropic work was extensive. He donated $30,000 to Indiana University to establish a memorial at I.U. Medical Center for Belsey A. Barton. In 1960 he donated $60,000 to DePauw to establish the Pulliam Chair for American History. He believed that his newspapers should back their local communities. His papers financially supported development and expansion of hospitals, colleges, orchestras, zoos, museums, and religious and health organizations. He donated over $250,000 to the Phoenix and Indianapolis zoos. His interest in education for the blind led him to support the Indianapolis Star Indiana-Kentucky High School All-Star Games which are played each year in June with proceeds going to the blind.
Pulliam was a Rotarian, a Mason, and a member of the BPOE. He was also a member of numerous professional and community organizations.
His contributions were generous; recognition for his work came in many forms. He said, “If you forget everything else I’ve said, remember this — America is great only because America is free.” He championed that simple phrase all of his life.