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Historical perspectives

Julius and Clementina Reuter: A tale of two cities

John Entwisle  Corporate Historian, Thomson Reuters

John Entwisle  Corporate Historian, Thomson Reuters

In July 1846 Julius and Clementina Reuter gave birth to a child; a daughter, Julie. Sadly Julie died within a month. The next recorded birth was nearly six years later. During the intervening years it seems likely that further failed pregnancies occurred. Personally heartbreaking though this was, rather unusually, it meant that Clementina was free to play an active part in her husband’s and her own search for success.

The year 1847 brought a change. No longer an employee of Reuter’s Publishing House (perhaps unsurprisingly) and possibly helped financially by his father-in-law, Julius became joint owner of a Berlin bookshop with Herr Joseph Stargardt.

Again, things went un-swimmingly! When Julius was famous and successful many years later, Stargardt’s family claimed that he had vanished from the 1848 Leipzig Book Fair, keeping the firm’s takings (equivalent to £40,000/$56,000 today). The fact that Paul Julius Reuter was said to have offered to repay the money doesn’t look good. We will never know the true facts but, once again, things had turned to dust. At thirty-two Clementina’s husband was still a failed businessman, living on hand-outs from his father-in-law.

Rare at the time, Julius spoke good German, French and English. It may have been these skills which gave him sufficient edge to be tried out in a different field – as sub-editor for the Havas News Agency in Paris. Its owner, sixty-five year-old Charles-Louis Havas, a late starter and also Jewish, was carving out a new sort of business. His agency translated articles from foreign newspapers received in Paris. It sold digests of their contents to both local businessmen and the French government.

Havas was starting to explore new methods whereby, rather than relying upon newspaper content only, he received additional news on the spot from his own ‘correspondents’. His office experimented with carrier pigeons, integrating this ancient method of communication with a modern 19th Century business. A new ‘electric’ wonder was starting to appear – the telegraph. Could this be used by a news agency? While working for Havas, Reuters will have grasped an important truth. Not every news report is accurate. Reports can be subjective and sometimes provide only half the story. Alternatively, while requiring equally strict attention to accuracy, stock prices may often be much easier to handle.

Havas had a moderately successful business. For him, any motivation to go further was not over-riding . Julius, at thirty-three, virtually half Havas’s age, felt that he would do better on his own. And so, placing a greater emphasis on an ‘outward’, rather than an ‘inward’ service, Julius and Clementina sent a daily ‘bulletin’ to subscribers back in Germany, beating the Post Office’s last deadline of 5pm. These combined Paris Bourse closing prices with newspaper articles, reports of National Assembly proceedings, some general news and – just to pep up the file a little – a bit of gossip.

The Reuters office – rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, Paris
The Reuters office – rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, Paris

Sadly there just weren’t enough subscribers to make the operation viable and so, in the late summer of 1849 the business went pear-shaped. When the bailiffs hammered on the door to seize what little was worth taking, Julius and Clementina Reuter had left for Berlin some hours earlier (probably in the middle of the night).

Julius and Clementina Reuter head to Aachen

In 1849, travellers to Berlin faced a long journey. The train went no further than Cologne in Prussia. There, those wishing to complete the further 260 miles/420 kilometres to the Prussian capital, had to transfer to the much slower and more expensive horse-drawn coach After a long day the Reuters at last crossed the Prussian border. The first station on the other side was a busy one. Trains halted while officials entered each compartment from the outside to check passports and other travel documents. As the locomotive slowly drew alongside the platform, enveloped in clouds of steam and smoke, the name of the town the porters were shouting was “Aachen!” “Aachen!”.

It was to be in this frontier town – not Berlin, Paris (or London) – that the fortunes of Julius and Clementina Reuter would finally start to turn.

Look for more dispatches from our archive this week as we celebrate the birth of Julius 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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