Harold Wallace Ross
Born in Aspen, Colorado to George and Ida (Martin) Ross, he was the son of an Irish immigrant and a schoolteacher. When he was eight, the family left Aspen because of the collapse in the price of silver, moving to Redcliff and Silverton, Colorado, then to Salt Lake City, Utah. In Utah, he worked on the high school paper and was a stringer for The Salt Lake Tribune, the city's leading daily newspaper. The young Ross had journalism in the blood. He dropped out of school at thirteen and ran away to his uncle in Denver, where he worked for The Denver Post. Though he returned to his family, he did not return to school, instead getting a job at the Salt Lake Telegram, a smaller afternoon daily newspaper. By the time he was twenty-five he had worked for at least seven different papers, including the Marysville, California Appeal; the Sacramento Union; the Panama Star and Herald; the New Orleans Item; the Atlanta Journal, the Hudson Observer in Hoboken, New Jersey; the Brooklyn Eagle; and the San Francisco Call.
In Atlanta, he covered the murder trial of Leo Frank, one of the "trials of the century". In World War I, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Eighteenth Engineers Railway Regiment. In France, he edited the regimental journal and went to Paris to work for the Stars and Stripes, serving from February 1918 to April 1919. On the Stars and Stripes, he met Alexander Woollcott, Cyrus Baldridge, Franklin Pierce Adams, and Jane Grant, who would become his first wife and helped back The New Yorker.
After the war, he returned to New York City and assumed the editorship of a magazine for veterans, The Home Sector. It folded in 1920 and was absorbed by the American Legion Weekly. He then spent a few weeks at Judge, a humor magazine. These magazines were where Ross planned a new journal, one with metropolitan sensibilities and a sophisticated tone. This would be The New Yorker. The first issue was dated February 21, 1925. It was a partnership between Ross and yeast heir Raoul Fleishmann; they established the F-R Publishing Company to publish the magazine.
Ross was one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table. He used his contacts from "The Vicious Circle" to help get The New Yorker off the ground.
Ross, who was said to resemble "a dishonest Abe Lincoln," was a genius at attracting talent to his new magazine, featuring writers such as James Thurber, E. B. White, Katharine S. White, S. J. Perelman, Janet Flanner (aka "Genet"), Wolcott Gibbs, Alexander Woollcott, John O'Hara, Robert Benchley, and Dorothy Parker. Ross worked extremely long hours and ruined all three of his marriages as a result. He was a careful and conscientious editor who strived to keep his magazine clear and concise. One famous query to his writers was "Who he?" because Ross believed the only two people everyone in the English-speaking world was familiar with were Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes. He also was notorious for overusing commas. Very aware of his limited education, Ross treated Fowler's Modern English Usage as his bible. He edited every issue of the magazine from the first until his death--a total of 1,399 issues. He would be succeeded as editor by William Shawn.
He died in Boston, Massachusetts during an operation to remove cancer. He kept up a voluminous correspondence, which is available to researchers at the New York Public Library.