William M. Laffan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
William MacKay Laffan
Born 1848
Dublin, Ireland
Died 19 November 1909
Lawrence, Nassau County, New York
Ethnicity Irish American
Education Trinity College Dublin
Occupation art critic, editor, publisher, newspaper proprietor
Notable credit(s) The Sun (New York)
Spouse(s) Georgiana Tompkins Radcliffe

William MacKay Laffan (1848–1909) was the publisher and editor of the New York Sun in the final years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th,[1] and a friend, correspondent and publisher of Mark Twain.[2]

Laffan was born in Dublin and educated privately and at Trinity College Dublin. Some years after completing his education he emigrated to the United States of America. He died of appendicitis at his Long Island home in Lawrence on 19 November 1909.[3]

Career as newsman[edit]

Laffan's first job in journalism was as a reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin, where he quickly became managing editor. He went on to be editor and part-owner of the Baltimore Daily Bulletin.

In 1877 Laffan went to work for the New York Sun, then owned by Charles Anderson Dana, as a general writer, often writing art criticism. From 1881 to 1884 he was art editor for Harper & Brothers.

In 1884 he became publisher of The Sun, and in 1887 founded the Evening Sun.[4] In 1897 Laffan, with the backing of J. P. Morgan, acquired the Morning Sun from Dana's estate, turning it into a mouthpiece for Morgan's interests.[5] He also founded the Sun News Service (later renamed Laffan News Bureau), after a protracted conflict with the Associated Press.

In 1900 he became President of the Sun Printing and Publishing Association.

Artistic interests[edit]

Laffan took a keen interest in Chinese porcelain and engraving, compiling the catalogue (2 vols, 1904–1911) of the Morgan Collection of Chinese porcelains (on display in the Metropolitan Museum until 1915), which was completed after his death by Thomas B. Clarke.[6] He also provided a preface to Stephen W. Bushell’s catalogue of the W. T. Walters collection of Oriental ceramic art.[7] He was a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum, and sat on the acquisitions committee.

Laffan provided the text for the volume Engravings on Wood, which showcased the work of members of the Society of American Wood Engravers.[8]


His portrait was painted by William Merritt Chase around 1884.[9]


His funeral service was attended by 500 mourners who travelled to Lawrence on a special train from Long Island City, but by no members of his immediate family.[10]

In 1910, J. P. Morgan donated $100,000 to Yale University to establish the William M. Laffan Professorship of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature in his memory.[11][12]


  1. ^ Comment on his death in the New York Times, November 20, 1909. Accessed 29 March 2010.
  2. ^ Associated Press obituary of Mark Twain. Accessed 29 March 2010.
  3. ^ Obituary in the New York Times, Nov. 20, 1909. Accessed 29 March 2010.
  4. ^ Hy B. Turner, When Giants Ruled: The Story of Park Row, New York's Great Newspaper Street. Fordham University Press, 1999, p. 111.
  5. ^ Ferdinand Lundberg, America's Sixty Families. New York: Vanguard Press, 1937, p. 252.
  6. ^ Catalogue of the Morgan Collection of Chinese Porcelains. 2 vols. New York: privately printed, 1904-1911.
  7. ^ S.W. Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art: Collection of W. T. Walters. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1897.
  8. ^ Published New York: Harper, 1887.
  9. ^ Ronald G. Pisano, William Merritt Chase: Portraits in Oil. Yale University Press, 2007, p. 52.
  10. ^ "Funeral service for W.M. Laffan", New York Times, Nov. 23, 1909. Accessed 29 March 2010.
  11. ^ J.P. Morgan gives $100,000 to Yale; to Establish a Professorship in Assyriology in Memory of William M. Laffan”, New York Times, January 14, 1910.
  12. ^ Yale University Office of Public Affairs, Nov. 6, 2009. Accessed 29 March 2010.