Communications pioneer Paul Julius Reuter (1816-1899) exploited the crude technology of the telegraph to create one of the world's first international news services. The news agency he founded, Reuters, established the model for transmitting news quickly around the world. It has remained one of the most effective, innovative and respected communications outlets.
Paul Julius Reuter
Reuter was born on July 21, 1816 in Kassel, in the Electorate of Hesse in Germany. His Jewish parents named him Israel Beer Josaphat. As a young man he worked as a clerk at his uncle's bank in Gottingen, Germany. At the bank he became acquainted with Carl Friedrich Gauss, a well-known mathematician and physicist who was a pioneer at applying mathematical theory to electricity and magnetism. At the University of Gottingen, Gauss was a professor and director of the observatory. Gauss was experimenting with the electric telegraph, and Josaphat developed a keen interest in telegraphy. Josaphat began to consider how to use the new technology to improve communications throughout the world.
In October 1845, Josaphat moved to England, where he at first called himself Joseph Josaphat. Within a few weeks he converted to Christianity and, at his baptism on November 16, 1845, took the name Paul Julius Reuter during a ceremony at St. George's German Lutheran Chapel in London. Seven days later, Reuter married Ida Maria Elizabeth Clementine Magnus at the same church.
Bridging the Gap
Reuter soon returned to Germany. In 1847 he became a partner in a Berlin bookshop, Reuter and Stargardt, and joined a small publishing company. Reuter published several political pamphlets that provoked the wrath of German authorities. Under pressure from German leaders, he moved to Paris in 1848.
In Paris, Reuter began translating newspaper and business articles into German and dispatching short excerpts to Germany. This news agency failed after several months due to tight regulations by the French government. He then worked in Paris as a translator for the Havas news agency.
By 1850, Reuter was back in Germany, where he founded another news agency at Aachen. In April 1850, he entered into an agreement with Heinrich Geller to start a carrier pigeon service to transmit news and stock prices between Aachen, where German telegraph lines ended, and Belgium. Although his service was known as a "pigeon-post," he used both central telegraphic transmission and carrier pigeons. The service operated for a year until the telegraphic gap between the two nations was closed.
In June 1851, Reuter moved back to London with his family and soon became a naturalized British citizen. On October 10, 1851, he established a telegraph office at the I Royal Exchange Buildings, near the London stock exchange. From this location he transmitted stock market quotations between London and Paris, using the new Calais-Dover telegraph cable under the English Channel. Recognizing the need for a news service, Reuter spent the next seven years working hard to build the agency and promote his services to newspapers. At first, most of his work was confined to commercial telegrams. In 1858 he convinced the London Times and several other English papers to subscribe to his service and publish his news dispatches. Soon his news agency, known as Reuters, became indispensable to the British press.
Reuter rapidly built a strong reputation for his service by reporting several exclusive stories. In 1859 he transmitted the text of a speech given by Napoleon III prior to the Austro-French Piedmontese war in Italy. The agency soon extended its service to include the entire British press. Reuter's continuing successes brought him to the attention of the highest levels of government. In 1861 Reuter was presented at the Court of Queen Victoria by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston.
On April 26, 1865, Reuters was the first news agency to bring the news of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in the United States to the European public. Later that year, Reuter opened the first news agency office outside of Europe in Alexandria, Egypt. With his services rapidly expanding throughout Europe, Reuter laid his own telegraph cables across the North Sea to reach Germany and France. Reuters then began to serve the United States. By 1872 the agency reached the Far East, and in 1874 it expanded into South America.
As the world of news transmission grew, Reuter found himself battling with two main competitors, the Havas agency of France and Wolff of Germany. On January 17, 1870, after many years of rivalry, Reuters and its competitors set ground rules for the worldwide exchange of news by dividing up turf. The territorial divisions allowed Reuters, Havas and Wolff exclusive control over their own countries and assigned to each of them parts of Europe and South America. For many years, the three agencies enjoyed a shared monopoly on global news service.
In 1871, Reuter was named a baron by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Later he was given the same rank in England. Reuters converted his news agency into a joint stock company, and he remained its managing director until 1878, when he retired and was replaced by his son Herbert.
Foresaw the Future of News
Even after his retirement, Reuter remained active as the news agency he founded continued to grow and flourish. In 1883, Reuter began transmitting messages electrically to London newspapers using a column printer—an early version of a "news wire" or "ticker" which would become a common feature in newsrooms worldwide.
Reuter's sense of the importance of clear, concise and timely dissemination of the news is summed up in an 1883 memo he dispatched to his correspondents and agents. In the memo he requested that news be transmitted that included "fires, explosions, floods, inundations, railway accidents, destructive storms, earthquakes, shipwrecks attended with loss of life, accidents to war vessels and to mail steamers, street riots of a grave character, disturbances arising from strikes, duels between, and suicides of persons of note, social or political, and murders of a sensational or atrocious character. It is requested that the bare facts be first telegraphed with the utmost promptitude, and as soon as possible afterwards a descriptive account, proportionate to the gravity of the incident." With this memo he established the ground rules which future news agencies followed.
Reuter died on February 25, 1899, at his mansion, the Villa Reuter, in Nice, France. His company continued to build on his initial success after his death. In 1923 Reuters pioneered the use of radio to send news internationally. In 1925 the British press agency, the Press Association, took charge of a majority holding in Reuters, Ltd. In 1941 the Reuter Trust was formed to ensure the neutrality and independence of Reuters. On February 25, 1999, the Reuters News Agency commemorated the 100th anniversary of the death of its founder by launching a university award in Germany.
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