Jones, Herschel V.

Herschel V. Jones (1861-1928) was a Republican, a supporter of Theodore Roosevelt, and the long-time publisher of the Minneapolis Journal. Jones utilized his knowledge from the worlds of newspapers and business to impart insight and information useful to the president’s attempts to gauge public opinion.

The son of William S. and Helen Merchant Jones, Herschel Vespasian Jones was born in Jefferson, New York. He attended the local school until the age of 15, when he left to take his first newspaper job. Three years later, he bought that newspaper, Jefferson Courier.  In 1885, Jones moved to Minnesota, wed Lydia Augusta Wilcox (with whom he would raise seven children), and became a reporter for the Minneapolis Journal. While covering the 1900 election, Jones met vice-presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt. They shared a love of books, and Roosevelt convinced Jones to take seriously the literature of the American West. Thus began what became Jones’s internationally recognized collection of Americana. In 1901, Jones, an expert in grain futures, started a weekly paper called the Commercial West. When the Minneapolis Journal’s owner died, Jones purchased the paper. For the rest of his life, his name was synonymous with the Minneapolis Journal.

Roosevelt turned to Jones when he needed to understand the public mind. Jones provided counsel and input as to how the president’s decisions would be received. Perhaps the most important example occurred during the Roosevelt administration’s ground-breaking 1902 lawsuit against the railroading monopoly known as the Northern Securities Company. President Roosevelt hoped to break up the monopoly, but Jones cautioned Roosevelt that his actions would create powerful enemies—and indeed, it did.

The two had a personal friendship centered around their fondness for literature. They corresponded about first editions, trustworthy book dealers, and their personal libraries. Jones visited Roosevelt at his home to discuss politics and history, and to act as a representative of the people through his connections with journalists and editors throughout the country.  Jones was a director of the Associated Press, a member of the National Press Club, and on the board of the Minnesota State Historical Society.

In his last decade, Jones donated thousands of the prints, lithographs, and etchings he had spent his life collecting (including a Rembrandt and an El Greco) to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where he also served on the board of directors. He died of heart complications in 1928, having survived his friend Theodore Roosevelt by nearly a decade.