Joseph Medill Patterson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Joseph Medill Patterson
Joseph Medill Patterson
Born(1879-01-06)January 6, 1879
DiedMay 26, 1946(1946-05-26) (aged 67)
Notable credit(s)The Chicago Tribune
Daily News
  • Alice Higinbotham
  • Mary King
ChildrenAlicia Patterson
Josephine Medill Patterson
James Joseph Patterson
Parent(s)Robert Wilson Patterson
Elinor Medill
RelativesCissy Patterson (sister)
Joseph Medill (grandfather)

Joseph Medill Patterson (January 6, 1879 – May 26, 1946) was an American journalist, publisher and founder of the Daily News in New York. At the time of his death the Daily News maintained a Sunday circulation of 4.5 million copies, the largest circulation of any paper in the United States.

Early life and education[edit]

Joseph Medill Patterson was born into a newspaper family. His mother, the former Elinor Medill, was a daughter of Joseph Medill, founder of the Chicago Tribune and a mayor of Chicago, Illinois.[1] His father, Robert Wilson Patterson Jr., was himself a journalist at the Tribune.

As a scion of a millionaire family, Joseph received a top-flight education, attending Yale University.[1] He briefly left school to report on the Boxer Rebellion in China as a foreign correspondent for the Tribune, returning in time to complete his studies and graduate from Yale in 1901.[1]


Patterson became one of the most significant newspaper publishers in the United States, founding New York's Daily News and introducing the tabloid. He was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his famous grandfather. His mother, Elinor ("Nellie"), and his aunt, Kate, both named their firstborn sons after their famous father. As a young adult, he asked his father if he could go to China to cover the Boxer Rebellion. Granted permission, he went as a correspondent for William Randolph Hearst but did not arrive in time. He attended Yale University, where he was a member of Scroll and Key.

Upon graduation, he returned to Chicago, and covered the police beat for the Chicago Tribune. Patterson served in the Illinois House of Representatives as a Republican in 1903 and 1904,[2] married and was the father of three daughters by 1906. The youngest, Alicia, explained, "He had wanted a boy, instead of three daughters in succession, and that meant one of the Patterson girls would have to be his substitute son." Nearly 20 years later, in 1923, after his three daughters had become young women, his mistress (and future wife) gave birth to his only son, James Joseph Patterson, in England.

Poster for A Little Brother of the Rich (1919), adapted from Patterson's novel and play

Joseph Medill Patterson feuded with his father and resigned from the Tribune. Patterson moved to a farm in the country, wrote a socialist novel, A Little Brother of the Rich (1908),[3] and published a muckraking article in Collier's magazine. Patterson returned to work at the Tribune by 1910. During World War I he went to Europe with Tribune cameraman Edwin F. Weigle to film the newsreel that would be used in the World War I propaganda film The German Side of the War. Screenings of The German Side of the War sold out at theaters.[4] It was one of the only American propaganda films to show the war from Germany's perspective.[5]

After his father died, Patterson took over the management of the Tribune. He had a dispute about how to run the Tribune with his cousin, Robert R. McCormick. After World War I ended, he visited London and observed a newspaper in tabloid form for the first time. Patterson moved to New York City and founded the New York Daily News as a tabloid on June 26, 1919, with McCormick as co-editor and publisher. However, the two were unable to resolve their dispute, so in 1925 Patterson ceded full authority over the Tribune to McCormick in return for full control of the Daily News.

During the 1930s, the Daily News under Patterson's leadership strongly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Both men counted each other as not only political allies but good friends. In May 1940, Roosevelt even asked Patterson to be his Secretary of the Navy but was turned down. Although Patterson, along with his sister Cissy Patterson, supported the president's reelection in 1940, Joe and Cissy had a falling out with Roosevelt because of their opposition to Lend-Lease and other aspects of the administration's foreign policy. After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Patterson immediately came to the oval office and offered his full support to the war effort but Roosevelt rebuffed him. “Roosevelt could easily have converted both Pattersons to his cause,” writes Cissy’s biographer, Ralph G. Martin. “Instead, he created two bitter and powerful enemies.” In addition, as he had since early in 1941, Roosevelt repeatedly pressured Attorney General Francis Biddle and other officials to investigate and prosecute both of the Pattersons along with their cousin Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Daily Tribune.[6]

Comic strips[edit]

He took a hands-on approach to managing the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, distributor for his papers' comic strips. In 1921, he suggested the lead character of Gasoline Alley adopt a foundling child who became Skeezix, a central character in the strip. Patterson influenced Chester Gould's 1931 strip Dick Tracy, changing the title from Plainclothes Tracy, and he supported Gould's vision of a technical, grotesque and violent style of storytelling. Milton Caniff credited Patterson for suggesting a comic strip about the Orient, which led to the creation of Caniff's 1934 strip, Terry and the Pirates.

Caniff recounted Patterson's role in creating Terry in a Time profile, "Escape Artist" (Monday, January 13, 1947):

Patterson... stared coldly at Caniff and asked: "Ever do anything on the Orient?" Caniff hadn't. "You know," Joe Patterson mused, "adventure can still happen out there. There could be a beautiful lady pirate, the kind men fall for." In a few days Caniff was back with samples and 50 proposed titles; Patterson circled Terry and scribbled beside it and the Pirates.

Another item of Patterson comic strip lore is that he rejected Dale Messick's strip Brenda Starr in 1940 because he "had tried a woman cartoonist once... and wanted no more of them." Patterson's assistant, Mollie Slott—later the vice president of the syndicate—saw the discarded samples, and encouraged Messick to change Brenda from a "girl bandit" to a reporter. Patterson grudgingly accepted the strip, but ran it in the Chicago Tribune's Sunday comic section, rather than the daily paper. He refused to run it in the Daily News, which finally carried Brenda Starr, Reporter in 1948, two years after Patterson's death.[7]


His son, James, would serve as vice president and assistant managing editor of the Daily News. One of Patterson's grandsons, Joseph Albright, was married to future US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for about 23 years. Patterson is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Family tree[edit]


  1. ^ a b c United Press International, "New York News Publisher, Joseph M. Patterson, Dies," Great Falls Tribune, vol. 60, no. 13 (May 27, 1946), pp. 1, 6.
  2. ^ 'Illinois Blue Book 1903-1904,' Biographical Sketch of Joseph Medill Paterson, pg. 373
  3. ^ Joseph Medill Patterson, A Little Brother of the Rich. (Grosset & Dunlap, 1908.
  4. ^ Isenberg, Michael (1973). War on Film: The American Cinema and World War I, 1914-1941. University of Colorado.
  5. ^ Ward, Larry Ward (1981). The Motion Picture Goes to War: A Political History of the U.S. Government's Film Effort in the World War, 1914-1918. University of Iowa.
  6. ^ Beito, David T. (2023). The New Deal's War on the Bill of Rights: The Untold Story of FDR's Concentration Camps, Censorship, and Mass Surveillance (First ed.). Oakland: Independent Institute. pp. 213, 221, 242–243. ISBN 978-1598133561.
  7. ^ Messick, Dale (2012). Brenda Starr, Reporter: The Collected Dailies and Sundays, 1940-1946. Neshannock, PA: Hermes Press. pp. 11–13. ISBN 978-1932563801.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beito, David T. (2023). The New Deal's War on the Bill of Rights: The Untold Story of FDR's Concentration Camps, Censorship, and Mass Surveillance (First ed.). Oakland: Independent Institute. pp. 4–7. ISBN 978-1598133561.
  • Olmsted, Kathryn S. The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler (Yale UP, 2022)online also online review

External links[edit]