American novelist, journalist, and social activist John Griffith “Jack” London was born on this day, 12 Jan., in 1876.
Possibly best known for his novels “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang,” London is considered a pioneer in commercial magazine fiction. Arguably one of the first American authors to achieve global success and receive worldwide notoriety for his writing, London is recognised as being an innovator in the novel genre we know reference as science fiction.
Born in San Francisco, California to William Chaney and Flora Wellman, London’s birth name was John Griffith Chaney. The house London was born in burned down in a fire after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
After working as a sailor, London returned to Oakland. He began attending Oakland High School. During this period, London penned several articles which were published in the high school magazine, “The Aegis.”
During this period, London could be seen studying at the port-side bar Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon.
While many people have heard of “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang,” it should be noted London’s first published novel was “Typhoon off the Coast of Japan.”
“Typhoon off the Coast of Japan,” an account of London’s sailing experiences, at 17-years-old, earned the writer first place and $25 in a San Francisco competition.
While $25 might not be considered a large amount of money today, in that period, it was a month’s wages.
Not long thereafter, during a conversation with Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon owner John Heinold, London expressed a desire to attend university to complete his education. He further expressed an interest in pursing a career as a writer. Heinold loaned London an undisclosed amount of money to pay for college tuition.
While at Berkeley, London continued to study and spend time at Heinold’s saloon, where he was introduced to the sailors and adventurers who would influence his writing.
In addition to writing novels set during the Klondike Gold Rush, London is also to have known penned at least one novel set in San Francisco and a few revolving around the South Pacific. These novels included the San Francisco set “The Sea-Wolf,” published in 1904, the 1912 published “A Son of the Sun” and the 1914 published “The Heathen.”
London died in Glen Ellen, California on 22 Nov. 1916. He was 40.