Sulzberger, who went by the nickname "Punch," died Saturday at his home in Southampton, N.Y., after a long illness, his family announced.
During his three-decade-long tenure, the Times won 31 Pulitzer prizes, published the Pentagon Papers and won a libel case victory in New York Times vs. Sullivan that established important First Amendment protections for the press.
In an era of declining newspaper readership, the Times' weekday circulation increased from 714,000 when Sulzberger became publisher in 1963 to 1.1 million upon his retirement as publisher in 1992. Over the same period, the annual revenues of the Times' corporate parent rose from $100 million to $1.7 billion.
Sulzberger served with the Marine Corps in World War II and Korea before joining the Times staff as a reporter. He retired as chairman and chief executive of the company in 1997. His son then was named chairman. Sulzberger stayed on the Times Co. board of directors until 2002.
His family has controlled the paper for more than 110 years. The family retains a controlling interest to this day, holding a separate block of Class B shares that have more powerful voting rights than the company's publicly traded shares.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.