Pin It

History of the Magazines

| March 26, 2013 | 13 Comments

While I could write a book on the topic of magazine history I will briefly describe the history of the magazines and tell you some of the most interesting details about them. Although this is long article it is probably one of the shortest on the topic of the magazine history because I have not mentioned many magazines that left their significant mark in the publishing industry. 


History of the magazines - Le Mercure Galant

Le Mercure Galant was one of the first printed publications.

History of the magazines - Household Words

Household Words was an English weekly magazine published in the 1850s by Charles Dickens.

History of the magazines - Gentleman's Magazine

Gentleman’s Magazine is the first publication that was named magazine.


Beginnings of print magazines

First publication, which could be called a magazine, was the German Erbauliche Monaths Unterredungen, released in the year 1663. It was a literary and philosophical edition and after it was launched several periodicals with very similar topics were published, and were intended for an intellectual audience.

Thematic scope was very narrow, and it was mainly written by one author. A publication similar to today’s magazines (various themes and several authors) appeared in the year 1672, when French author Jean Donneau de Vize created Le Mercure Galant. It combines topics from court events, theater and literature, and this magazine concept was copied throughout Europe. The first women’s magazine, Ladie’s Mercury, was launched in London in the year 1693. Of course, these publications in their beginnings were called periodicals.


Thank the Arabs

Name “magazine” appeared in the year 1731 with the occurrence of the Gentleman’s Magazine. The name magazine, which comes from the Arabic word which means the warehouse, and was used for describing the place which deposits large quantity of various goods, while the analogy used to describe a book that contained many useful information for travelers and sailors.

The success of the magazine was great, but the costs of every issue were even higher. Printing cost was high, and the number of printed copies could not be greater than one hundred thousand, because it was technically impossible to squeeze a larger amount of paper through the machine. Distribution was also a big problem because it was difficult to move large quantities of magazines at great distances.


First ad pages

In the mid 19th century readers were not only the rich ones and magazines become available to the middle class. This was beginning for the first family magazines, such as, Dickens Household Words. During the 19th century, increasing attempts was made to cut the price of the magazines. At this time the first ads appeared, but not much because the ads were loaded with special tax, all up to 1853.

After the repeal of the tax, number of ads did not increase since many publishers avoided this type of income (Readers Digest magazine did not publish ads until 1955). In the late 19th century and with the invention of the rotary press, the number of printed copies increases, and the price of the issue is reduced and thus we enter the century, that will mark the development of the magazines as one of the world’s leading media.

With technological progress, increased circulation, and increasing use of images, magazines are becoming increasingly attractive to advertisers. The first advertising agency was established in 1890 and from that point on advertising started to flourish.


History of the magazines - Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping is one of the most iconic American magazines, more than a hundred years old.

History of the magazines - National Geographic Magazine

National Geographic Magazine is the most famous scientific magazine, and is one of the oldest in the world, dating from 1889.

History of the magazines - Time

In crazy twenties Henry Luce publishes Time magazine, one of the most important political weeklies.

Rise of the magazines

In the early 20th century appears one of the most important icons in the world of publishing, William Randolph Hearst. As the owner of several newspapers across America, he engages in a merciless battle for readers with his mentor, Joseph Pulitzer. During the Cuban War for Independence, Hearst and Pulitzer published in their newspapers images of tortured and starving Cuban troops. At this moment arises the term yellow journalism, which marks the sensationalist approach to the presentation of events.

Hearst expanded his empire to magazine publishing starting with the famous Good Housekeeping, National Geographic and Harper’s Bazaar. Besides Hearst’s magazines, some other important publications appear such as Conde Nast’s Vogue, Vanity Fair and news magazine Time, whose starter Henry Luce is still considered the most influential publisher in history.

Although Luce launched Time, he was not a visionary and he did not guide the magazine. He actually stole the idea for the first political weekly from his colleague at Yale, Britton Hadden.

Hadden was responsible for conceiving the concept of the political news magazine, and he as the editor of the Time, formed personality of the magazine, gained loyal readers, and brought the financial profit to the company. The same company will issue several well-known magazines such as Life, Sports Illustrated and Money.


History of the magazines - Fortune

First business magazine, published out of the business section of Time magazine, considered revolutionary because of its print quality.

History of the magazines - Life

Life magazine, published since 1939 is creditable for the development of photo reportage.

History of the magazines - Elle

Helene Gordon Lazareff published one of the most important women’s magazines, French Elle.


Full color print and photo-journalism

Hadden has influenced popular culture in such a peculiar way that he changed the patterns of thinking and behavior of people in the 20th century. Unfortunately, he died very young, aged 30, and his partner Henry Luce continued development of Time magazine, and become the biggest media mogul in the next few decades.

Parallel with the development of Time, Fortune magazine was published, which originated from Time business pages. Fortune was considered the best and most influential American magazine. Besides heavily influenced by the world of business, Fortune is known for being the first high-quality printed magazine, with pages in full color.

Fortune also invented photo-journalism, something that would make Life magazine famous few years later. However, due to increasing costs of printing the Fortune starts to lose money, and in the 1948 is redesigned, both in graphics and in journalistic terms, and becomes an ordinary business magazine.


She will change the way a women think

At that time in post WWII Europe, in France, one person launched a magazine that greatly changed the way women think, speak, and perceive themselves. It was Helene Gordon Lazareff and her Elle (French for “she”) magazine was launched in 1945. Weekly Elle instructed French women how to be attractive and nice. The success of the magazine was huge and many have identified Helene and Elle, and the readers identified with Helen – what was good for Helen, was good for her readers.

One of her talents was that she was able to find the right person at the right time, she knew how to create a star. In 1947 Helen promoted unknown designer Dior and his New Look, in 1950 she put on the cover, then unknown Brigitte Bardot, in 1952 she employed Francoise Giroud, a feminist who later runs the famous French political weekly L’Express. In 1958 she promoted the return of Coco Chanel, although at that time the French press did not favor famous Mademoiselle.

Elle in 1965 promoted the futuristic vision in white by designer Courreges, and from week to week Elle was written by Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Colette and Françoise Dolto. Number of sold copies reached one million in 1960, when one out of six French women regularly reads Elle.

In the history of the publishing no editor had such a lasting impact on its magazine as it was Helene. She left the magazine in 1972 when the sold circulation was around a million copies. In the year 1988, when dying of Alzheimer’s disease, circulation of Elle dropped to barely 370 000 sold copies.


History of the magazines - Harper's Bazaar

Harper’s Bazaar is the first fashion magazine, formerly issued like weekly in the newspaper form, but from 1901 turns into monthly magazine.

History of the magazines - Playboy

Hugh Hefner’s Playboy was one of the first magazines that openly pictured nudity.

History of the magazines - Esquire

Esquire is the most famous men’s magazine. Known for its legendary covers, one of those is this one with Muhamed Ali.


Golden era and Mad Man

On the other side of the Atlantic, in USA begins the golden era of magazines. What Paris was for modern art in the late 19th and early 20th century, New York of the 50’s was in the modern magazine art direction, specifically Madison Avenue the location of the largest magazines of that era.

Manhattan was the birthplace of a new generation of designers and art directors who have established design and magazine advertising as we know it today. Later this period was called the Creative Revolution. In several buildings in Manhattan worked revolutionary giants – Alexey Brodovitch for Harper’s Bazaar, Leo Lionni for Fortune, Steve Frankfurt for Young & Rubicam, Herb Lubalin for Hennessey, Henry Wolf for Esquire, Art Paul for Playboy and Alexander Liberman for Conde Nast.

However, with all the big names, making magazines was very difficult and time-consuming. There were no computers and almighty Photoshop, everything was done manually, and the main tools were pencils, erasers, rulers, tape. It took around four months to produce one issue.

One of the best and most influential magazines of golden era, both visually and literally, was Esquire. While running from 1933, Esquire’s best years were in the mid of the 20th century, when Henry Wolfe as art director transformed the magazine for men in the visual candy of photographs and illustrations. Wolf was succeeded by Sam Antupit, who continued to create wonderful designs until the end of the 60s. Literary greats that wrote for Esquire were Dos Passos, Salinger, Huxley, Camus, Steinbeck, Pirandello and many other great pens of that era.


History of the magazines - Twen

Generations of German youth were raised and influenced by Twen magazine.

History of the magazines - People

People magazine was the first celebrity magazine, published in 1974 out of Time “people” section pages.

History of the magazines - Glamour College

The first magazine that pictured African-American woman on its cover in 1968 was Glamour College.


Evolution of the magazines

In Germany in 1959 legendary magazine Twen was released. Twen was a provocative magazine for a younger audience, and it consisted of erotic photos and intelligent articles. Its editors wanted to attract new younger generation, who wanted to differentiate from their parents, and in this they succeeded.

In the seventies, emerged a new kind of magazine, celebrity magazine. The first issue of People was out in 1974. Since then this kind of magazines has been the most selling one. Those years brought a boom of women’s magazines. One of them was gaining in popularity and it was Cosmopolitan.


History of the magazines - Newsweek

This Newsweek cover from 1973 shows that great photo manipulation could have been possible even before the invention of Photoshop.

History of the magazines - Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan is one of the best-selling women’s magazines in the history.

History of the magazines - Vogue

In 2004 Nicole Kidman graced one of the most beautiful Vogue covers.


Firstly published in 1886 as a family magazine, it was the 60’s that made Cosmopolitan famous. Its editor in chief Helen Gurley Brown refocused the Cosmo as magazine for woman. New Cosmopolitan focused on younger woman and talked openly about sexuality. This model stayed on till today, making Cosmopolitan one of the best-selling women’s magazines.

On the other side there were fashion magazines. The most famous of them are Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Their race lasts for more than a century, and now and then there are few new rivals. At the beginning of the 80’s Vanity Fair was reissued.

More and more publications appear on newsstands, but also many of them disappear. Among the more successful certainly are British magazines Face and Arena, but both shut down in the 2000’s. In the early 90’s appear specialized magazines for growing cyber generations, and most respected, and to this day the best is Wired.


History of the magazines - The Face

British music, fashion and culture monthly The Face, designed by great Neville Brody from 1981 to 1986.

History of the magazines - Vanity Fair

Legendary Vanity Fair cover from 1991 with pregnant movie star Demi Moore.

History of the magazines - Wired

Magazine Wired on its 1997 cover expressed worries about stumbling techno giant. Bill Gates was first to come to rescue with a financial injection that saved Apple.


Print is not dead

Some have predicted the death of the magazines, just like they have predicted the death of the newspapers in the 90’s, but neither newspapers died, and neither will the magazines. There will still be printed magazines, no matter how popular tablet editions are. Yes, the numbers will drop but they will never die.

IPad is a great tool, and it brings new possibilities in magazine production for sure, but it cannot replace that feeling of paper between your fingers. That smell of freshly printed pages. There will always be a need for printed magazines.

Magazines shape our lives, telling us what to wear, what to eat, what to think about ourselves and the world around us. Although this is the age of the Internet, we continue to enjoy magazines, admire their pages, editorials, headlines. Is there anything nicer than to come home after a hard day’s work, put on slippers, sit back in a sofa and read a favorite magazine that you just grabbed at the local newsstand? And so from issue to issue…


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Story

Comments (13)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. will walsh says:

    very helpful and good information

  2. Jason Lee says:

    This is so helpful. I’m doing my own research abt magazines for school’s thesis, can I ask for the books reference you got in here? Thanks so much.

    • Nikola says:

      Thank you Jason. I have been asked several times regarding the book references about magazine history but I do not know any books related to this topic. All my info was from numerous web pages. None of them had complete history of magazines so I collected info from several websites that contained some parts of magazine history. Also I used some information from various magazines and books.

  3. Gracey Maala says:

    Thank you so much for this!!! I’m really having a hard time in finding information about magazine and its related literature. But this time, my only problem is citing the source. Can I use your name for this? Or can you please let me know your sources… TIA.

  4. Jagoda says:

    Do you know Le Mercure Galant was the first magazine about fashion directed for men?

  5. Stacy says:

    Hello Nikola, may I please know from which web sources you got this info from? Thanks

    • Nikola says:

      Hi Stacy

      Well to tell you the truth I can’t remember. This post was originally written back in 2008 for one magazine here in Croatia. I gathered information from several web resources. Which ones, I really cant remember. I would love to help you but I can’t and I know for sure it was not one source but numerous since there is no single web site covering this information.

  6. Samuel Lujan says:

    This artist is good..but is lacking the longest running magazine since 1879-2016 the Jehovah witness have published the Watchtower magazine and the Awake magazine is still going…and is distributed in 236 countries. Each issue has a print run of more than 42 million copies. Awake! is second, with a circulation of 41 million copies each issue.

  7. Anthony Ferguson says:

    A very interesting read. Thank you. I have noticed here in Western Australia over the past five years, the numbers of magazines decreasing (except in certain genres like tattooing, for example) and also a number of newsagents closing down altogether. There has been a steep decline in the number of sports magazines being published.

  8. DEREK says:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *