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Historical perspectives

How did Reuters get its name?

Without Ida Reuter…

As many readers will already know, Saturday, March 8 was International Women’s Day.

During the past 160 years, women’s roles within Thomson Reuters have (gradually) changed. In some of my previous posts I have highlighted the careers of some of those women who advanced this process. However, this year, I think it would be worth going right back to the very beginning. Let’s remind ourselves of the purposeful woman whose contribution helped to ensure that a struggling young company called Reuters got off the ground in the first place.

That woman was Ida Magnus, who later became Mrs. Reuter.

Ida was an intelligent, well-educated, hard-working and perceptive married woman. But, in 1845, she had no outlet for her abilities other than through her husband. Could Paul Julius have done it all without Ida working side-by-side with him? The question has frequently been asked. As early as 1941, Warner Brothers made this modern idea a major storyline of its biopic A Dispatch from Reuters. Rather surprisingly (or perhaps, not!) the Reuters Archive holds not a single photograph or image of her.

I will go on to tell you more about Ida Reuter and her role in the early days of Reuters News Agency. But to start, we really have to go right back even before that – with the choice of the name Reuter.

Some six years ago, I posted a blog recounting how this happened. I don’t think I would write it differently today. I hope you will agree that it is worth another airing..

How did Reuters get its name?

The answer is rather a surprising one.

Reuters publishing house Berlin
Reuters Publishing House of Berlin

On Wednesday, 29th October, 1845 the steamship, Neptune, from Hamburg sailed up the Thames and docked. By law, the ship’s master was obliged to provide the port authorities with a list of non-British ‘aliens’ aboard; and amongst those stepping ashore, rather unsteadily, after their three-day voyage from Prussia, were a certain Mr and Mistress Josaphat. He was documented as a ‘Kaufman’ – a merchant.

As a partner in Reuters Publishing House of Berlin, we may guess that 29 year-old Herr Josaphat had come to promote his firm’s business and, perhaps, to open a London branch. For a publisher of books in German, this might, at first sight, appear to be rather optimistic but there was some logic to it, as we shall see shortly. Did he bring some samples of books over with him from Hamburg? If so, his luggage must have been heavy.

Herr and Frau Josaphat had little money. They needed somewhere inexpensive to stay, but had no friends or connections in London. So they made their way, with their luggage, to Bury Street, deep in the old City of London, and booked in at number 24, a Boarding House, run by one Henry Levin.

In the forties of the 19th Century, Bury Street formed part of a congested cosmopolitan district, with a strong German and European flavour. The wall of Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in England, founded in 1701, runs along one side, while the street directories and censuses for the period tell us that this was an overwhelming Jewish and Geman locality. The predominant languages to be heard on the streets were probably German and Yiddish; and for Josaphat, a rabbi’s son from Kassel, it must have been very much like home. But while, on first meeting, it may have appeared to Herr Levin that here was a fairly typical young German-Jewish couple, hoping to make their way in business, it will have soon become clear that things were not all as straightforward as he might have expected.

In the first place, the blond Frau Clementine Josaphat was not Jewish at all. Taller than her dark-haired husband, she was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in Berlin. In the second place, her husband was no longer using ‘Israel; his original first name. Some time before 1841, he had adopted a new name ‘Julius’. This was the Roman name for a boy born in July – as Josaphat had been – so it is not difficult to guess why it was chosen.

For a publisher of German books, seeking a market in England, Josaphat had come to the right part of London. This much would be clearly apparent to Herr Levin. Not only was there the large German-speaking Jewish population, gathered around Bevis Marks Synagogue, but a short walk away in Whitechapel were the German Lutherans, centred on their own church in Alie Street. This second group was then about 16,000 strong; a significant number. A market for German-language books obviously existed, and Josaphat had hopes of exploiting it.

What Levin must soon have perceived was that the Josaphats – in particular Frau Josaphat – had a non-business agenda. Having arrived on a Wednesday, they quickly arranged an appointment with Louis Cappel, the German Minister at Alie Street Lutheran Church. Although they had been married two days before they left for London, Clementine seems to have wanted a second (Lutheran) ceremony. No documentation survives to explain why. All we can surmise is that the earlier ceremony had been a civil one, probably in Hamburg, and that Clementine felt that she would not be ‘properly married’ until she had been through a Christian ceremony. The first part of the process – Julius’s baptism – was fixed for Sunday 16th November. It was decided that Julius would be received with the additional Christian name of ‘Paul’. This was an appropriate reference to St Paul who, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, had changed his name from Saul to Paul.

The rebirth and remarriage of the Reuters

However, there was an important re-naming – one which still resonates round the world today. As well as adding a new Christian name, Julius decided to alter his surname. There was no religious requirement for this, so it must have been a decision made entirely by the couple. Rather than be known as Herr Josaphat of Reuters Publishing firm, he now chose to be ‘Herr Reuter’ of Reuters. But simplicity may not have been his only motivation. The name was a well-known, solid-sounding German one.

And so the Baptismal Register for St George’s Lutheran Church records that, on 16th November 1845, Paul Julius Reuter (‘formerly Josaphat, by birth an Israelite’) became a Christian.

On the following Sunday, a young, unmistakenly-German, couple – she in her poke bonnet and he in his tall hat – were to be seen leaving their lodgings at 24 Bury Street for the short walk to the church in Alie Street. This was the day of their ‘repeat’ marriage ceremony. It took place before the same witnesses as the week before. The fact that the witnesses were supplied by the church authorities give us a picture of short, business-like event, not an occasion attended by family and friends.

Julius’s attempt to develop a London-based opening for Reuters Publishing House was unsuccessful. Either the German-speaking community in England did not buy enough books or other publishers had cornered the market. The two Reuters soon decided to cut their losses and return to Germany where Julius left the firm to try other business ventures. However, business failure did not mean marriage failure, for there is little doubt that Clementine’s and Julius’s was an enduring love-match. They had married even though neither party had anything to gain, materially or socially, from starting out together. At least in the early days, the clues increasingly point to Clementine’s half of the partnership being a very strong one. Intelligent and capable, she showed herself prepared to work long hours, side-by-side with her husband. Would he have achieved as much without her drive and belief in him? The answer is ‘perhaps not’.

And as for Henry Levin, he disappears from view, early in 1851, just before the Reuters again arrived in London. This time, they came to open their small ‘Submarine Telegraph Agency’ in two rooms in Royal Exchange Buildings; an enterprise which grew into the business which we know today. So Levin may never have known what became of Herr and Frau Josaphat, the young couple who arrived at his door, one late-October night, off the ‘Neptune’ from Hamburg and, some weeks later, left as suddenly as they had arrived, to seek their fortunes elsewhere – as Mr and Mrs Reuter.


Learn more

Browse our company history dating back to 1799 or contact our archive staff directly for a deeper dive into the Thomson Reuters Archives.

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