Melville Elijah Stone. Photo by W.J.77 Root

Part 1: Melville E. Stone - Associated Press Manager

Jonathan Smyth's latest edition of Times Past looks at a powerful publishing in the US whose mother was from Cavan...

On February 29, 1920, The Sunday Star, Washington DC, published an account of ‘the men and women’ who helped shape the destiny of the United States. The article was based on the memoirs of Melville Elijah Stone, general manager of the Associated Press and titled ‘Things Seen’. Stone’s memoirs were first published in instalments in ‘Colliers’. As head of the Associated Press, he held a powerful position, leading an organisation then ‘recognised as the greatest news-gathering agency’ on the planet. Stone was highly regarded within the profession, and as a moulder of public opinion he wrote: ‘An editor comes into somewhat close touch with many great men and is able to pry into the whys and wherefores of many enterprises. And so, having passed man’s allotment of three score and ten, I am to tell a newspaper man’s tale’. His life story, stated The Sunday Star, should be of intense interest to every American.

Melville’s father was Elijah Stone, a native New Yorker, and his mother Sophia Louise Stone nee Creighton was from Co. Cavan, Ireland. The Creightons came from Farragh, in the parish of Kilmore, where Sophia was born in 1823, to Matilda Creighton and her husband N.N. Creighton. Having moved to America, Sophia and Elijah Stone were married in Illinois in 1846. Their second son Melville was born in Hudson, Illinois, north of Bloomington on 22 August 1848. However, the year of his birth was a turbulent one, as Stone recalled that Europe was ‘ablaze with revolution, monarchs were ‘dethroned’, adding, it was around this time that the ‘struggle’ began which resulted in the American Civil War and the overthrow of slavery. He could also have added the Great Hunger in Ireland but does not mention it. Melville’s older brother was Ormond Stone, a celebrated American Astronomer and Mathematician.

Melville’s father was as an itinerant Methodist preacher of the gospel and as Stone puts it, he almost lived the life of ‘a gypsy’. The family suffered immense poverty on Elijah’s ‘beggarly’ wages, but each trial was endured by Melville’s sainted Cavan mother. She was said to have had a strong influence on her children’s career success.

In 1860, the Stones moved to Chicago where Melville attended high school and trained as a journalist. From the mid 1860s to 1875, he held a variety of jobs including correspondent, editor, reporter and publisher with numerous Chicago newspapers. On Christmas Day in 1875, Melville founded the Chicago Daily News which because of its low cost was nicknamed ‘the original penny daily’. His newspaper operated in a hostile environment of fierce competition in which finances were slim. That was, until Victor F. Lawson came on board as a financier and business manager. Lawson eventually took full ownership of the Chicago Daily News in 1888 when Stone sold his interest in the business. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Daily News had a circulation ‘exceeding 200,000’ which was the ‘second highest’ circulation in the United States. The publication later ran in to difficulties and was dissolved in 1978. After selling the Chicago Daily News, Melville took his family on holiday to Europe for a trip that lasted ‘several years’ before returning to Chicago.

On his return to Chicago, the Globe National Bank made him its vice-president, and then president. Then Stone was appointed general manager of the Associated Press of Illinois in 1893. Later when they amalgamated with the United Press, he was placed in charge of the Associated Press, in New York. According to information from the Melville E. Stone papers held in the Newberry Library, Chicago: ‘Stone extended the foreign service of the Associated Press by establishing 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’.

During the second world war a cargo ship (Liberty Ship), the SS Melville E. Stone was named after him. It had a crew of forty-two merchant marines consisting of ten officers and thirty-two crewmen. The ship was launched on July 24, 1943, but was to be torpedoed and sunk in November of the same year.

Melville was married to Martha Jameson McFarland. They had three children, Melville E. Stone II, Herbert Stuart Stone and Elizabeth Creighton Stone. Melville II died in 1917 and the New York Tribune reported on January 5, 1918: ‘Pasadena, California, January 4, - Melville E. Stone, Jr, died here today. Mr Stone, who graduated from Harvard in 1897, was in the publishing business until his health forced his retirement. During the last two years he had lived in California his mother and sister’. Elizabeth Stone married Malcolm Goodridge. She died in 1966, and her grave is at River Street Cemetery in Woodstock, Windsor County, Vermont.

Herbert Stone who married Mary Grigsby McCormick in 1900, was to die alongside his wife when the ill-fated Lusitania sank in May 1915. He was aged forty-three years old. Herbert and Mary had a son, Melville E. Stone iii., (1905-1989) ran a shop in Manhatten which ‘specialized in sporting books, paintings & prints’. He was to marry Naomie Burton Stone (1911-2004), a literary agent and senior editor at Doubleday. His mother was a granddaughter of William S. McCormick who invented the ‘McCormick Reaping’ machine which helped to end the employment of slaves during the grain harvesting season. Chauncey McCormick, her nephew, was a prominent American businessman and art collector.

Melville E. Stone Snr resigned from the Associated Press in 1918. Three years later he published his memoir, Fifty Years a Journalist On 15 February 1929, he died aged eighty years old, a proud journalist who had at one time led the world’s biggest news agency.

A newspaper while being ‘independent in all things must be neutral to none’.

‘There has never been an hour when the first aid to autocracy has not been the placing of the press in leash’.

Next week in Part 2: Ormond Stone, American Star-gazer.

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