"Little Mac," as He Was Called, Was a Principled Man of the Press

About 1880, St. Louis entered upon a crisis. The fire of 1849, the cholera epidemics, the Civil war, none of these so tried St. Louis as did the ten or twelve years’ period beginning about the year mentioned. The decade of greatest danger that time might be called. Chicago boomed with the prodigious development of the northwest. Kansas City and Omaha suffered from the exaggerated methods of Chicago. Wichita and a dozen other places in the west went wild with the fever of real estate speculation. St. Louis almost stood still. Cities west and south confidently expected to outstrip her before the end of the century.

The period was one of revolution in material conditions. Railroads were usurping the waterways. The community, which had grown strong and wealthy, which had defied the panic of 1873, which had shown more population than Chicago in 1870 – to some extent a fiction – was turning slowly to the new channels of commerce. St. Louis was advancing a little, backing almost as much as the gain, using first one paddle wheel and then the other, like an immense, unwieldy steamboat getting ready to go ahead after having made a landing. The opportunity was [Joseph] McCullagh’s. One day, in 1881, he came into the local room and said to the city editor: “We will have a railroad department. Make all you can of it.” He gave explicit and detailed instructions. Up to that time the railroad news of the Globe-Democrat, as with other papers, had been a matter of a half-column, more or less, as the notes of daily incidents and accidents seemed to justify. “The Railroads” of the Globe-Democrat became at once a dominant feature, - three, four, five columns, a page if so much space could be well filled. Not for a week or for a month, but for years. McCullagh taught a lesson of commercial salvation for St. Louis.

But this innovation was only one element of his broad policy to build up St. Louis. A moving conviction in his mind was that St. Louis must grow with the Globe-Democrat. “The towline” as he called the paper’s influence was never coiled. He sent a correspondent to Philadelphia to make a study of the building associations and he stimulated the idea in St. Louis by giving a great deal of space to these institutions here. He sent correspondents and artists south, west and north to write and to sketch, paying their way and dealing with whatever they conceived to be interesting…

When the Gould railway system was tied up with a strike which seemed to McCullagh to be unjustifiable and the result of dictatorial willfulness on the part of the leaders rather than of just grievances, he attacked the situation vigorously. After the trouble was over, Jay Gould met McCullagh in the rotunda of the Southern hotel. He wanted to express appreciation of the course of the Globe-Democrat. McCullagh said the Globe-Democrat had done only what seemed to be right for a newspaper having the interests of the community and the southwest at heart. Gould replied he believed that, but the railroad would like to show its good will in some tangible way. McCullagh suggested that St. Louis business men had been trying to get a fast mail service on the Missouri Pacific westward. If the railroad felt like showing its good will toward the city and the Globe-Democrat, that might be the opportunity. Gould turned to one of the officers of the road and asked that preparations be commenced at once to install the service. This was the first of the fast mail trains started out of St. Louis.

(From St. Louis, the Fourth City by Walter Barlow Stevens, 1911).