James Gordon Bennett, Sr. was born on September 1, 1795, to a prosperous Catholic family living in Newmill, Banffshire, Scotland. He was cross eyed for most of his life. When he was 15 years old, he began his four year journey through the Catholic seminary in Aberdeen. He left the seminary and began reading “voraciously on his own;” he also traveled throughout Scotland.
In 1819 Bennett and a friend sailed to North America, landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia after a four week trip. Bennett worked briefly teaching school until he earned enough money to sail to Portland, Maine. He taught school in the village of Addison but moved to Boston prior to New Year’s Day in 1820. He found work there “as a proofreader and bookseller before the Charleston Courier hired him to translate Spanish news reports.” In 1823 Bennett moved to New York City and took a job as a freelance paper writer; later he became assistant editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer.
Bennett began the Herald in May 1835, after years of trying to start a paper. “In April 1836, [the Herald] shocked readers with front-age coverage of the murder of prostitute Helen Jewett; Bennett conducted the first-ever newspaper interview for it. The Herald initiated a cash-in-advance policy for advertisers, which became the industry standard. Bennett was also at the forefront of using the latest technology to gather and report the news, and added illustrations produced from woodcuts. In 1839, Bennett was granted the first ever exclusive interview to a United States President, Martin Van Buren.” James Gordon Bennett, Sr. was a major figure in the history of American newspapers."
While claiming to be officially independent in its politics, the Herald endorsed William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, and John C. Fremont. “… Although he opposed Abraham Lincoln, Bennett backed the Union, then took the lead to turn the president into a martyr after his assassination. He favored most of Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction proposals.”
Bennett married Henrietta Agnes Crean on June 6, 1840, in New York. The couple became parents of three children; two of the children were James Gordon Bennett, Jr. and Jeanette Gordon Bennett (married Isaac Bell, Jr.).
In 1866 Bennett turned control of the Herald over to his son James Gordon Bennett, Jr. At that time the paper had the highest circulation in America; however, the paper declined under the stewardship of young Bennett and merged with the New York Tribune after the death of Bennett, Sr.
James Gordon Bennett, Sr. passed away on June 1, 1872, in New York. He is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.