John H. Holliday · 1967
By Nancy L. Barnard
John Hampden Holliday, newspaperman, financier and philanthropist, was born on May 31, 1846, in Indianapolis, Indiana, of pioneer stock.
His grandfather, Samuel Holliday, settled in Indiana in 1816, the year the territory became a state. Holliday’s father, the Rev. William A. Holliday, was born in Harrison County, Kentucky, in 1803. As an adult, William Holliday gained prominence as minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis. He also served other churches in the capital and was a professor at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana, before his death in 1866. Holliday’s mother, Lucia Shaw Holliday, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1805 and died in Indianapolis in 1881.
John Holliday received his formative education in Indianapolis public schools. He attended Northwestern Christian University (Butler University) for four years, and in 1864, entered Hanover College, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree. Three years later, he earned a master of arts degree from Hanover. Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana, presented Holliday an honorary doctor of law degree in 1916 in recognition of what by then had become a wealth of professional and civic achievements.
Holliday saw brief service in the Civil War, enlisting in the 100-day unit of the 137th regiment of Indiana volunteers. He attempted to re-enlist in the military but was rejected by the medical examiner.
Holliday next tried his hand at law, but abandoned his studies to enter the field of journalism, starting as a reporter for the Indianapolis Gazette. During his career, he also served on the staff of the Indianapolis Herald, the Indianapolis Sentinel, and as correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette, the New York Herald, and two Chicago papers, the Journal and the Republican.
In 1869, at the age of 23, Holliday founded the Indianapolis News, the first two-cent evening paper west of Pittsburgh. Holliday continued at the helm of the News until 1892 when he retired at the advice of his physician. In May 1893, Holliday established the Union Trust Company (now part of Indiana National Bank) and served as its president until 1899 when he resigned to join William J. Richards in establishing the Indianapolis Press. Holliday was editor of the Press throughout its brief existence, for in 1901 the paper was consolidated with the Indianapolis News. During his two-year association with the Press, Holliday continued as a director of Union Trust. He returned in 1901 as its president, stepping aside 15 years later to become chairman of the board. He served in that capacity until his death on October 20, 1921. Holliday was 75.
His survivors included his wife of 46 years, Evaline M. (Rieman), and six children.
It was 65 years from the time Elihu Stout brought the first printing press to old Vincennes in 1804 to the time of the founding of the Indianapolis News by John Holliday in 1869.
In the beginning Holliday was owner, editor, and business manager. As such, the young entrepreneur set certain guidelines for his publication:
1. Advertisers would be entitled to know the circulation of the paper.
2. It was to be a family newspaper, attractive to the mothers and daughters in the best homes.
3. To this end, a poem would be published in every issue.
4. Crime reports would be free of all "salacious or immodest details; the language of the report was to be chaste and free from prurient insinuation."
5. All objectionable advertisements, whether personal, medical, or lottery, would be excluded.
6. All advertisements should be advertisements, "never to assume the form or guise of editorial paragraphs."
The News was both a pioneer and an experiment in the West. It was low in price (two cents) and small in size (the copy was condensed). The first issue of the News consisted of four pages, six columns wide, with each page measuring 15 by 22 inches. Early subscriptions totaled 1,200 in a city the population of 48,500. In December 1890, the paper was permanently doubled. The News became an eight-page daily except on Saturday, when four additional pages were printed. By Holliday’s retirement in 1892, the paper had 25,000 subscribers, and the population of Indianapolis was approximately 105,000.
From the History of Greater Indianapolis comes this description of the News:
Its plain makeup, condensed form and refusal to print advertisements as editorial matter soon made it popular. It was well edited. Holliday’s editorials were plain, pithy and to the point as a rule. His one failing was in not realizing how important and valuable a paper he had established. One element of the success of the News was employing the best writers available in every department. The News could always boast of being well written and well edited, and that has been a large factor in its success.
Although a lifelong Democrat, Holliday sought to keep the News politically independent — which is not to say the paper was neutral. The publication always had a cause.
Opposed the city lending public monies for the belt railroad
Advocated the city purchase of Garfield Park
Led the agitation for the adoption of the first city charter
Was instrumental in the formation of the Commercial Club (now the Chamber of Commerce)
Led the fight for Consumers Gas Trust, the forerunner to Citizens Gas Company
Supported sound money and home rule
Opposed a third-term presidency.
In the course of a signed editorial Holliday once wrote: "I have tried to make the News fearless and independent, a defender of the right as I saw it, at whatever cost; a worker for the whole people, not for a class, faction or individual; an advocate of good government and real progress."
For a period of 23 years after the date of its founding, the News presented the best biographical sketch of John Holliday. The paper represented the strong traits of his character without being in any sense a personal organ. It catered to the best elements in the community and had a loyal constituency.
On May 21, 1892, Holliday retired from the News. The day marked the 6,981st issuer of the paper.
Abraham Lincoln once stated, "In speaking upon civic life, I believe a man should be proud of the city in which he lives, and I believe he should so live that his city should be proud that he lived in it."
It was said of John Holliday that it was impossible to think of the philanthropist without instantly associating his name with every worthy charity in the city. In fact, it would be much easier to list the Indianapolis organizations and charities in which Holliday did not participate than it would be to name those in which Holliday did.
Holliday helped establish the juvenile court, the Summer Mission, the Public Welfare Loan Association, the Immigrants’ Aid Association and the Foreigners’ Home.
He served as director of the McCormick Theological Seminary of Chicago, trustee of the Presbyterian Synod of Indiana, and as a ruling elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis.
His many memberships included the Board of State Charities, the Thomas post, the Grand Army of the Republic, the Commercial Club (forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce), the University Club, the Indianapolis Literary Club, the Marion County Council of Defense, and the Scottish Rite, where Holliday was honored as a Thirty-third degree mason.
He served as president of the Indianapolis Charity Organization Society, the Board of Trade, the Indiana Pioneer Society, and the Indiana Society of Sons of the Revolution. he was treasurer of the Indianapolis Chapter of the American Red Cross.
One of Holliday’s more notable contributions was the gift in 1916 of his 80-acre White River country estate to the city for use as a park.
To the Emmerich Manual Training High School of Indianapolis, Holliday bestowed $25,000 in 1920 to establish a scholarship in memory of his son, John H. Holliday, Jr. The younger Holliday, a graduate of Manual, died during World War I while stationed in Washington, D.C.