The Magnificent Medills: America's Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor

Overview

The riveting story of the country’s first media dynasty, the Medills of Chicago, whose power and influence shaped the story of America and American journalism for four generations

When thirty-two-year-old former lawyer Joseph Medill bought a controlling stake in the bankrupt Chicago Daily Tribune in 1855, he had no way of foreseeing the unparalleled influence he and his progeny would have on the world of journalism and on American society at ...

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The Magnificent Medills: America's Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor

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Overview

The riveting story of the country’s first media dynasty, the Medills of Chicago, whose power and influence shaped the story of America and American journalism for four generations

When thirty-two-year-old former lawyer Joseph Medill bought a controlling stake in the bankrupt Chicago Daily Tribune in 1855, he had no way of foreseeing the unparalleled influence he and his progeny would have on the world of journalism and on American society at large.

Medill personally influenced the political tide that transformed America during the midnineteenth century by fostering the Republican Party, engineering the election of Abraham Lincoln and serving as a catalyst for the outbreak of the Civil War. The dynasty he established, filled with colorful characters, went on to take American journalism by storm. His grandson, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, personified Chicago, as well as its great newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, throughout much of the twentieth century. Robert’s cousin, Joseph Medill Patterson, started the New York Daily News, and Joe’s sister, Cissy Patterson, was the innovative editor of the Washington Times-Herald. In the fourth generation, Alicia Patterson founded Long Island’s Newsday, the most stunning journalistic accomplishment of post–World War II America.

Printer’s ink raged in the veins of the Medills, the McCormicks and the Pattersons throughout a century, and their legacy prevailed for another five decades—always in the forefront of events, shaping the intellectual and social pulse of America. At the same time, the dark side of the intellectual stardom driving the dynasty was a destructive compulsion that left clan members crippled by their personal demons of chronic depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and even madness and suicide.

Rife with authentic conversations and riveting quotes, The Magnificent Medills is the premiere cultural history of America’s first media empire. This dynamic family and their brilliance, eccentricities and ultimate self-destruction are explored in a sweeping narrative that interweaves the family’s personal activities and public achievements against a larger historical background. Authoritative, compelling and thoroughly engaging, The Magnificent Medills brings the pages of history that the Medills wrote vividly to life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ink, booze and eccentricity flow through a newspaper dynasty's veins in this lively, gossipy clan bio. Journalist McKinney chronicles four generations of Medills, including patriarch Joseph Medill, owner of the Chicago Tribune and confidant of Lincoln; his grandsons, legendary Trib publisher Col. Robert McCormick and New York Daily News founder Joseph Patterson, one an archconservative, the other a socialist who dressed like a hobo; and Patterson's daughter, Alicia, aviatrix, big-game hunter, and founder of Newsday. There's lots of rambunctious newspapering lore, from Patterson's invention of the sex-and-sleaze tabloid formula to bloody circulation wars in which rival Chicago papers hired gangsters to gun down each other's vendors. But McKinney is more taken with the family's glitzy, scandal-strewn private lives, offering succulent stories of alcoholism, suicides, extra-marital affairs, luxurious country houses, and glittering imperial balls. (The prize for melodrama goes to Patterson's sister Cissy, another headstrong debutante turned pioneering newspaperwoman: married to a handsome Polish count who borrowed money, beat her, and kidnapped their daughter, she finally got the czar himself to intervene.) Like her subjects, McKinney blends canny fact-finding, well-paced narrative and colorful detail into a compulsively readable confection. Photos. (Oct.)
Douglas Brinkley
“Megan McKinney has written a knock-out dynastic history about the world of journalism. In The Magnificent Medills we learn how a single family forever changed Chicago and America. It’s impossible to understand today’s modern media world without reading this brilliant book. Highly recommended!”
David Garrard Lowe
“Megan McKinney’s wonderfully researched, thoroughly engrossing, The Magnificent Medills, reveals Chicago’s McCormick-Patterson family in all its dazzling brilliance and delicious eccentricity.”
Chicago Tribune
“[An] immensely entertaining book. . . . McKinney vividly re-creates the city’s no-holds-barred newspaper culture.”
New York Times Book Review
“Shifting smoothly from the life of one Medill, Patterson or McCormick to another, in the end she achieves a clear and comprehensive family biography, with all its complex interconnections.”
Washington Post
“A solid account of this family.”
BookPage
“Compulsively readable. . . . With its backdrop of wealth and power, The Magnificent Medills reads almost like a rich historical novel. It just happens to be true.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“An intensely personal look at the Medill family. . . . Meticulously researched and detailed.”
Philanthropy Magazine Review
“Chicago historian McKinney provides the first comprehensive chronicle of the Medill newspaper dynasty. . . . Deftly tell[ing] the tale of one of America’s first families of business.”
Booklist
“This portrait of a storied newspaper dynasty packs a powerful punch. . . . Not only a compulsively readable collective biography but also an overview of the rapid evolution of the American newspaper industry during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.”
Booklist
“This portrait of a storied newspaper dynasty packs a powerful punch. . . . Not only a compulsively readable collective biography but also an overview of the rapid evolution of the American newspaper industry during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.”
Library Journal
With the engrossing sweep of a family saga and the rich details of a genealogical study, this book brings to life four generations of a family that shaped American journalism for over a century. Starting with Chicago Tribune founder Joseph Medill in 1855 and continuing with grandson Col. Robert R. McCormick's leadership of Chicago's newspaper of note, the family extended their influence by founding two other successful newspapers, New York's Daily News and Long Island's Newsday. By utilizing innovations like the tabloid format, comic strips, and pictorial layouts, they changed how the public consumes news. Journalist McKinney provides colorful snapshots of American history, showing how the family members and their journalistic endeavors interacted—and sometimes clashed—with important political leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. VERDICT For general readers of family dynasty-style nonfiction and anyone interested in American studies, newspaper history, and the glamour of the modern era from the 1850s to the 1950s. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/11.]—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL
Kirkus Reviews

In her debut, Chicago journalist McKinney, "an expert on historic Chicago families," offers an exhaustive account of four generations of madness, addiction, adultery and newspaper-publishing genius.

In 1855, Joseph Medill bought theDaily Tribunein a promising small town named Chicago. As Chicago boomed, so did theTribuneand Medill's career. He became a friend and confidant of Abraham Lincoln and literally named and shaped the Republican Party. His life of publishing, wealth and political influence would become the template for the next three generations of the family. While his own daughters were limited in their ambitions by the times and their gender, not so the next generations. Colonel Robert McCormick, Medill's grandson, made the Tribunethe preeminent newspaper of the first half of the 20th century, with business acumen and a talent for hiring reporters and editors who could get the all-important scoop. His cousin Joe Patterson would do the same with the New YorkDaily News, Joe's sister Cissy with theWashington Herald, and Cissy's daughter Alicia with Long Island'sNewsday. But the privilege that such publishing prowess brought did not inure the family from Kennedy-like flaws and tragedy. The Colonel's brother, who was mentally ill, took his own life, and alcoholism would spare few in the family. But privileged they were. All lived lives as American aristocrats, with multiple mansions, private railway cars, sojourns in Europe, and access to and acceptance among the most powerful families in America and the world. But if the family's lives consisted only of extravagance verging on decadence, their story would be of little interest. It is their brilliance in publishing newspapers when newspapers really mattered, combined with lives full of fault lines, that truly fascinates. McKinney skillfully delineates their story.

A solid account of the life and times of a family that was indeed magnificent.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061782237
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/11/2011
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 698,065
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Megan McKinney is an expert on historic Chicago families. She has written for Town & Country, TV Guide, Opera News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Chicago.

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Read an Excerpt

The Magnificent Medills

The Mccormick-Patterson Dynasty
By Megan McKinney

HarperCollins

Copyright © 2011 Megan McKinney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061782237


Chapter One

Fertile Soil
The city that shaped the great publishing family is more recent
even than the dynasty itself. Founder Joseph Medill was a
ten-year-old Ohio boy in 1833, when a pastoral fur trading
post guarded by the soldiers of Fort Dearborn was incorporated as the
town of Chicago. This tiny community at the far edge of civilization
consisted of no more than three hundred and fifty hardy souls who
resided in the barracks, wigwams and wood cabins near the muddy
banks of the Chicago River; among them were soldiers garrisoned at
the fort and their families, a few natives of the Potawatomi tribe and
assorted traders of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company.
Deer sipped serenely from the river in the early morning, wolves
howled in the prairie at night and Indians lurked behind trees of the
forest on the river's north bank, occasionally venturing across to the
fort, where they peered in and startled soldiers' wives. The only
diversion for this heterogeneous population was to travel to Wolf Point
at a fork in the river, where Mark Beaubien, a gregarious fiddle
playing Creole, owned the Sauganash Hotel, a tavern that throbbed
night and day with vitality. As Beaubien himself said, "I plays de
fiddle like de debble an I keeps hotel like hell." The Sauganash was a
place where all races, ranks and classes gathered for drinking, singing,
dancing, card playing and roulette, mixing as equals. And they
were there every night.

The soldiers, the Potawatomi, Astor's traders and the dancing parties
at Wolf Point were destined to become the stuff of legend when,
as the 1830s progressed, eastern money began betting that Chicago—
not St. Louis, Milwaukee or even Kenosha or Racine—would become
the commercial capital of the northwestern frontier. But only if a navigable
link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River could be
created. While the site was tantalizingly close to the point at which the
continent's two crucial water systems might connect, the village was
virtually isolated. The Chicago River provided a channel to the Great
Lakes, but there was no clear water passage connecting it to the Illinois
River and thus with the great Mississippi. Furthermore, a sandbar
blocked the mouth of the river, making it impossible for large ships to
enter. Removing the sandbar was relatively simple; building a canal
was not. To finance construction of the new passage, large chunks of
public land designated as "canal lots" were sold in an escalating real
estate market as a canal mania that had begun with the astonishing
success of the Erie Canal spread westward. Eastern financiers fueled the
boom by speculating on the swampy land parcels, which they drained
and developed. This fed the upward spiral further, and as property was
sold and resold, the land's skyrocketing value attracted even greater
investment until the economic reversal created by the panic of 1837.
The long awaited channel, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, was
completed in 1848, placing the port of Chicago at a strategic position
in an uninterrupted water passage between the harbor of New York
and the Gulf of Mexico. Goods and raw materials flowed smoothly
from the East through the Erie Canal and Great Lakes, and from the
South via the Mississippi River and the new canal. In the decade that
followed, the city became the nation's great rail center and a system of
turnpikes was laid. The once isolated village became linked, through
water, rail and roadway, to the magnificent riches of lumber, grain and
livestock surrounding it. The year 1848 also saw the opening of the
Chicago Board of Trade, which created a center for buying and selling
those commodities, and in the same year the city's first telegraph

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Magnificent Medills by Megan McKinney Copyright © 2011 by Megan McKinney. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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