Chai Khana

Reuter: From pigeons to telegraph lines for sending news

Paul Julius Freiherr von Reuter was a German-born, British entrepreneur who was a pioneer of telegraphy and news reporting. He was a reporter and media owner, and the founder of Reuters News Agency, which became part of the Thomson Reuters conglomerate in 2008.

Reuter was born as Israel Beer Josaphat in Kassel, Germany on 21 July 1816

On 29 October 1845, he moved to London, calling himself Julius Josaphat.

On 16 November 1845, he converted to Christianity in a ceremony at St. George’s German Lutheran Chapel in London, and changed his name to Paul Julius Reuter.

A former bank clerk, in 1847 he became a partner in Reuter and Stargardt, a Berlin book-publishing firm. The distribution of radical pamphlets by the firm at the beginning of the 1848 Revolution may have focused official scrutiny on Reuter.

Later that year, he left for Paris and worked in Charles-Louis Havas’ news agency, Agence Havas, the future Agence France Presse.

As telegraphy evolved, Reuter founded his own news agency in Aachen, transferring messages between Brussels and Aachen using carrier pigeons and thus linking Berlin and Paris. Speedier than the post train, pigeons gave Reuter faster access to financial news from the Paris stock exchange. Eventually, pigeons were replaced by a direct telegraph link.

A telegraph line was under construction between Britain and Europe, and so Reuter moved to London, renting an office near the Stock Exchange.

He established a news wire agency at the London Royal Exchange. Headquartered in London, Reuter’s company initially covered commercial news, serving banks, brokerage houses, and business firms. The first newspaper client to subscribe was the London Morning Advertiser in 1858, and more began to subscribe soon after.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica: “the value of Reuters to newspapers lay not only in the financial news it provided but in its ability to be the first to report on stories of international importance.”

In 1863, he privately erected a telegraph link to Crookhaven, the farthest south-west point of Ireland. On nearing Crookhaven, ships from America threw canisters containing news into the sea. These were retrieved by Reuters and telegraphed directly to London, arriving long before the ships reached Cork.

Reuter’s agency built a reputation in Europe and the rest of the world as the first to report news scoops from abroad. It was the first to report Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in Europe, for instance, in 1865.

In 1865, Reuter incorporated his private business, under the name Reuter’s Telegram Company Limited; Reuter was appointed managing director of the company.

In 1872, Nasir al-Din Shah, the Shah of Iran, signed an agreement with Reuter, a concession selling him all railroads, canals, most of the mines, all the government’s forests, and all future industries of Iran. George Curzon called it “The most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has ever been dreamed of”. The Reuter concession was immediately denounced by all ranks of businessmen, clergy, and nationalists of Persia, and it was quickly forced into cancellation.

The Reuters company continued to build on the foundation established by Paul Julius Reuter. It became one of the largest news agencies in the world.

In this memo, which set the standard for concise and timely news reporting, Reuter requested the correspondents to report on: “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. Care should, of course, be taken to follow the matter up.”

On 17 March 1857, Reuter was naturalised as a British subject.

On 7 September 1871, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha granted him the noble title of Freiherr (Baron).

In November 1891, Queen Victoria granted him (and his subsequent male-line successors) the right to use that German title (listed as “Baron von Reuter”) in Britain.

Reuter died on 25 February 1899 at Villa Reuter in Nice, France.

Reuter was portrayed by Edward G. Robinson in the Warner Bros. biographical film A Dispatch from Reuter’s (1941).

The Reuters News Agency commemorated the 100th anniversary of the death of its founder by launching a university award (the Paul Julius Reuter Innovation Award) in Germany.

 

 

 

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