George Hearst had made a fortune with his shrewd investments in successful western mining operations. His son William, however, had little interest in the mining industry. While attending Harvard, he became an admirer of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and briefly worked as a reporter for the paper after being expelled from college. In 1887, he returned to San Francisco and convinced his father to put him in charge of the Examiner, a paper that the senior Hearst had bought to back his successful 1886 bid for the U.S. Senate.
With a tremendous fortune at his disposal, William Hearst spared no expense in obtaining the best eastern reporters and techniques for the Examiner. Eager to give the people what they wanted, he filled the pages of the newspaper with sensationalism and scandal. Some complained that he showed poor taste, but many San Franciscans considered the paper to be required reading.
Having made the Examiner a brilliant success, Hearst began acquiring newspapers elsewhere in the country. He soon controlled one of the largest newspaper empires in America. Like his father, Hearst also used his papers to promote his political ambitions. Relocating to New York, he twice won election to the House of Representatives, in 1902 and 1904. Although some championed him as a possible presidential candidate, Hearst’s failed attempt to win the New York governorship in 1906 raised questions about his chances in a presidential campaign. He tried to win the presidency by organizing his own Independence Party in 1908, but his third-party candidacy gained few followers. For all his wealth and influence, Hearst could not obtain the political power he craved.
Returning to California, Hearst continued to expand his media empire and contented himself with being a behind-the-scenes political powerbroker. When his mother died in 1919, he inherited the family ranch at San Simeon. During the next six years, he built a massive castle on a hill at the ranch. In 1924, he became involved in the Hollywood movie industry by relocating his motion picture company to Los Angeles. A year later, he took charge of the Los Angeles Examiner, and he soon controlled many of California’s top newspapers.
With a vast media empire at his disposal, Hearst exercised tremendous influence over California and national politics during the 1930s. Often the subject of news stories in his own right, Hearst was one of the most prominent Americans to emerge from the Far West during the first half of the 20th century.