Steve Hannagan, the Newsboy

Steve Hannagan first ventured into the news business in high school as a newspaper delivery boy. However, when the sun set on his first day, he dropped his papers, and ran home. Before long he returned to selling newspapers for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, but he wanted to be a reporter. Quickly realizing that the paper’s Managing Editor William Robertson was the key to becoming a reporter, Hannagan approached him. Years later, Robertson said the conversation with Hannagan went something like this:

“’I want to become a reporter.’ ‘How old are you’, asked Robinson? ‘Fourteen! Well, son, I’m afraid that’s a little too young to become a reporter.’ ‘Do you run the paper,’ Steve enquired. ‘No!’ ‘Well, who’s your boss;’ ‘Mr. Henry W. Marshall Owns is Publisher of this paper,’ said Robinson. ‘Where’s his office;’’ Right around the corner!’”[1]

William Robertson[2]

(Foreground of the picture)

Steve Bullies His Way into the Newspaper Owner’s Office

Chaffing at Robertson’s brush-off and propelled by the brashness that would set him apart from his friends, Hannagan marched down to Marshall’s office and informed the secretary that Steve Hannagan was there to see the Publisher. Marshall’s first question was:

“Who are you,” asked Marshall? ‘Steve Hannagan!’ ‘Any relation to Steve Hannagan, who runs the saloon?’ ‘Yes, he’s my uncle.’ ‘Well, what can I do for you?’ … ‘I want to become a reporter.’ The publisher was unimpressed. He told Steve there was no opening for him. ‘All right,’ said Steve, ‘but I’ll be back two days from now at 5 o’clock’”[3]

Henry Marshall

(Marshall is in the center of the picture) [4]

Although Marshall also gave Steve the brush-off, he persisted with daily visits to the Publisher’s office. On the thirteenth knock on Marshall’s door, the Publisher said, “Give this boy a job; anything, so he’ll quit pestering me.”[5]

Steve Star Orator at Jefferson High School

Steve juggled being a reporter for the Journal-Courier and being a student at Lafayette’s Jefferson High School. There he saw himself as a mediocre student. Despite his poor showing in most subjects, Steve did have a silver tongue attested by his winning regional and state speech contests.[6] The title of one of his prize winning speeches for which he received a $5 gold piece was “The Power of Conviction,” which asserted that “Conviction … is the result of the mind’s earnest attention on idea.”[7]

Steve developed another skill in high school; he could take a random subject and turn it into a well-written report (much like a news report). Bernard Sobel,[8] his English teacher at Jefferson High, said this about Steve:

“Highest honors in this exercise (extemporaneous report) always went to Steve Hannagan, a smiling sophomore with a knowing look on his Irish rotund face. He met the challenge of this game of words and wit with the same skill, which helped make him, eventually, one of the three or four greatest public relations stars in America.” [9]

Bernard Sobel[10]

A comment in Steve’s senior yearbook demonstrated his classmates’ belief in his destiny.

“Steve is another of one of our brainy guys, who is gradually… becoming famous as a reporter, at which position he has ample scope to exercise his talent. He has always been a loyal supporter of all school activities and has always had enough self-reliance or conceit … to pull through his studies. We sincerely hope that Steve may be what he thinks himself to be.”[11]

Full-Time Reporter at the Journal & Courier

When Steve enrolled at Purdue University, he joined the Journal & Courier as a full-time reporter, reporting on local high school basketball teams. He happily took on the role as a tout for the mystique of “Hoosier Hysteria.” Where every team no matter how large or small had a chance to win the state title.

Steve at Purdue University

Although Steve was a lackluster student in high school, he was accepted by and attended Purdue University for two years. His experience there was not without its merits as it gave him an opportunity to further develop his journalistic skills.

As a reporter for Journal & Courier interviewed the Hoosier columnist, humorist, folklorist, and playwright, George Ade., who was to be a Purdue commencement speaker.[12] Ade wrote about the “little man “often using the American and Hoosier colloquial vernacular in his narratives.[13] Ade’s favorite remark about life was “to insure peace of mind ignore the rules and regulations,”[14] a saying that might fit well in today’s world.

Image Detail

George Ade 1928[15]

George Ade’s Home in Brook, Indiana[16]

George Ade and Steve eventually became good friends. They corresponded regularly their letters showed mutual admiration for their unique contributions. George Ade introduced Steve to John McCutcheon,[17] who illustrated many of Ade’s books and short stories One of McCutcheon’s illustration was for Ade’s story of the folk legend Injun Summer.[18] Ade’s story was based on a Hoosier folk tale in which corn shocks transformed into teepees and the spirits of Native Americans celebrating their harvest.

Image Detail

Illustration by John McCutcheon

From George Ade’s Book on Hoosier Folktales[19]

McCutcheon, who founded the Delta Delta chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity at Purdue, encouraged Steve to join the fraternity. Steve joined the fraternity, but he was not much of a fraternity man being more interested in getting ahead in life than being involved in frat parties with campus sororities. In 1948. Sigma Chi named Steve Hannagan a “Significant Sig: for his contribution to his profession as a press agent.

After two years at Purdue, Steve left the University because reporting was more fun than his studies, and he made more at the Journal & Courier than his professor made teaching.

Steve – City Editor at Nineteen

During the last year of World War I, the Journal & Courier lost it City and Sports editors to the army. As a result, Steve was named the Sports Editor and the City Editor at the Journal & Courier. When Steve was named City Editor, his pay grew from a measly $1 a week as a cub reporter to $28.50 a week. In addition, he earned another $25 a week as a stringer for the Indianapolis Star and as a free-lance reporter for other regional newspapers

Hyper Steve

Even while Steve attended high school and later Purdue, he worked around the clock. If he was alive and in school today he would probably be branded as hyperactive. His ability to go full blast for nearly twenty-four hours a day would be an essential ingredient in his life. Few people realize that some successful people often survive with little sleep, and their hyperactivity is a definite advantage because they quickly react to new opportunities. Their fast and furious life style often makes staid mid-level managers uncomfortable.

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  1. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; pp. 24 and 25.
  2. Photograph of William Robertson (Retrieved July 14, 2012);;_ylt=A0PDoS8LBgFQMmkAfnaJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?
  3. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; pp. 24 and 25.
  4. Photograph of Henry Marshall, owner of the Journal & Courier newspaper (Retrieved July 14, 2012);
  5. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 25.
  6. “Speaking Contest Won by Hannagan” (1916); Lafayette Journal & Courier.
  7. “Speaking Contest Won by Hannagan” (1916); Lafayette Journal & Courier.
  8. Photograph of Bernard Sobel (retrieved July 12, 2012);
  9. Sobel, Bernard (1953); Broadway Heartbeat; Hermitage Books; New York; p. 49.
  10. Looking for Mabel Norman” (Retrieved April 18, 2017);
  11. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 23.
  12. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document, source; New York University Archives; p. 26.
  13. “George Ade” (Retrieved June 5, 2012);; p. 1.
  14. “George Ade” (Retrieved June 5 2012);; p. 2.
  15. Photograph of George Ade (Retrieved June 5 ,2012);;_ylt=A0PDoQzxtc5P0T0AUuKJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?
  16. Photograph of George Ade’s home in Brook, Indiana (Retrieved July 14, 2012);;_ylt=A0PDoVxTEwFQ_ngA1fSJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?
  17. Rosa, Julia (Retrieved June 5, 2012); “John McCutcheon Encounters Lifetime of Adventure after Purdue Years;” Purdue News;
  18. McCutcheon, John T. (September 30, 1907); “Injun Summer;” Chicago Tribune;
  19. McCutcheon, John T. (September 30, 1907) “Injun Summer;” Chicago Tribune;

Boy Editor Charms Society Editor

Dorothy (Dot) Rice, the Society Editor at the Journal & Courier, worked the night shift with Steve. Dot joined the newspaper’s night gang on their Monday excursions to the Vaudeville Theater, where Steve usually sat next to her. Dot was a year older and more mature than Steve. She liked his enthusiasm and humor and thought that Steve was handsome with his striking blue eyes and thick eyebrows. Many of Dot’s family and friends could not see what she saw in Steve Hannagan, a newspaper hawker from the wrong part of town and without the sophistication needed to succeed in executive suites.

While the War was good to Steve (because of the war, he became City and Sports editor with hefty raises), it nearly left Dot’s father destitute. During World War I, her father, who was a shirt manufacturer, borrowed money to buy cotton at high prices for his shirt factory. When the war ended sooner than expected, he could not pay back the loan when demand for cotton shirts collapsed, and her father had to declare bankruptcy.

At a time when religion mattered more than today, Dot Rice, a Jew, attended Christmas mass with Steve. However, Steve never accompanied her to the synagogue. It is not known if Aunt Jo or Uncle Billy knew that Dot was Jewish, but her family knew that Steve was Catholic. The differences in religions began to wedge apart their relationship, especially when they discussed marriage and children. While Dot was not inflexible about religion, she did not want to be a Catholic. Although they amicably discussed marriage and children, they could never surmount the obstacles that their respective religion placed in front of them. Eventually, they decided that continuing the relationship would not work.

Rice and Samuel Insull and His Infamous Ponzi Scheme

In the late 1920s Steve went to work for Lord & Thomas, a major advertising firm in Chicago. While there Albert Lasker, President of the Firm, assigned Steve to work with Samuel Insull who was under indictment for financial fraud. Insull’s legal problems began when his investment empire of utility companies collapsed at the start of the Great Depression. Insull’s wealth was built on the sale of stock to his 30,000 employees and to thousands of small stock investors.[1] Sadly, many of Insull investors dumped their modest savings into his stock.

Samuel Insull[2]

During the time that Steve was working with Insull Steve ran into Dorothy Rice who angrily charged that Insull had defrauded her uncle out of his life’s savings.[3] She was appalled that Steve was helping Insull and asked him how he could possibly defend such a horrendous person. His answer was simple – “Money.”[4] More of this story is in the Hannagan biography that covers, Steve’s campaign that kept Insull from jail.

Samuel Insull, Jr. - Insull Utility Investments Inc.

. A Worthless Share of Insull Stock[5]

Steve Missed His Chance with Dot Rice

After Steve’s mother’s funeral, he told Paul Sullivan, his cousin that he would have been happier staying in Lafayette and marrying Dot Rice. Dot Rice and Steve remained close friends for the rest of his life.[6] However, Steve would not have been satisfied staying in Lafayette

Edward Ross, who interviewed Steve’s friends and family in made this trenchant analogy in his notebook. Steve was like the ancient Cuban fisherman in Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea, who was asked why he couldn’t bring home the big fish that he landed; he replied: “Nothing, I went out too far.”[7]

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to



  1. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p.140-A.
  2. Photograph of Samuel Insull (Retrieved July 3, 2013); Chicago-L– Historic Figures;
  3. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; sourc;: New York University Archives; p. 145.
  4. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 145.
  5. Photograph of a Share of Insull Stock (Retrieved August 20, 2013);
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; pp. 30 – 32.
  7. Hemingway, Ernest (1966) The Old Man and the Sea; Scribner Classics; New York; p. 172.

Steve Hannagan’s Birth

Steve Hannagan’s family and his Irish-American neighborhood played a significant role in preparing Steve to become a master publicist.

Steve Hannagan was born on April 4, 1899, on Green Street, one block off the infamous Bloody Plank Road that ran next to the muddy Wabash River in the Irish district of Lafayette, Indiana. Bloody Plank Road was anchored by St. Anne’s Catholic Church and Parish School, an island of quietude compared to the houses of sin and depredation running up and down the avenue. Bloody Plank Road came by its name honestly because of the score of Irish saloons and houses of ill-repute. When payday arrived, some men headed for the saloons where they got into their cups and into numerous fights that spilled onto Bloody Plank Road. Other louts, in search of a little playtime with the ladies, would head to the brothels.

Steve’s Family

Steve’s parents were Johanna Enright (Aunt Jo) Hannagan and William J. (Uncle Billy) Hannagan. When Steve was born, his mother, Johanna Enright Hannagan, was forty-one and his father forty-three. His father the son of Patrick Hannagan, a native of Ireland, died in the 1840s. William Hannagan was born in 1857 in Lafayette, Indiana and reared by his mother who died in 1870 leaving a family of five orphans. In 1880, William married Johanna Enright, whose family origins are not known but she is believed to have born near Lafayette. They had four children, one child died early, and the child’s name is not known. Three boys survived into adulthood: William Jr., Frank, and Steve. Steve was the youngest of the four. Steve’s father was an ironwright, his mother, affectionately known as Aunt Jo, to the family was responsible for rearing the boys.

Steve’s and his older brother Frank, were close friends when they lived at homes. However, they drifted apart as they grew older. Frank, a gifted telegrapher, traveled cross-country from one high-paying telegraphy job to another. Later in life, Steve arranged with Coca-Cola, to grant Frank a lucrative bottling franchise in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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Frank Hannagan (left), William ‘Uncle Billy’ Hannagan, Johanna ‘Aunt Jo’ Hannagan, and Steve Hannagan (right).

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Frank and Steve Hannagan

The Hannagan Home

The Hannagan home was typical of the neighborhood, one room width with a central entrance and a porch with railings across the front. Entry to the house led directly into the parlor with the kitchen in the back. Upstairs there was a bedroom for the brothers and a bedroom for their mother and father. Running water came from a hand-pump at the kitchen sink that supplied water for drinking, bathing, shaving, and morning ablutions. In the winter, The Hannagans were fortunate that their water was not soiled by runoff from the two-hole privy in their back yard. Although privies were common in most homes in the Midwest, the Hannagan privy became a talisman that Steve later used to embellish his story about his impoverished youth.

Dangers near the Hannagan Home

The rail tracks which ran next to the Hannagan home was the main switching and repair yards for the Monon Railroad and these tracks also carried high-speed passenger express trains hurtling to Chicago, Indianapolis, and other points in Indiana. Crossing the tracks took care and agility because train traffic was constant and warnings were rudimentary.

Besides the danger of the trains, the Wabash River flooded every spring and inundated the homes of Bloody Plank Road with muddy, sewage-polluted water.[1] The Irish section homes were the dike for the rest of Lafayette. Fortunately, the Hannagans, chose a home at highest point on Green Street. So they missed the big floods of 1913 and 1948 that put most of the cities along the Wabash River under water.

Auntie Shea

Auntie Shea (Mary Shea), Steve’s Great Aunt, had a mythic trek in the 1840s from the east coast to relatives in Lafayette. She found Lafayette by traveling from one fire station to the next, where she usually found someone who spoke Gallic and who guide her on to the next stop. Auntie Shea imbued Steve’s mother with the magic and prayers from old Ireland.

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Auntie Shea

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  1. Cities along the Wabash flooded the rivers with sewage and polluted waters from local manufacturing operations. Every thirty years or so the river would flood the area up to the bluffs below the main part of Lafayette. The water often rose above the rail tracks and threatened the homes on Green Street. It was not uncommon during the flood season for cholera, typhus, and other water-borne diseases to strike the families of Bloody Plank Road.

Steve’s Father and Mother

An earlier issue described the neighborhood, where Steve Hannagan was reared. Now, we turn to Hannagan’s parents and the influence they had on his life.

Johanna Hannagan, Aunt Jo to her friends, nieces and nephews, was the anchor of Steve Hannagan’s life. She protected him from Bloody Plank Road’s meanness, enveloped him with her love, and remained close until the end of her life in 1950; three years before Steve’s death. Her death had a profound effect on his spirit and disposition. It was evident that Steve Hannagan mourned her death from which he never recovered.

Johanna Hannagan was a short, cheery woman of ample proportions with a loving personality. Her parents, like Steve’s father came directly from Ireland. There is no information about her parents ancestors either in the United States or in Ireland. Auntie Shea, Uncle Billy’s Aunt, tutored Steve’s mother about the ways of the Irish. The three Hannagan men found their lives well-seasoned by Aunt Jo’s beliefs in Auntie Shea’s prescription for reaching a blessed state of life.

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Johanna Hannagan, 1935[1]

Johanna dressed in the manner of an Irish matron. When she was young, she wore white linens on Sundays. As she reached middle-age and Steve began to send her extra money she wore more colorful clothing as suggested by the preceding picture. The picture also indicates that she regularly visited a hair dresser something that she could not afforded in her younger days. Steve’s mother as evident in the picture had a skeptical eye and some trepidation about incursions by anything new and unexpected in her small and isolated world.

Aunt Jo always made sure that Steve was turned out in his finest clothes with his hair slicked down and with his manners in place. For Steve, the most important lesson from his mother was her wise advice to please others. She encouraged him to avoid the pranks and fights of his classmates at St. Anne’s. It was her tutelage that taught him how to make his way in life by pleasing others and avoiding trouble.

After he left Lafayette, Steve kept in touch with his mother frequently. He often came home to visit her. In 1948, two years before his mother passed away, he traveled to Lafayette in the private railcar of the President of the New York Central Railroad. There he put on a lavish birthday party for her family and friends.

Steve’s attachment to his mother remained steadfast to the end. He even arranged to be buried next to her in the family plot in St. Anne’s Parish Cemetery on the South End of Bloody Plank Road.

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Picture of Steve during a Visit with His Mother

Steve Hannagan’s Father

Steve’s father, William Hannagan also known as ‘Uncle Billy’ was a second generation Irish-American. He was one of six orphans who reared themselves from childhood when their parents died. Uncle Billy was born in 1858, the same year as his wife. Uncle Willy died at the age of 72 in 1928.

Old Uncle Billy was a slight man with a walrus moustache and a stoop from working in an iron foundry. He had a bemused perspective of the world. As a working man, he dressed, regardless of occasion, in freshly pressed work pants held up by suspenders that hung slightly askew on his shrunken body, and always wore an old work cap.

Uncle Billy was cheerful and his friends and family enjoyed being with him. He loved his young sons, and saw his mission as a parent to separate his young boy from their mother’s apron strings.

Little Steve would often follow his father to the local saloon and sit on the bar while his father entertained the crowd.[2] Uncle Billy would often buy a shot-glass of beer for Steve. When his mother found out that his dad was buying beer for her baby boy, she reared up in high indignation. She had seen too many drunkards roaming up and down Bloody Plank row. She did not intend her son to be another Irish drunkard.[3]

When Steve’s father was on his death bed in 1928, Steve came to see him one last time. While his father lay dying, he turned to Steve and prodded his favorite son about his life.[4]

    • “Steve … you say you’re a publicity man. Now, I know what a newspaper man is. But publicity. That’s something else. You’re doing all right, I know. But you might be blowing smoke for all I know.”[5] Steve’s father was not sure how being a publicist could possibly relate to a real job.
    • Next, his father turned to Steve’s life style, asking with a twinkle in his eye –

“’Tell me, Steve. Do you ever take a drink?’ ‘Why, Dad, of course I do. I’ve had drinks with you.’ His Dad responded, ‘Oh, I don’t mean that. I mean – do you ever go on a good bender?’ ‘Why, yes, Dad. Once in a while. When the job permits.’ Steve, and the ‘girls. Do you ever play around with them?’ Why, yes, Dad when I can. Then from his bed, [his dad with a] heartfelt sigh said ‘Likker and wimmin! They’re a great comfort, ain’t they, son.”[6]

Steve’s father worked with him on understanding the ways of the world, and his mother nurtured him with praise and support encouraging him to do well. Both parents had a major impact on Steve because they gave him the basic virtues of trust, honesty, and fair-dealing that served him well and were the cornerstone of his success.

Contribute Stories to the Blog – We are looking for pictures, comments and stories from our readers about Steve Hannagan. You can submit your stories, etc. to Michael Townsley at: If you know someone who would like to receive the blog, send their name to



  1. Photograph of Johanna Hannagan (taken in her home on Green Street in1935); personal collection of Kathleen Townsley; Indianapolis.
  2. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 14.
  3. A story passed down through the Hannagan family by way of Helen Hannagan Townsley.
  4. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p.14.
  5. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source; New York University Archives; p. 14.
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source;: New York University Archives; p. 15.