Luce Founds Magazine

Henry R. Luce revolutionized American journalism by introducing, with his partner Briton Hadden, the first newsmagazine. He then went on to build one of the most influential publishing empires in the United States.

Summary of Event

Henry R. Luce was born on April 3, 1898, in Tengchow, China, where his father was a Presbyterian missionary. He attended the British-run Chefoo School from 1908 to 1913 before attending the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. There he became interested in journalism and began his friendship with fellow student and aspiring journalist Briton Hadden. Hadden edited the Hotchkiss school newspaper, the Weekly Record, while Luce was the editor of the Literary Monthly. The two went on to Yale University in 1916, where they joined the staff of the Yale Daily News, Hadden becoming its chairman and Luce its managing editor. Despite service in the army in 1918-1919, both received their bachelor of arts degrees in 1920. After spending a year studying history at the University of Oxford, Luce became a reporter for the Chicago Daily News before rejoining Hadden at the Baltimore News. Magazines;Time
Time (magazine)
[kw]Luce Founds Time Magazine (Mar. 3, 1923)
[kw]Time Magazine, Luce Founds (Mar. 3, 1923)
[kw]Magazine, Luce Founds Time (Mar. 3, 1923)
Time (magazine)
[g]United States;Mar. 3, 1923: Luce Founds Time Magazine[05780]
[c]Publishing and journalism;Mar. 3, 1923: Luce Founds Time Magazine[05780]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Mar. 3, 1923: Luce Founds Time Magazine[05780]
Luce, Henry R.
Hadden, Briton
Martin, John Stuart
Luce, Clare Boothe
Larsen, Roy E.

By the fall of 1922, Luce and Hadden had succeeded in raising almost eighty-six thousand dollars in capital to start Time: The Weekly News-Magazine. The first issue appeared in late February, 1923, with a cover date of March 3, 1923. Hadden appears to have been the source of many of the ideas behind the magazine, but Luce supplied the organizational talents required to implement Hadden’s ideas. The magazine’s purpose, Hadden and Luce’s prospectus explained, was to fill the informational gap that existed “because no publication has adapted itself to the time which busy men are able to spend on simply keeping informed.” Major emphasis was placed on conciseness; initially, no entry was to be more than four hundred words. Perhaps most important, the young publishers did not even pay lip service to reportorial objectivity. “Time gives both sides,” they declared, “but clearly indicates which side it believes to have the stronger position.”

Through a preferred-stock arrangement, Luce and Hadden retained full control of Time Incorporated. Time Inc. Hadden was president from 1923 to 1925, when Luce assumed that title. Hadden largely handled the editorial side for four years while Luce was business manager; they then traded roles.

The basic subscription rate was five dollars per year, with a cover price of fifteen cents an issue. Time started with nine thousand subscribers recruited on a three-week trial basis through a mail campaign. The first years were financially difficult, but by the end of 1927, Time was on its way to success. Circulation had risen to 175,000, annual advertising revenue was almost half a million dollars, and the magazine showed a profit. After Hadden’s death in late February, 1929, from a streptococcus infection, Luce acquired majority control of the undertaking. Roy E. Larsen, a Harvard graduate who joined Time during the planning stage and was its first circulation manager, became Luce’s second in command as president of Time Inc. from 1939 to 1960.

The cover of the first issue featured a picture of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Joseph G. Cannon, on the occasion of his retirement from Congress. Thereafter, the cover almost invariably featured a portrait of an individual. Time’s news coverage similarly focused on personalities. Along with conciseness, Time boasted of its comprehensive coverage of “all available information on all subjects of importance and general interest.” Entries were arranged by subject matter into departments. Departments in the first issue that became permanent features were “National Affairs” (later shortened to “The Nation”), “Foreign News” (later retitled “The World”), “Books,” “Art,” “The Theatre” (expanded in 1958 to include television and renamed “Show Business”), “Cinema,” “Music,” “Education,” “Religion,” “Medicine,” “Finance” (later divided into “U.S. Business” and “World Business”), “Sport,” “The Press” (newspapers and magazines), and “Milestones” (a column of brief paragraphs recording births, marriages, divorces, and deaths of well-known personalities). A “Letters” department was added in Time’s second year and became one of the magazine’s most popular features.

After Hadden’s death, his cousin John Stuart Martin became managing editor, acting in that position until 1937. By that date, circulation had passed the 750,000 mark. Martin was largely responsible for Time’s distinctive style: an aura of omniscience coupled with what one historian of American magazines has termed “use of word coinages, blends, puns, inverted syntax, esoteric words, tropes and epithets of various kinds.” Time’s contributions to the American language include the popularization of the words “tycoon,” “pundit,” and “kudos.” Another feature of Time was its proclivity for the “upended sentence,” the most famous example of which is its often-repeated introduction to death notices, “As it must to all men, death came last week to . . .”

Occasional full-color covers began as early as 1929, but use of color in the body of the magazine did not come until 1945. At first, Time relied for copy largely on rewriting newspaper clippings, particularly from The New York Times. Contemporary newspapers adhered to a rigid structure developed by the national wire services, such as the Associated Press, whereby all the important facts were jammed into the first paragraph, or “lead.” Time rewrote the stories in dramatic narrative form, with a beginning, middle, and end. Another favorite Time technique to make old news appear fresh was to lace accounts with colorful but mostly insignificant details such as the appearance, ages, or middle names of persons in the news. Only in the late 1930’s did Time begin to build up its own staff of reporters and stringers. Even then, the final product followed a standardized formula. Reporters’ stories were heavily edited, writers had little autonomy, and no authors’ names, or bylines, were attached to entries.

Even while Time was still in shaky financial condition, Luce was looking to expand. In 1924, he and Hadden became publishers of the new Saturday Review of Literature, but they withdrew from involvement two years later. In 1928, Time Inc. launched an advertising trade journal titled Tide, which the company sold in 1930. Luce’s willingness to take risks was shown by his decision to launch a new monthly business magazine, Fortune, Fortune (magazine)
Magazines;Fortune in February, 1930, when the economy was reeling from the shock of the stock market crash. Covering far more than business and finance, Fortune included first-rate, in-depth analysis of national politics, foreign affairs, and developments in art and culture. Luce also acquired Architectural Forum in the early 1930’s. Roy E. Larsen was responsible for introducing, in 1931, a weekly radio program called The March of Time
March of Time, The (radio program) broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System. The program, modeled on Time magazine, reenacted the more important news stories of the week. A monthly newsreel version produced by Twentieth Century-Fox was begun in 1935. The March of Time continued on the radio until 1945, and the newsreel lasted for another six years before transfer to television. The television show was terminated in 1954.

Next to Time, Luce’s most important innovation was the introduction of the weekly picture magazine Life in November, 1936. Life (magazine)
Life was made possible by technological advances in photography and photoengraving that had been made independent of Luce. Luce’s contribution lay in recognizing the mass-audience appeal of photographs. Photography;Life (magazine) That potential had first been exploited in Germany, and the German photographers Luce brought over to advise him were responsible for what became Life’s most distinctive feature—the grouping together of photographs into “photoessays” in which pictures largely substituted for words. Life was an immediate sales success. Circulation reached 500,000 within four weeks and 1.7 million by late in 1937. Financially, however, Life was a money loser during its first years, and it almost bankrupted Time Inc. Life did not begin to make money until early in 1939, when circulation passed the 2 million mark.


Time’s most direct antecedent was the Literary Digest, the pages of which were largely filled with quotations from newspapers. The Literary Digest focused on the conflict of editorial opinion, not on presenting a comprehensive summary of the news. Time’s success stimulated a host of imitators. Only two, however, survived to remain long-term competitors. News-week (the hyphen was later dropped) was started in February, 1933, by former Time staffer Thomas S. Martyn. Martyn, Thomas S.
Newsweek (magazine) Its continuing financial losses led to Martyn’s ouster and Newsweek’s merger in February, 1937, with Today, another would-be Time rival edited by former New Deal Brain Truster Raymond Moley. Moley, Raymond Generous financial infusions from its chief backer, Vincent Astor, kept Newsweek afloat until its purchase in the 1960’s by The Washington Post placed the magazine on a more solid competitive footing vis-à-vis Time. Time’s second major competitor was United States News (later U.S. News & World Report), begun in early 1933 by conservative syndicated columnist David Lawrence.

Like Time, Life had its rivals. The most successful was Look, launched in early 1937. Luce’s innovations had an impact reaching beyond the magazine realm. Time’s demonstration of the existence of a large middle-class audience for synthesis led many newspapers to introduce news analysis in their own pages, in the form of weekly reviews and daily commentaries. Life gave a major boost to the new way of reporting events known as photojournalism, whereby visual images became the primary carriers of stories.

At first, Time was largely apolitical, lacking even an editorial page. Its attitude toward politics and politicians was basically irreverent and skeptical. By the late 1930’s, however, Luce was moving to a more highly politicized stance. The potential influence represented by the circulation of his magazines inflated his sense of self-importance, and he had grown increasingly disillusioned with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, blaming its hostility toward business for prolonging the Depression. Also pulling him into politics was his second marriage. Luce had married Lila Hotz in 1923; they had two children. He was divorced from her and in 1935 married Clare Boothe Brokaw, a playwright and former editor of Vanity Fair. She went on to become active in Republican Party affairs and was a member of the House of Representatives from Connecticut from 1943 to 1947.

Thinking that the Republican Old Guard was hopelessly out of touch with the electorate, Luce aspired to formulate a moderate Republicanism that could offer a viable alternative to the New Deal. Foreign policy became the major focus of Luce’s political activism. By 1939, he had become convinced that Germany’s Adolf Hitler Hitler, Adolf represented a threat not only to the United States but also to Western civilization as a whole. He personally favored U.S. intervention after the outbreak of the war in Europe. He worked through his magazines to alert the country to the dangers that would result from a Hitler triumph, and he played a leading role in the capture of the 1940 Republican presidential nomination by the pro-Allied Wendell Willkie. Willkie, Wendell In an influential article, “The American Century,” published in the February 17, 1941, issue of Life under his own name, he set forth his vision of the future role of the United States in spreading throughout the world the benefits of democratic capitalism.

Sometime between late 1943 and 1944, Luce became alarmed over the potential threat of the Soviet Union. Much to the unhappiness of many members of his staff, Luce had his magazines take an increasingly anti-Soviet line. By the late 1940’s, he was attacking the containment policy of President Harry S. Truman Truman, Harry S. as too defensive. The transformation of Luce into a hard-line Cold Warrior was reinforced by his longtime support for China’s Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang Kai-shek Like most other members of what might be termed the missionary lobby, Luce had embraced Chiang as the instrument for the Americanization of China and blamed the Truman administration’s lack of support for Chiang’s defeat by the Chinese Communists. In 1952, Life openly and Time more subtly supported Republican presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower Eisenhower, Dwight D. and the Republican platform’s call for an aggressive policy to roll back Communism.

Eisenhower named Clare Boothe Luce to the post of U.S. ambassador to Italy, but Henry Luce did not have much influence in the new administration. Although his magazines refrained from open criticism, he was privately disappointed at the administration’s failure to carry through on its promise of a more aggressive foreign policy. As an alternative way of combating Communism, Luce took up championship of the glories of the Western European cultural tradition. Starting in the late 1940’s, he required that each issue of Life carry at least one “serious offering” on the great art, religions, and ideas of Western civilization. Luce strongly backed U.S. involvement in Vietnam; Time even edited its own Vietnam correspondent’s dispatches to accord with Luce’s interventionist position.

Luce retired as editor in chief of Time Inc. in 1964. He died of a heart attack on February 28, 1967. Even before Luce stepped down, cracks had begun to appear in his empire. The consistently money-losing Architectural Forum was given as a gift to the American Planning and Civic Association in 1964. Faced with the competition of more narrowly focused business news periodicals, Luce in the 1940’s directed Fortune to limit its coverage exclusively to business matters. Its shift from monthly to biweekly publication in 1982 undercut what had been its forte of in-depth analysis. The rise of television hit all magazines hard. Life continued to prosper because of its color pictures and advertising displays as long as television remained black-and-white. By the 1960’s, however, Life began to slide in both circulation and advertising. Its end came with the issue of December 29, 1972. Life was resurrected in October, 1978, as a monthly publication focusing on feature articles rather than news, but the new Life never came near the circulation of its namesake.

During Luce’s last years, Time came under increasing attack for its politically motivated slanting of the news. Under his successors, the magazine drifted toward a bland middle-of-the-roadism politically. Deeper problems remained: oversimplification of complex issues, masses of trivial and insignificant details, and exaggeration of the role of the individual “newsmaker.” Much of Time’s remaining reputation was shredded by a libel suit brought by Israeli general Ariel Sharon in 1985. Although Time was saved from paying damages by a constitutional technicality, the trial exposed the shoddiness of Time’s reportorial and editorial practices. Worse, circulation remained stagnant, at approximately 4.5 million, from the mid-1960’s through the 1980’s, despite the vast expansion of the magazine’s target audience of college graduates. In a bid to boost sales, Time underwent an extensive format revamping in 1988 (including the addition of bylines) that was accompanied by a shift from “hard” to more “soft” news.

By the 1980’s, Time Inc. had become a gigantic conglomerate with a primary business of entertainment rather than journalism. Its magazines division had become one of four separately incorporated subsidiaries. The other three were Home Box Office (HBO), a leading cable television programmer; the American Television and Communication Corporation, the second-largest cable television system; and Time Books. Within the magazine division, the stars were Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated (magazine) and People. People (magazine)
Sports Illustrated had been launched in 1954 to appeal to the growing market of young and affluent sports fans. First appearing in 1974, People jumped within two years to a circulation of 2.5 million thanks to its photograph-laden focus on celebrities. The shift was personified by J. Richard Munro, Munro, J. Richard the chief executive officer of Time Inc. from 1980 to 1990. Munro had come to the top spot after first serving as publisher of Sports Illustrated and group vice president for video. He was a moving force behind the controversial merger in 1990 with rival entertainment conglomerate Warner Communications to form Time Warner, which became one of the leading global information technology, media, and entertainment companies. Magazines;Time
Time (magazine)

Further Reading

  • Baughman, James L. Henry R. Luce and the Rise of the American News Media. 1987. Reprint. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Essentially favorable biography sets its subject in the broader context of twentieth century news media. Explains how Luce’s innovative summary and synthesis of the news using a short-story format and visual images changed American journalism. Portrays Luce as a proponent of Republican Party politics and middle-class American values. Includes bibliography and index.
  • Busch, Noel F. Briton Hadden: A Biography of the Co-founder of “Time.” 1949. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975. Thorough account of Hadden’s role in creating Time and developing its style. Written by Hadden’s cousin, who wrote for the magazine in its early years. Very valuable for understanding the origins of Time, but does little to illuminate Hadden’s character.
  • Clurman, Richard M. To the End of Time: The Seduction and Conquest of a Media Empire. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. A detailed account of the wheeling and dealing involved in Time Inc.’s merger with Warner Communications. Sharply indicts Time’s top management.
  • Donovan, Hedley. Right Places, Right Times: Forty Years in Journalism, Not Counting My Paper Route. New York: Henry Holt, 1989. An insider’s look at the workings of the Luce empire during the post-World War II years by a man who rose to be editorial director of Time Inc. from 1960 to 1964 and succeeded Luce as editor in chief from 1964 to 1979.
  • Elson, Robert T. Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise. 3 vols. New York: Atheneum, 1968-1986. Official company history uses oral histories and records in the Time Inc. archives not available to outside researchers. First volume covers 1923 to 1940: the founding of Time and Life, Time’s approach to journalism and the development of its style, and the personalities of the individuals involved. Remarkably candid for an official history, but nevertheless portrays Time Inc. very favorably. Includes photographs and index.
  • Griffith, Thomas. Harry and Teddy: The Turbulent Friendship of Press Lord Henry R. Luce and His Favorite Reporter, Theodore H. White. New York: Random House, 1995. Describes the friendship and working relationship between Luce and White, with particular focus on White’s reporting on China. Includes photographs.
  • Herzstein, Robert E. Henry R. Luce, “Time,” and the American Crusade in Asia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Focuses on Luce’s publishing activities aimed at shaping U.S. policy toward Asian nations. Includes illustrations, endnotes, and index.
  • Kobler, John. Luce: His Time, Life, and Fortune. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968. Lively and balanced account of Luce’s founding of and control over Time Inc., its internal feuds, its influence in foreign affairs, and Luce’s skill as a businessman. Written by a senior editor of the Saturday Evening Post and first published as a series of articles in that magazine. Includes photographs of key individuals, reproductions of covers of publications, cartoons, and bibliography.
  • Luce, Henry. The Ideas of Henry Luce. Edited by John K. Jessup. New York: Atheneum, 1969. Collection of Luce’s speeches, article excerpts, and other statements on journalism, politics, law and order, business, art and architecture, Christianity, the New Deal, communism, China, American presidents, and many other subjects. Useful for understanding Luce’s biases, which influenced his publications and provoked much controversy. Includes a brief insightful biographical introduction by a former aide to Luce.
  • Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines. 5 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938-1968. Massive work by a leading historian of American magazines. The account of Time up to the early 1960’s in volume 5 provides especially interesting information on matters of physical format and style.
  • Swanberg, W. A. Luce and His Empire: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972. Polemical biography, based on substantial research, castigates Luce’s motives, commitments, and achievements. Argues primarily that Luce was a megalomaniac who used Time and its sister publications to try to shape U.S. policies. Engaging and entertaining, but lacks subtlety and balance, often ignores historical contexts, and presents some trivial information. Includes a splendid collection of photographs, endnotes, and index.
  • Tebbel, John, and Mary Ellen Zuckerman. The Magazine in America, 1741-1990. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. History draws on scholarly and popular examinations of the periodical press, primarily in the post-1918 years.

Lippmann Helps to Establish The New Republic

Forbes Magazine Is Founded

Reader’s Digest Is Founded

Ross Founds The New Yorker

Luce Founds Fortune Magazine

Luce Launches LIFE Magazine