William Henry Irwin (September 14, 1873 - February 24, 1948) was an American author, writer and journalist who was associated with the muckrakers.
Irwin was born in 1873 in Oneida, New York. In his early childhood, the Irwin family moved to Clayville, New York, a farming and mining center south of Utica. In about 1878, his father moved to Leadville, Colorado, establishing himself in the lumber business, and brought his family out. When his business failed Irwin's father moved the family to Twin Lakes, Colorado. A hotel business there failed too, and the family moved back to Leadville, in a bungalow at 125 West Twelfth Street. In 1889, the family moved to Denver, where he graduated from high school. He cured himself of a diagnosed bout of tuberculosis by "roughing it" for a year as a cowboy.
With a loan from his high school teacher, Irwin entered Stanford University in September 1894. Irwin was forced to withdraw for disciplinary reasons but was readmitted and graduated on May 24, 1899. According to journalism historians Clifford Weigle and David Clark in their biographical sketch of Irwin,
In 1901 Irwin got a job as a reporter on the San Francisco Chronicle, eventually rising to Sunday editor. For the San Francisco-based Bohemian Club, he wrote the Grove Play The Hamadryads in 1904. The same year, he moved to New York City to take a reporter's position at The New York Sun, then in its heyday under the editorship of Chester Lord and Selah M. Clark. Also in 1904, Irwin co-authored a book of short stories with Gelett Burgess, The Picaroons (McClure, Phillips & Co.)
Irwin arrived in New York City the same day as a major disaster, the sinking of the General Slocum. As a new reporter on The Sun, he was assigned to work the Bellevue morgue, where the more than 1,000 bodies of the victims of fire and drowning were taken.
Irwin's biggest story and the feat that made him a professional writer was his absentee coverage for The New York Sun of the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906. Weigle and Clark described his activities:
Irwin was hired by S.S. McClure in 1906 as managing editor of McClure's. He rose to the position of editor but disliked the work and then moved to Collier's, edited by Norman Hapgood. He wrote investigative stories on the movement for Prohibition and a study of fake spiritual mediums.
Back on the Pacific coast in 1906-1907 to research a story on anti-Japanese racism Irwin returned to San Francisco and found it flourishing. Several years later, he wrote an article on the city's rebirth entitled "The City That Is" in the San Francisco Call, which concluded that San Francisco had become "a larger city, a more convenient city, and since it is also a more beautiful and more distinctive city I announce myself a complete convert. This city that was business is the old stuff."
Irwin's series on anti-Japanese discrimination appeared in Collier's in September-October 1907 and Pearson's in 1909.
Then came the series "The American Newspaper". In 1911, Irwin published one of the most famous critical analyses of American journalism. The series, "The American Newspaper", was researched from September 23, 1909, until late June 1910 and published in Collier's magazine from January to June 1911.
Irwin continued to write articles, some in the muckraking style until the outbreak of World War I. He sailed to Europe in August 1914 as one of the first American correspondents. According to media historians Edwin and Michael Emery
Irwin served on the executive committee of Herbert Hoover's Commission for Relief in Belgium in 1914-1915 and was chief of the foreign department of George Creel's Committee on Public Information in 1918.
Irwin was skeptical of paranormal claims. In 1907-1908, for the Colliers Weekly, he published four installments of "The Medium Game: Behind the Scenes with Spiritualism" to cover fraud and trickery associated with spiritualism.
During and after the war Irwin wrote 17 more books, including a biography of Herbert Hoover; a history of Paramount Pictures and its founder, Adolph Zukor, The House That Shadows Built (1928); and his autobiography, The Making of a Reporter (1942). He also wrote two plays and continued magazine writing.
He was married to the feminist author Inez Haynes Irwin, who published under the name Inez Haynes Gilmore, author of Angel Island (1914) and The Californiacs (1916). The Irwins summered in Scituate, Massachusetts, in the early 1900s. Will Irwin wrote a story in 1914 for The American Magazine about summer life in Scituate.
He died in 1948, at the age of 74.