The Chattanooga entrepreneur who transformed journalism.
In July 1878, only 20, he borrowed $250 to buy a controlling interest in the financially declining Chattanooga Times. It was at the Times that Ochs established the principles that would make him the most influential newspaper editor in American history. Ochs described his paper as “clean, dignified and trustworthy.”
By distinguishing between news and editorial opinion, Ochs’ Chattanooga Times became one of the South’s most respected and prosperous dailies.
Ochs contributed to Chattanooga in other ways as well. He helped establish the town’s first public library, assisted in the effort to establish the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Military Park, and led a movement to preserve much of Lookout Mountain. The Ochs Temple, Ochs Highway, Ochs Museum, and Dome Building are a few of the reminders of his legacy here.
After falling heavily in debt during the Panic of 1893, Ochs hoped to dig his way out by acquiring another newspaper. His chance came in 1896, when a reporter for The New York Times notified him by telegram that the newspaper, in a slide towards bankruptcy, was for sale. On Aug. 18, 1896, Ochs gained control of the paper.
Development of public transportation around Long Acre Square led to Ochs selecting the highly visible location to build the Times Tower, which became the second tallest building in the city when completed.
In April of 1904, the Mayor of New York City signed a resolution changing the name of Long Acre Square to “Times Square”. To promote the new headquarters, the New York Times held a New Year’s Eve event (ushering in 1904) on December 31, 1903. The main attraction was a fireworks show, set off from the building’s roof at midnight.
This tradition continued until 1907, when the city banned fireworks displays.
Ochs and others at the Times collaborated on creating another iconic display to celebrate the New Year. At midnight, December 31st, 1907, a 700-pound “time ball” made of iron and wood - covered with over 100 electric light bulbs was lowered to mark the start of 1908.
Not every venture of Ochs turned to gold.
In 1889 – almost two decades before ‘Signal Mountain’ would be developed, he purchased 256 acres on Walden’s Ridge and named the area 'Timesville'. Ochs advertised that a one year’s pre-paid subscription to the Chattanooga Weekly Times at $1 would earn a lottery ticket for a chance to win a 25-foot by 40-foot tract of land located in a then wilderness area. The drawing was held in July of 1890. Property was awarded but the proposed town never developed.
In 1935, Ochs made a trip to Chattanooga to visit relatives and inspect the Chattanooga Times.
Monday, April 8th, Adolph, his brother Col. Milton B. Ochs, and others set out for a late lunch.
Walking the short distance from the Times building to 'The Coffee Shoppe' at 614 Georgia Ave., Oaks remarked to his nurse that he had certainly enjoyed the happy morning in his old home. After they were seated at the table there was a moment of silence while each scanned the menu card.
Then Col. Ochs turned to his brother and asked what should be ordered for him. There was no response; Col. Ochs elevated his voice. Still there was no response and then the guests became aware that their host was stricken.
On the following morning, The New York Times devoted more than 25,000 words covering the life, death and accomplishments of Adolph Ochs.
Sources utilized for this page.