All this is a far cry from its origins in 1844, when it was founded by Samuel Pearson as a building and engineering company, S. Pearson & Son. Its heyday started in 1890, when Weetman Pearson (Samuel’s grandson) moved the company to London and expanded it substantially, including by building such prestigious projects as the Blackwall Tunnel and docks at Southampton and Milford Haven.
The company started to diversify in 1919, but initially into banking (Lazard Brothers). Its first steps into the newspaper publishing business came in 1921, when it acquired several newspapers based in London and the South East of England that later went to form the Westminster Press group. At one time or another the WP group included such prominent regional titles as the Brighton-based Argus, the Harrow Observer series and the Watford Observer.
In 1957 it acquired its most important newspaper, the Financial Times, taking the decision from the outset to preserve the paper’s editorial independence to avoid any taint of conflict of interest with its merchant banking activities. It also bought a 50% share in The Economist.
However, towards the end of the 1960s Pearson’s publishing interests expanded from newspapers into books; it acquired educational publisher Longman in 1968 and Penguin in 1970.
Pearson sold Westminster Press to Newsquest in 1996. Since then their newspaper publishing activities have been focused solely on the FT and on expanding that title worldwide, including the launch of FT Deutschland in 1999. (Pearson’s website boasts that FT Deutschland was the country’s first new national newspaper for 40 years. But that’s a less surprising achievement than it sounds; Germany’s press has traditionally been dominated by regional newspapers that are sold outside their home region, such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.)