Newspaper & Magazine Origins

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Here's a look at the early days of some popular newspapers and magazines. We'll save the story of the humble dormitory origins of mental_floss for another time.

The New York Times

Founded in 1851, the Times made serious history just 20 years later: In 1871, its muckraking brought down the famous Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall. (The term "muckraking" hadn't actually been coined at the time, however; it was an early-1900s phenomenon.) Bought by Adolph Ochs in 1896, it was soon given its famous slogan "All the News that's Fit to Print," which was more than just a boast: it was also a jab at its rivals' infamous "yellow journalism." The Times moved into new digs on 42nd Street in 1904, giving its name to the surrounding area, which is of course known today as Times Square.

The Washington Post

Like the Times, the Post—one of the city's most venerable non-government institutions—produced high-end copy right from its founding in 1877. Unlike the Times, it needed some extra help to increase circulation. In 1889, in a bid to get people excited about reading the paper, the Post management commissioned a theme song. The resulting tune, named simply "The Washington Post," is often heard by oblivious spectators at patriotic parades: It's the work of John Philip Sousa.

Time and Newsweek

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In 1923, Briton Hadden and Henry Luce—old buddies from the tony Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, as well as Yale—got together and decided to start a magazine. They thought at first that they'd call it Chance or Destiny, which is a little strange considering that they're opposing concepts. But the magazine's real destiny was to be named Time. Although the men were only 24, they were able to raise a boatload of cash from wealthy family friends. Still, the first issue was met with "a burst of total apathy on the part of the U.S. public," as well as some pretty strong criticism from more established editors. Undeterred, the pals redesigned the magazine, adding a snazzy red border to the cover, then crossed their fingers and put out a second issue.

By 1929, the mag was firmly established, and Henry Luce was well on his way to becoming a legend. (Hadden died tragically that year at 31.) Like the Pepsi to Time's Coke, Newsweek—or as it was then known, News-week—got its foothold just a few years later, during the Depression. Also like Pepsi, Newsweek was an immediate direct rival to Time; its founder had left the latter magazine with hopes of "run[ning] Henry Luce out of business."

Scientific American

Rufus Porter invented a number of things in his lifetime—clocks, cameras, and an early washing machine—but none of his inventions had nearly as much success as Scientific American, which essentially started as a pamphlet advertising his latest creations. Later on, the magazine would feature articles from more accomplished inventors (Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison), but we think its greatest claim to fame is its prediction in 1849 of underground mass transportation. Readers howled at this for about 20 years, until workers started building a tunnel in lower Manhattan that would become, indeed, the New York subway system.

Cosmopolitan

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It wasn't always about sex. Actually, when Cosmo started up in 1886, it wasn't about sex at all, nor was it targeted at women, nor was it lowbrow: In 1892, a single issue featured stories by Henry James, James Russell Lowell (the poet and founding editor of The Atlantic Monthly), and Theodore Roosevelt. Early stories, according to Charles Panati, covered "such disparate subjects as how ancient people lived, climbing Mount Vesuvius, the life of Mozart, plus European travel sketches and African wild animal adventures."

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January 29, 2009 - 3:02am
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