Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January/February 2009

At the beginning of each new year, many of us like to reflect on what we accomplished last year and project our goals for the upcoming one. I’ve made just one resolution: to complete the writing of the Jekyll Island Millionaires Club story!

You may have discovered in my past BLOGS that Joseph Pulitzer is one of my “favorite” Millionaires. His “rags to riches” life story is compelling. Yet I consider his philanthropic tendencies to champion worthy causes praiseworthy.

Joseph Pulitzer, one of the original members of the Jekyll Island Club, was a Hungarian immigrant who fought in the Civil War and became a successful American journalist. In 1883 he bought a financial newspaper called the World; he already owned the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A staunch Democrat who vehemently opposed the “aristocracy of wealth” in the pages of his liberal newspapers, he must have greatly annoyed his fellow Millionaires with his accusatory tirades.

When France offered to gift The Statue of Liberty to America, a pedestal fund campaign was launched to build a base in the New York Harbor. After several years of fund-raising, only $182,491 had been collected and $179,624 had been spent. Enter Joseph Pulitzer and the power of his newspapers!

He conducted a whirlwind public subscription to raise the rest of the funds. He asked his fellow Jekyll Island Club members to help out, and was furious with their responses. Pierre Lorillard gave $1000. A few others donated much less.

So he reached out to the ordinary people, setting the goal of the World at $100,000. He taunted the rich (thereby increasing the paper’s appeal among working-class people) and promised to publish the name of every single contributor, no matter how small the contribution. He wrote:

“It would be an irrevocable disgrace to New York City and the American Republic to have France send us this splendid gift without our having provided even so much as a landing place for it…we must raise the money. The $250,000 that the statue cost was paid by the masses of French people—by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of American, but a gift of the whole country of France to the whole American people. Give something, however little. Let us hear from the people!”

The campaign took on the character of a popular crusade. The press of many other cities rallied to the cause and contributions came from as far away as California, Colorado, Florida and Louisiana. By August 11, less than 5 months after it had launched its latest fund drive, the World announced that the pedestal fund had been completed, and the placing of the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island was assured.

The Statue of Liberty arrived at New York Harbor on June 19, 1885. Joseph Pulitzer met his goal.