Robert R. McCormick’s maternal grandparents, Katherine Patrick (1831-1894) and Joseph Medill (1823-1899), laid the foundation of a media empire. In 1855 Joseph Medill purchased a 1/3 interest in the Chicago Tribune newspaper and formally incorporated the Tribune Company six years later. He purchased a controlling interest in 1874 and took over the company. Medill wielded great power in Chicago. When the Chicago Tribune offices, and most of downtown Chicago, were obliterated in Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871, Medill borrowed a printing press. The next morning’s edition boasted: “Cheer up…Chicago shall rise again!”
Robert R. McCormick ushered in a new era when he laid the cornerstone of a new printing plant in 1920. President of Tribune Company since 1911, he expanded Tribune business ventures by forming WGN radio in 1924 and building the iconic Tribune Tower in 1925. WGN-TV joined the company in 1948.
Robert created a vast newsprint manufacturing empire to make Tribune Company a self-sufficient corporation. It included Tribune Company’s Canadian timberlands that supplied wood to their Thorold, Ontario and Baie Comeau, Quebec paper mills and 12 ships that transported rolls of newsprint to offices of the Chicago Tribune and New York Daily News. Throughout his life, Robert staunchly defended the First Amendment to the US Constitution, paying particular interest to the rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. As Chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press in 1928, he helped defeat a Minnesota gag law. His law partner, Weymouth Kirkland, argued the point to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their landmark ruling in the Near v. Minnesota case shaped key First Amendment press freedom doctrine journalists follow today.Robert firmly believed:
“The newspaper is an institution developed by modern civilization to present the news of the day, to foster commerce and industry, to inform and lead public opinion, and to furnish that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide.”--Robert R. McCormick