Robert Ezra Park

The Person

Robert Ezra Park was born on February 14, 1864 in Harveyville, Penn-sylvania. Soon after his birth his family moved to Red Wing, Minnesota,where the young Park grew up on the Mississippi River as the son of aprosperous businessman. Like Veblen, Cooley, and Mead, he is a product ofthe Middle Border. After his graduation from the local high school and despitethe opposition of his father, Park went to the University of Minnesota. Afterone year there, he transferred to the University of Michigan.

At Ann Arbor, Park was fortunate to find an inspiring teacher, the youngJohn Dewey, and to become a member of a group of like-minded studentswho discussed the social issues of the day in the spirit of the reforming ideasthen spreading all over the Midwest. Dewey introduced Park to a remarkableman, Franklin Ford, who was to have a decisive influence on his subsequentcareer. Ford had been a newspaperman and had reported in detail on thevagaries of the stock market and the impact of news on that market. He hadcome to see stock prices as a reflection of public opinion shaped by the news,and was therefore led to infer that with more adequate reporting, generalpublic opinion could be made to respond to current events in as accurate amanner as the stock market. Much like some later pollsters and surveyanalysts, Ford believed that if the changes in public opinion could be gaugedwith precision, "the historical process would be appreciably stepped up, andprogress would go forward steadily, without the interruption and disorder ofdepression or violence, and at a rapid pace."

Ford and Park planned a new kind of newspaper, to be called ThoughtNews, which would register as well as influence movements of public opinionby more accurate presentation of the news. The paper never reached publica-tion, but Park's views on the crucial importance of the news, the media ofcommunication, and the influence of public opinion were largely shaped by hisconversations with Franklin Ford.

From Coser, 1977:366-367.

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