Fox, Richard Kyle (1846–1922), publisher and patron of sports, was born on Albertbridge Road, Belfast, on 12 August 1846. Fox's father James was a carpenter and mason, and his mother Mary (née Kyle) was the daughter of Henry Kyle, a Belfast presbyterian minister. As a teenager Fox worked as an office boy for the Banner of Ulster before later working at the Belfast News Letter for ten years.
Richard Kyle Fox emigrated to the United States in September 1874. Continuing his trade in America, Fox landed a position at the Commercial Bulletin of New York within days of his arrival at the immigration station at Castle Garden. He subsequently became business manager at the then foundering National Police Gazette and by late 1876 had taken ownership of the publication in lieu of back wages, transforming it into a profitable business.
Years before Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal managed to master and monopolise the techniques of 'yellow journalism', Richard Kyle Fox had been a pioneer. Printed on pink paper, and usually featuring frolicking females on its cover, the National Police Gazette provided an assortment of crimes, scandalous tales, extraordinary endeavours and the latest sports news. Wherever men gathered, from barrooms to hotel lobbies, the 'bible of the barbershop', as it became known, could be found.
Following the Gazette's coverage of a fight between Tipperary native Patrick Ryan (qv) and Joe Goss of England in 1880, circulation rose from 150,000 to 400,000 copies a week, prompting the Belfast proprietor to engage in the promotion of prize fights. By the mid-1880s, Fox's publication had skyrocketed in circulation with sporting coverage (particularly boxing) featuring on two or more pages of illustrations.
It was Fox's ongoing feud with the popular 'Boston strong boy', John L. Sullivan, which proved a convenient sales strategy for the former's weekly publication. The lively and profitable discord between Fox and Sullivan is said to have originated at Harry Hill's saloon in New York, when an inebriated Sullivan refused an invitation to join Fox at his table. The more likely story is that Sullivan, who had presented himself at the Police Gazette offices following his easy victory over Steve Taylor, conducted himself in an impertinent manner during a visit to Fox's office. Though less than impressed by the brass-necked Bostonian, Fox initially agreed to back him against Patrick Ryan until Sullivan later declared that he had never authorised Fox to make a match on his behalf and declined his offer.
Over the next couple of months Fox's determination to humble the insolent Sullivan allowed the Belfast man to master the art of boxing promotion by becoming one of the first to sponsor ring matches with belts, cash and other prizes and use his publication to fight against laws banning prize fighting. When the fight was eventually organised, Ryan, who Fox had declared Police Gazette champion in order to coax Sullivan into fighting, had his colours displayed in the barbershops and saloons whose proprietors were regular subscribers to the Gazette. Fox's publication even went so far as to reassure those intending to travel to the Sullivan–Ryan fight that, despite the state of Louisiana's attempt to hasten a legislative bill in order to prosecute those involved in prize fighting, the bout should be over by the time the law was enacted. The fight occurred on 7 February 1882, not in Louisiana, but in Mississippi. Sullivan easily dispatched his opponent in the ninth round prompting Fox to immediately declare that he would put up $5,000 for a rematch (which produced a similar result).
In March 1883 Fox opened his new premises on the corner of Franklin Square and Dover Street, overlooking the final stages of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Describing his new premises as a 'veritable palace of journalism, unequalled by any newspaper establishment in New York', the 'Fox building', as it became known, occupied seven floors and was replete with the finest furnishings of that era. The building included ten printing presses on the ground floor and a museum of sports and sensationalism. When the Brooklyn Bridge finally opened on 24 May, Fox's decision to send out 10,000 invitations ensured that the building was packed with journalists, dignitaries and some of the leading athletes of the day. This was as good as it was going to get for Richard Kyle Fox though his publication continued to promote all manner of sports and unusual physical endeavours, including Frank Samuelson and George Harbo's 1896 crossing of the Atlantic in an eighteen-foot rowboat.
In many ways Fox became a victim of his own ingenuity when many of the leading daily newspapers of the day had, by the end of the nineteenth century, adopted the Gazette's penchant for featuring sport and sensationalism. By the early twentieth century the National Police Gazette, which served as the leading proponent of pugilism and sensationalism, had become little more than a purveyor of old news and quaint raciness in an increasingly more relaxed and modernist society. It was the adoption of the eighteenth amendment which was detrimental to the Gazette, for it cut off its entire barroom circulation. The new speakeasies which replaced the barrooms had little interest in the Gazette, and when women began to adopt the flapper hair style which required that they frequent male barbershops, it was no longer acceptable to have Fox's publication for viewing pleasure.
Leaving behind assets well in excess of $3,000,000, Richard Kyle Fox died on 15 November 1922 following a long battle with pneumonia and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York, in an elaborate mausoleum. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHF) in June 1997, along with fellow boxing promoter, Don King. Fox is described by the IBHF as having done more to popularise boxing in the United States than anyone else in the nineteenth century.