John Russell Young, Irish American journalist, author, diplomat, and the seventh Librarian of the United States Congress from 1897 to 1899, is born on November 20, 1840, in County Tyrone. He is invited by Ulysses S. Grant to accompany him on a world tour for purposes of recording the two-year journey, which he publishes in a two-volume work.
Young is born in County Tyrone but as a young child his family emigrates to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enters the newspaper business as a proofreader at age fifteen. As a reporter for The Philadelphia Press, he distinguishes himself with his coverage of the First Battle of Bull Run. By 1862 he is managing editor of the Press and another newspaper.
In 1865 Young moves to New York City, where he becomes a close friend of Henry George and helps to distribute his book, Progress and Poverty. He begins writing for Horace Greeley‘s New York Tribune and becomes managing editor of that paper. He also begins working for the government, undertaking missions to Europe for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In 1872, he joins the New York Herald and reports for them from Europe.
Young is invited to accompany President Ulysses S. Grant on Grant’s famous 1877-79 world tour, chronicled in Young’s book Around the World with General Grant. He impresses Grant, especially in China where he strikes up a friendship with Li Hongzhang. Grant persuades President Chester A. Arthur to appoint Young minister to China in 1882. In this position he distinguishes himself by mediating and settling disputes between the United States and China and France and China. Unlike many other diplomats, he opposes the policy of removing Korea from Chinese suzerainty.
In 1885 Young resumes working for the New York Herald in Europe. In 1890 he returns to Philadelphia. In 1897 President William McKinley appoints him Librarian of Congress, the first librarian confirmed by Congress. During his tenure, the library begins moving from its original home in the United States Capitol building to its own structure, an accomplishment largely the responsibility of his predecessor, Ainsworth Rand Spofford. Spofford serves as Chief Assistant Librarian under Young. Young holds the post of librarian until his death.
Young dies in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 1899, and is interred at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Young’s brother is Congressman James Rankin Young. His son is Brigadier General Gordon Russell Young, who is Engineer Commission of the District of Columbia from 1945-51 and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.