Full Title: Fifty Years a Journalist by Melville Elijah Stone
Location: Google Books Date: 1921
Melville Elijah Stone (1848-1929) was the founder and editor of the Chicago Daily News. The paper began publishing on Christmas Day in 1875 and cost a penny. In 1888 Stone sold his interest in the paper to his good friend and partner, Victor F. Lawson and set sail for Europe.
“In 1893, Stone became the general manager of the Associated Press of Illinois, which later became the national association, the Associated Press, in New York after absorbing the United Press. Stone extended the foreign service of the Associated Press by established bureaus in the European capitals and speaking with foreign heads of state to secure adequate news and telegraphic facilities and services, even convincing the Czar of Russia to abolish censorship of the foreign press.
“Stone resigned from the AP in 1918, after 25 years of service. Until his death in February, 1929, he held the honorary position of counselor to the association. Stone penned an autobiography in 1921, entitled, Fifty Years a Journalist.”
The stories in Stone’s autobiography are priceless. Following is an excerpt from the section on his early life in Chicago.
It was during the campaign of 1860 that we moved back to Chicago, my father being appointed pastor of the Des PIaines Street Methodist Church. He served there for two years. We moved into the city from Naperville, a distance of thirty miles, by the usual lumber wagon, my mother and her children sitting high up on the furniture and my father walking a good share of the distance. He found a comfortable home, and we two sons resumed school life. I shall never forget a wise decision made by my father. Mother had traces of aristocracy still surviving, I suppose, as a heritage from her Irish “royal line.” She thought her boys should attend a private school, or have a tutor. “No,” said my father, “I have laboured for years under a distinct misfortune. Sunday after Sunday I have risen in the pulpit and preached a sermon, and there was no one to tell me that I did not know what I was talking about. It will be much better for our children to attend a public school, where they will be drilled in democratic notions, and where they will find independent companions to challenge their ideas.” And so it was settled. I was sent to the Foster Grammar School.
It was necessary to help the family exchequer. I secured a position to carry the Chicago Tribune to its subscribers in a certain quarter of the city. This meant that I must be out of bed about four o’clock every morning, go to the newspaper office for my bundle of papers, and walk out to serve them. I reached home about eight o’clock, breakfasted, and was at school at nine. For a time I also had an afternoon task, the sweeping of the floor of the Board of Trade rooms, which were almost knee-deep with wheat and oats and corn after the day’s session closed. I found time to attend on certain evenings a Palestine Class for the study of the geography of the Holy Land, and a lodge of Good Templars of which I became chief officer. And yet I was pursuing my studies so earnestly that for the year I ranked second in my class and was awarded the “Foster Medal.”
I entered the Chicago High School, but after a year was forced to drop out for a twelve-month. I never finished the course. At the close of his two years’ service, my father was sent to the church at Kankakee, and thither I followed him. I bought and sold old paper and rags for a time, and then secured a position in the leading dry-goods store of the place. Outside of the town there were two or three settlements of French Canadians. I soon picked up their patois and was able to serve them as a clerk in our store. One day there was a public examination for teachers’ certificates, conducted under the auspices of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I attended, answered the questions, and was adjudged fit to teach. I was then fifteen years old. I was offered a school in a remote corner of the country, but on condition that I should “board around,” that is, that I should live with one family or another a week at a time. On reflection I declined. Then I learned of a patent gong doorbell, for which there seemed to be a market. Doorbells were a novelty in Illinois in those days. I bought a stock of the bells and the necessary tools to affix them and set out. I peddled them from house to house with success for several months.
My father was next appointed to the church at Morris, Illinois. It was now the early spring of 1864. The Civil War was in full swing. I enlisted as a drummer and was anxious to “go to the front,” but my father promptly cancelled the enlistment, as he had an undoubted right to do. His health was breaking and he retired from the ministry and engaged in the manufacture of saw-mill tools with his brother in Chicago. While in Morris there was a charming little girl who was running about the place, and who, in later years, became famous as Jessie Bartlett Davis, the opera singer.
Back in Chicago I began the study of law. I read Walker’s “Introduction to American Law,” Blackstone, Greenleaf, Parsons, and other standard works, and was in a fair way to pass the bar. My mother dissuaded me. I then went into my father’s factory and divided my time in aiding the bookkeeping and in learning the machinist trade. I qualified to run a lathe and planer and to do a certain amount of work with a file and a vise.
…In the midsummer of 1864 Mr. Ballentine, commercial editor of the Chicago Tribune and father of a schoolmate of mine, asked me to help him in his work. This resulted in a short period of service as a reporter, although I was but sixteen years of age.
There were the makings of big men in Chicago at that time, but we did not know how big they were to become. For example, I used often to take our family washing to a neighbouring laundry. This establishment was maintained by one George M. Pullman who had just invented a sleeping car. He had set up a laundry to wash the bed linen of the cars, and took in consumers’ work to help eke out expenses. He became one of the great millionaires of the nation.
I shall never forget a morning in April, 1865. We lived on West Madison Street in Chicago, and it was my habit to rise early and get the morning paper. I did so on this particular morning and came bounding through the house, announcing the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. I dressed at once and started for the Tribune office. When I reached there the street was crowded, and the windows were filled with bulletins announcing the death of Mr. Lincoln, Secretary Seward, General Grant, and Andrew Johnson. The wild burst of rage was beyond description. Unable to enter the Tribune Building because of the crowd, I made my way around the corner to the Matteson House, which was located on the corner of Dearborn and Randolph streets a block away. In it was an ancient lounging rotunda. It was packed. Very soon I heard the crack of a revolver, and a man fell in the centre of the room. His assailant stood perfectly composed with a smoking revolver in his hand, and justified his action by saying: “He said it served Lincoln right.” There was no arrest. No one would have dared arrest the man. He walked out a hero. I never knew who he was.
Also recommended is: “M.E.S.,”: His Book, a Tribute and a Souvenir of the Twenty-five Years, 1893-1918, of the Service of Melville E. Stone as General Manager of the Associated Press By Associated Press, 1918