King of the Press. - Niepospolici
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King of the Press.

Marian Dąbrowski, who later was to become the father of the modern Polish press publishing house, was born in Mielec (Austro-Hungarian partition) in an underprivileged family of educated background. His father, Franciszek, was working as a court clerk. His mother, Apolonia, looked after the household and the children – all six of them. Due to modest living conditions Marian’s son learned how to provide for himself and earn for further education. He could usually be found selling stationary, postcards, or pictures of Saints. The money earned allowed him to pay membership fees of the Sports Association Sokół [Falcon]. There he soon started working for the magazine published by the Association – Gymnastics Digest [Przegląd Gimnastyczny]. In the year 1900 the editorial office entrusted the sports column to Dąbrowski. This marked the beginning of his brilliant career in the press. He studied at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University (1903–1907) and at the same time worked as a P.E. teacher at the Gymnasium named in honour of King Jan Sobieski the 3rd, though he was not meant to have at teaching career. After four years he returned to journalism. He found employment at the weekly paper Ilustracya Polska. He also cooperated with a daily paper called Nowiny. Dziennik Ilustrowany dla Wszystkich [News. Illustrated Daily Paper for All], and Nowiny dla Wszystkich [News for All]. He married Michalina Dobijówna, who came from a wealthy family. Thanks to the money obtained from his in-laws he was able to join a partnership at Postęp [Progress] Press, publisher of a daily right-wing newspaper – Głos Narodu [The Nation’s Voice]. Marian was its chief editor in the years 1908–1910. In 1910 his continuous success encouraged him to take another big step and invest all his assets into a new title: Ilustrowany Kuryer Codzienny [Illustrated Daily Courier], which was published in what for those times was a large volume of 180 thousand copies. The paper had 16 pages. The layout and format brought to mind the main daily papers of Vienna – Kronen Zeitung – and Lviv – Wiek Nowy [New Era]. Rich graphics adorned every page and many texts had especially ordered pictures. The office of IDC was located in the Spiski Palace in the market square of Cracow. The first issue was printed in 20,000 copies. Thanks to state-of-art printing technology (rotating machines with the working capacity of 10-14 thousand copies printed in one hour) the paper was able to include the freshest news which came in the night before. The IDC wanted their title to be delivered to the train station, hotels, and restaurants as quick as possible to which end the board decided to purchase a car. There were two permanent correspondents – one in Vienna and one in Lviv. They would call the editorial board every day to report the most important events within the two capitals. Wirth such bold initiatives, a young, 32-year-old Dąbrowski angered not only his competitors but also his business partners who were unable to appreciate that his actions were more than just “mere squandering of assets”. The paper described itself as being politically neutral. In the editorial note of the first issue it was written that:

The Illustrated Daily Courier does not take any political colour or carry party emblems, however our actions shall not be void of mission as indeed we would like to raise thousands of Polish readers to a life of greater awareness. Therefore, shunning any forms of political and class quarrels, we shall make our Illustrated Daily Courier a paper truly without any political alliance and thus the only independent daily newspaper in the country”.

In reality, however, it was difficult to completely abstain from politics. In 1912 Dąbrowski accepted into partnership the leader of the People’s Party – Jan Stapiński – who allegedly invested a healthy sum of the party’s money into the paper. Naturally IDC would openly support the People’s Party in the upcoming elections. Marian Dąbrowski remained faithful to his political partners and got elected to the Seym of the Second Republic of Poland as a representative of the Polish People’s Party “Piast”.

During the Great War IDC supported the independence initiatives and Polish legions, which resulted in repressions suffered from the hand of the Austrian authorities. A newspaper which would be deemed as “politically suspicious” could risk everything – including being closed down. The fall of the Habsburg country saved the Courier which immediately on the first day of independence got involved with the movement aimed at the creation of Polish State.

Because the stand of IDC was not favourable for the left-wing fraction, the Polish Socialist Party’s supporters physically attacked its headquarters. Dąbrowski tried his luck in politics and founded the Polish Republican’s Party with headquarters at the Courier’s Office. He failed to be elected to Seym and at the end of term he ran from the lists of “befriended” PPP – Piast. This time he was successful and remained an MP until 1935. He was not, however, drastically popular as his mind was constantly preoccupied with the press business.

At that time his Courier was at the peak of its popularity. This was thanks to the continuous, conscious investments of Dąbrowski, who wanted his business to grow and was opening branches in other areas of the country. In the end he opened 11 such branches, the largest of which were located in Lodz, Lviv, Katowice, Zakopane, Torun, and Warsaw. In 1927 IDC bought out Nowa Reforma [New Reform] of Lviv. In 1925 the flagship paper printed by Dąbrowski reached the volume of 100,000 daily copies. Apart from the core topics Courier printed many additional magazines that came attached to each issue. Amongst them where such titles as Kurier Literacko-Naukowy [On Literature and Science], Dodatek Tygodniowy [Weekly Supplement], Kurier Sportowy [Sports Courier], and Kurier Filmowy [Films Courier].  In 1922 Dąbrowski’s company purchased a large stock house in Cracow at the corner of Wielopole and Starowiślna Streets, which was known from that day on as the “Cruiser” and “Press Palace”.

1924 saw the first publication of another richly illustrated weekly periodical – Swiatowid [Svietowid – an idol watching all four directions of the world]. This publication was way ahead of its times. It was a prototype of illustrated magazines which gained in real popularity only a decade later. As the local printing houses could not meet the requirements of the editor, for the first years of its presence on the market it was printed in Austria. Dąbrowski established a photo agency which was dedicated to the need of the Swiatowid publication. Soon the agency monopolised journalist photography in Poland. Large quantities of pictures which survived the war are now a priceless reference for all historians. In the years to follow Dąbrowski continued on his way, establishing more new titles. Kalendarz IKC [Illustrated Daily Courier’s Calendar] (1927); Na szerokim swiecie [In the Wide World] (1928); a satirical magazine entitled Wroble na dachu [Little Bird Told Me] (1930); and a sports magazine Raz, dwa, trzy… [One, two, three…] (1931). The presuppositions were complimented by another title: Tempo dnia [The Day’s Pace] (1933).

There was, however, one title that won itself a special place in the history of the Polish press. The periodical was entitled: Ilustrowany Tygodnik Kryminalno-Sadowy [Secret Detective – Illustrated Court and Crime Weekly]. It attracted the readers with its thrilling texts and equally sensational graphic design. It presented notorious criminal cases both contemporary and historical. The correspondents of the Secret Detective would often accompany the police in pursuit of criminals. Some covered stories, such as the investigation and controversial legal suit against Rita Gorgonowa – a woman of Lviv accused of a murder; or the pursuit after two villains from the Rzeszow District – Byk [Bull] and Maczuga [Club] – which evoked high levels of excitement among the readers.

Despite the undeniable commercial success of the Secret Detective (volume of around 300,000 copies of each issue sold!) Dąbrowski decided to discontinue the title. He grew to agree with some critical voices pointing out that promotion of such violent details from the criminal world may have a detrimental effect on the youth. It was said that Dąbrowski was thoroughly shocked by what he read in his magazine about the suicide of a young woman, as well as numerous reports of the Secret Detective being found amongst the personal belongings of arrested villains.

His gossip magazine, As [Ace], which was to take the place of the discontinued title, was not as successful as its predecessor. The new magazine which described the life of the elite class did, however, find an audience and was sold approximately 50,000 copies per issue.

In 1932 the Publishing Group of Marian Dąbrowski was evaluated to be worth around 1,5 million USD. The Company gave jobs to 1400 employees and published five illustrated weekly magazines (apart from the IDC) of a total volume of 200,000 copies per issue.

The King of the Polish Press was not only an elected as Member of Parliament but also served for many years as a City Councillor of Cracow.

Having made a fortune Dąbrowski did not become a scrooge. Journalists employed in his magazines received stable, good salaries and were not remunerated according to the volume of texts they published. He established prizes for beginning painters and partially funded the construction of a new building for the National Museum. It was him who in 1925 paid for the construction of the Unknown Soldier Monument at the Saski Palace colonnade. He supported the founder of the Bagatela Theatre and advocated for the excavation works at the Krakus Mound. For many years he was a member of the Krakow Society of Friends of Fine Arts. He was on the Society’s board from 1927 and in 1935 he was chosen as its President. He was also a member of the Oratorio Society and Opera Society and an eager propagator of sports. In 1922 he organised a Circular Race for the DIC Cup and Cracow-Katowice-Cracow cycling race. He was interested in motor sports. In 1931 Dąbrowski was named an honorary citizen of Zakopane for promoting the Tatra Mountains as a tourist destination.

Thanks to his wealth, influence, and status as a self-made-man, who fulfilled the American Dream in Poland, he became a living legend. Since popularity was not its enemy, he knew how to promote himself in a clever way. When he published pictures from official ceremonies or meetings of influential people of the time, he would make sure that he was also visible in the pictures chosen for print. He enjoyed the company of film, culture, and sports celebrities and was good friends with Jan Kiepura. The tenor was even to marry Dąbrowski’s daughter but in the end her heart was stolen by another man, Henryk Paschalski. As soon as he became Dąbrowski’s in-law, he found employment as a director in his company.

The press titles published by Dąbrowski did touch on stories from abroad unofficially revealing the sympathies of the Polish government which was officially required to remain impartial on international conflicts in the 1930s. And thus, during the Italo-Ethiopian War IDC published commentaries favouring the politics of Rome. Similarly, during the Mexican civil war it often contained texts favourable towards the rebels fighting against the communist General Franco. The Italian Royal Embassy in Poland appreciated the efforts to present Roman policies in a favourable light and awarded Dąbrowski a high Italian order. The supportive attitude towards the Polish government was reflected in the anti-German narration once Germany increased political pressure on Poland. In revenge for those texts, in June 1939, German Authorities banned the IDC nationwide. Dąbrowski’s press encouraged participation in the National Defence Fund. In order to serve as a good example to their readers, in the Spring of 1939 the employees of the Dąbrowski Press Company raised 130,000 Polish Zloty for Poland’s defence. At the same time the newspaper started collecting names of volunteers for the legendary Live Torpedoes – Polish kamikaze fighters. The volunteers were to be sent out for suicidal missions in the event of war. In every issue the lists of those who pledged their lives for the defence of their country, often young, sometimes disabled and unfit for other military service but wanting to serve Poland at a time of need, were published.

In September 1939 Marian Dąbrowski was in France. The outbreak of war brought a tragic end to his press empire. His employees, deprived of their supervisors, were forced to search for other employment. The company’s assets were stolen by the occupiers.

The former King of the Polish Press died in poverty, after nearly 20 years of emigration, on the day of his 80th birthday. His ashes were brought back from the USA years later. He is buried at the Rakowicki Cemetery in Warsaw.