Chattanooga Times (Now the Chattanooga Times Free Press)
The businesses that employ members of your family. The scenic spots where you bring your out of town relatives. The route you ride your bike on Saturdays. The hospital that helped your kids get well. What these aspects of our daily lives have in common is that they were all made possible by people who founded not only some of Chattanooga’s most enduring businesses, but a large part of the makeup of our city as we know it today.
The men and women featured here didn’t just create profitable, lasting companies and institutions. They shaped the history, infrastructure, and culture of our city, overcoming challenges such as the Great Depression, personal illness, and shifting economies, to make a positive impact on the lives around them. They might not have known in the early years and the lean years if their businesses would survive, much less change the fate of the little boom town on the river. But by daring to start new business ventures, creating charitable organizations, opening tourist attractions, preserving land, and building iconic buildings, they became not just a part of Chattanooga’s history, but integral to its future.
By Meghan O’Dea
Adolph Ochs truly understood the newspaper business from bottom to top. A first-generation American born to Bavarian immigrants, he began delivering newspapers at age 8 to help support his parents and five younger siblings. Then at 14, he started work as a “printer’s devil” at the Knoxville Chronicle where his regular hours ended at nine o’clock at night.
Ochs came to Chattanooga when he was 17 to help start an entirely new paper, the Chattanooga Dispatch. When the Dispatch folded after only a few months, he created a much-needed city directory that paid off all of its debts, dollar for dollar.
When he was 20, Ochs decided to buy an interest in the nine-year-old Chattanooga Times. “At the time he didn’t have the money to buy it so he went to the bank to borrow,” says Ochs’s granddaughter Ruth Holmberg, former publisher of the Chattanooga Times and a celebrated civic leader in Chattanooga. But in return for a loan, the banker wanted collateral – and Adolph had nothing.
“So then the banker asked if he could have someone sign on, but my grandfather didn’t know anyone. So he said to him, ‘Well, no one knows me better than you.’ And he got that banker to sign his own note!”
Four years later, the Chattanooga Times was returning a nice profit and Ochs had earned enough capital to become the paper’s sole owner. Eventually he recruited his entire immediate family to the city: His father Julius became the newspaper’s treasurer, his brother George become a managing editor and later a successful reform mayor in Chattanooga; and his brother Milton worked for the Chattanooga Times in various executive positions.
Ochs not only promoted Chattanooga’s growth through the newspaper, but contributed to the young city’s economic development in many ways. “He was pretty much a jack of all trades,” Holmberg says. Even after he had left Chattanooga for the New York Times, he showed his devotion to the Scenic City by founding the Julius and Bertha Ochs Memorial Temple on McCallie Avenue and working alongside his brother Milton in expanding and developing the area’s national parks.
To Read About More of Chattanooga’s Founding Fathers, click the following links: