Harold Ross

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For the fine art photographer, see Harold J. Ross.
Harold Wallace Ross
Harold Ross.gif
Born (1892-11-06)November 6, 1892
Aspen, Colorado,
United States
Died December 6, 1951(1951-12-06) (aged 59)
Boston, United States
Occupation Publisher
Religion Presbyterian

Harold Wallace Ross (November 6, 1892 – December 6, 1951) was an American journalist who founded The New Yorker magazine and served as editor-in-chief of the publication from its inception until his death.

Early life[edit]

Born in Aspen, Colorado, Ross was the son of Scots-Irish[1] immigrant George Ross and schoolteacher Ida (Martin) Ross. When he was eight, the family left Aspen because of the collapse in the price of silver, moving to Redcliff and Silverton, Colorado, then to Salt Lake City, Utah. In Utah, he worked on the high school paper (The West High Red & Black) and was a stringer for The Salt Lake Tribune, the city's leading daily newspaper. The young Ross had journalism in the blood. He dropped out of school at thirteen and ran away to his uncle in Denver, where he worked for The Denver Post. Though he returned to his family, he did not return to school, instead getting a job at the Salt Lake Telegram, a smaller afternoon daily newspaper.

By the time he was twenty-five he had worked for at least seven different papers, including the Marysville, California Appeal; the Sacramento Union; the Panama Star and Herald; the New Orleans Item; the Atlanta Journal, the Hudson Observer in Hoboken, New Jersey; the Brooklyn Eagle; and the San Francisco Call.

In Atlanta, he covered the murder trial of Leo Frank, one of the "trials of the century."

In World War I, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Eighteenth Engineers Railway Regiment. In France, he edited the regimental journal and went to Paris to work for the Stars and Stripes, serving from February 1918 to April 1919. He was said to have walked 150 miles to reach Paris to write for Stars and Stripes,[2] where he met Alexander Woollcott, Cyrus Baldridge, Franklin Pierce Adams, and Jane Grant, who would become his first wife and helped back The New Yorker.

After the war, he returned to New York City and assumed the editorship of a magazine for veterans, The Home Sector. It folded in 1920 and was absorbed by the American Legion Weekly. He then spent a few months at Judge, a humor magazine.

The New Yorker[edit]

It was while editing these magazines that Ross envisioned a new journal of metropolitan sensibilities and a sophisticated tone. This would be The New Yorker. The first issue was dated February 21, 1925. It was a partnership between Ross and yeast heir Raoul Fleischmann; they established the F-R Publishing Company to publish it.

Ross was one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table. He used his contacts in "The Vicious Circle" to help get The New Yorker started.

Ross, said to resemble "a dishonest Abe Lincoln,"[by whom?] attracted talent to his new publishing venture, featuring writers such as James Thurber, E. B. White, John McNulty, Joseph Mitchell, Katharine S. White, S. J. Perelman, Janet Flanner ("Genet"), Wolcott Gibbs, Alexander Woollcott, St. Clair McKelway, John O'Hara, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Vladimir Nabokov, and J.D. Salinger.[3]

Ross set out to make The New Yorker an objective and accurate magazine. Ross said he would provide the whole truth without fear or favor. Ross would also personally choose advertisements and turn some away if he did not think that they would fit with the magazine. Even though he wanted the magazine to be objective he thought the world needed humor and that’s where the one-line comics came in. With the broad array of talented writers, search for the truth, and the use of comics, Ross said, “The New Yorker will be the magazine which is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.”[4]

Ross worked long hours and ruined all three of his marriages as a result. He was a careful and conscientious editor who strove to keep his copy clear and concise. One famous query to his writers was "Who he?". Ross believed the only two people everyone in the English-speaking world was familiar with were Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes. He was notorious for overusing commas.[5] Very aware of his limited education, Ross treated Fowler's Modern English Usage as his bible. He edited every issue of the magazine from the first until his death — a total of 1,399 issues. He would be succeeded as editor by William Shawn.

He kept up a voluminous correspondence, which is preserved at the New York Public Library.


Ross died in Boston, Massachusetts, during an operation to remove a lung after it was discovered his bronchial carcinoma had metastasized. He died of heart failure during the operation.[6]


  • Thomas Kunkel. Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker. New York: Random House, 1995. ISBN 0-679-41837-7.
  • James Thurber. The Years With Ross. Boston: Little, Brown, 1959. ISBN 0-06-095971-1 (2001 reprint).
  • Ben Yagoda. About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. New York: Scribners, 2000. ISBN 0-684-81605-9.
  • Top Hat and Tales: Harold Ross and the Making of the New Yorker (movie) (Carousel Film and Video, 2001, 47 minutes)[7][8]


  1. ^ Montgomery, Michael. ""Scotch Irish or Scots Irish: What's in a Name?"". Ulster Scots Language Society. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  2. ^ Richard C. Tobias. "Ross, Harold"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Wed Mar 12 2014 16:35:14 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)
  3. ^ Richard C. Tobias. "Ross, Harold"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Wed Mar 12 2014 16:35:14 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)
  4. ^ Richard C. Tobias. "Ross, Harold"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Wed Mar 12 2014 16:35:14 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)
  5. ^ The Years With Ross, quoted in: Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, p. 68 (That'll do, Comma)
  6. ^ Richard C. Tobias. "Ross, Harold"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Wed Mar 12 2014 16:35:14 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)
  7. ^ James, Caryn (13 May 2001). "Neighborhood Report: CRITIC'S VIEW; How The New Yorker Took Wing In Its Larval Years With Ross". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Quick Vids by Gary Handman, American Libraries, May 2006, page 66

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Editor of The New Yorker
Succeeded by
William Shawn