Above: Looking along the pedestrianised Royal Exchange Buildings at the head of the Reuter Statue.
Often described as ‘standing at the back’ of the Royal Exchange, is a statue to a remarkable man – Paul Julius Reuter. The rough-cut granite sculpture by the Oxford-based sculptor Michael Black commemorates the 19th-century pioneer of communications and news delivery. It is a fitting place for the statue because the stone head faces the Royal Exchange which was the reason why Reuter set up his business in the City. He established his offices in 1851 on the opposite side of the walkway to the Royal Exchange – in other words, they were to the east of the Royal Exchange. The stone monument was erected by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of the Reuters Foundation. It was unveiled by Edmund L de Rothschild on 18 October 1976.
The man we know as Paul Reuter born Israel Beer Josaphat in Kassel, in Germany, on 21 July 1816. His father, Samuel Levi Josaphat, was a rabbi and his mother was Betty Sanders. After early education in Kassel, Josaphat was sent, at the age of 13, to Göttingen to work in an uncle’s bank. It was in that city that he became friends with the eminent mathematician and physicist, Carl Friedrich Gauss, who was experimenting with telegraphy – the transmission of electrical signals by wire – a technology whose potential Josaphat was quick to realise.
In the early 1840s, Josaphat joined a small publishing company in Berlin. After publishing a number of political pamphlets that drew hostility from the authorities, he moved to Paris in 1848, a year of revolution throughout Europe. He began translating extracts from articles and commercial news and sending them to papers in Germany.
Moving to London on 29 October 1845, he called himself Julius Josaphat. Less than a month later, at a ceremony on 16 November 1845 – in St George’s German Lutheran Chapel, in Alie Street, Whitechapel – he converted to Christianity, being baptised, Paul Julius Reuter. He returned to the chapel a week later, on 23 November, for his marriage to Ida Maria Elizabeth Clementine Magnus from Berlin, the daughter of a German banker. Reuter was 29 years old and within a matter of weeks, he had moved from Germany to England, converted from being a Jew to a Christian and also married a German lady.
In 1850 Reuter set up a carrier-pigeon service between Aachen and Brussels, the terminal points of the German and the French-Belgian telegraph lines. He used the service to send stock prices between Brussels and Aachen. This service provided the missing link to connect Berlin and Paris. Carrier pigeons were much faster than the post train, giving Reuter quicker access to financial news from the Paris stock exchange. The service operated for a year until the pigeons were replaced by a direct telegraph link.
A new telegraph line between Britain and Europe was later set up and Paul Reuter moved back to London to take advantage of the new communication link. He rented an office near the Stock Exchange – at No 1 Royal Exchange – and founded the international news organisation that bears his name on 18 October 1851. The office transmitted stock market quotations between London and Paris via the new Calais-Dover cable. A few years later – on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1857 – Reuter became naturalised as a British subject.
Reuter was always on the lookout for ways of obtaining news ahead of any competition. In 1863, Reuter privately erected a telegraph link to Crookhaven, County Cork, the farthest SW point in Ireland. When ships from America approached Crookhaven, they threw canisters containing news into the sea. They were retrieved by the Reuters company and telegraphed directly to London, arriving long before the ships reached Cork.
As overland telegraph and undersea cable facilities developed, Reuters expanded beyond Europe – to the Far East in 1872 and South America in 1874. Reuter was created a baron by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (the last reigning Duke) in 1871 and later was given the privileges of this rank in England by Queen Victoria. He retired as managing director of Reuters in 1878, handing control over to his son, Herbert.
Reuter died on 25 February 1899 at Villa Reuter at Nice, in France. His body was later brought back to England and buried in the family vault at West Norwood Cemetery, in SE London. The story of the company after his death was that in 1925 the Press Association took a majority holding in Reuters. In 1927 Reuters introduced the teleprinter to distribute news to London newspapers. In 1939 Reuters moved its corporate headquarters to 85 Fleet Street. In 2008 Reuters became part of the Thomson Reuters conglomerate.
The life of Reuter was most interesting. Having started his career as a humble clerk in a bank, he went on to ‘see the future’ of transmitting the news – regardless of whether it was financial or world news. If the ‘modern’ technology of telegraphy – also known then as Telegrams – was not in place, Reuter used carrier pigeons and even canisters floating in the sea to convey news as fast as possible. Such was his ambition to be the first with the news. Probably the greatest tribute to Reuter today is the fact that his company now spans the world and is still at the forefront of news services in the 21st century.