The Very First Issues of 19 Famous Magazines

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These magazines have come a long way since Volume 1, Issue 1. Here's what they looked like way back in the beginning.

1. Time

Date: March 3, 1923

The cover was a portrait of House Speaker Joseph G. Cannon. Content consisted of short news bulletins, an ad for All America Cables ("when time is short and minutes count use the direct cable facilities to Central America, South America, Cuba, Porto Rico other West Indies") and, strangely, imaginary interviews with Jack Dempsey, the boy Emperor of China, John D. Rockefeller, and Princess Yolanda of Italy.

2. People

Date: March 4, 1974

The cover nods to Mia Farrow's role in The Great Gatsby and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist ("a sermon nobody sleeps through"). Inside, the story of a female bail bondsman and a particularly insensitive item from the Medics column called "Two Fatties get a new kind of lock jaw" about two overweight women who had their mouths cemented shut in order to lose weight.

3. Wired

Date: March/April 1993

“The Rolling Stone of technology” published its first issue in early 1993 with a feature about war tech, a piece on what life would be like if our appliances had computer chip brains, and a jarringly prescient look at “libraries without walls for books without pages” a full decade before ebooks were a thing people had heard of. The full issue was released on iPad in 2013 for Wired’s 20th anniversary.

4. New York Magazine

Date: April 8, 1968

On the cover, "Tom Wolfe Tells if You're a Honk or a Wonk," and inside, ads for Chut-Nut (an "exotic colonial chutney") and Canada's plot to conquer the U.S. with their refreshing Red Rose Tea.

5. Sports Illustrated

Date: August 16, 1954

The cover was a photo titled "Night Baseball in Milwaukee," showing slugger Eddie Matthews mid-swing. "Duel of the Four Minute Men: Bannister surges to victory in the heart-stirring Vancouver mile" was the big story, but the best feature was an ad for A. Harris Company Velvet Jeans: "With rhinestones flashing, our famous jeans salute the Wonderful World of Sport." Available in Italian twill-back velveteen with black, red, royal, peacock blue, or tangerine(!) stitching for only $17.95.

6. Playboy

Date: December 1953
Hugh Hefner and his friend, Eldon Sellers, sold 53,991 copies of the first Playboy from a makeshift office in Hef's kitchen. The magazine, which was undated because no one knew if there would be a second, was enormously popular... thanks in no small part to Marilyn Monroe, who graced both the cover and the centerfold. And the articles, too, which everyone read.

7. Nintendo Power

Date: July/August 1988
The Konami Code! A guide to beating Mike Tyson! The names of all the Metroid weapons! It's all here. Nintendo's magazine had a good run, but shut down last year.

8. The New Yorker

Date: Feb 21, 1925

The New Yorker’s covers have been graced by the visage of dandy Eustace Tilley (nearly) every anniversary since 1926. The character was created for the magazine by Rea Irvin for the first issue. Also in that issue: short fiction (including “Say it with Scandal” and “The Story of Manhattankind”), a few pieces of nonfiction, and the magazine’s famous cartoons.

9. Esquire

Date: Autumn 1933

The first issue laid out the magazine's editorial mission: "Esquire aims to become the common denominator of masculine interests—to be all things to all men." The mag featured work by Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett and John Dos Passos, instructions on how to order properly at a restaurant, tips for achieving the perfect putt, and an essay titled "What a married man should know (About doing the marketing and getting his own breakfast and ducking all trouble in general)."

10.Rolling Stone

Date: November 9, 1967
Rolling Stone's first cover was much less controversial than their latest: it featured a photo from story about the Monterey Pop Festival and a brief mention of the Grateful Dead ("a photographic look at a rock 'n roll group after a dope bust"), with John Lennon in "How I Won the War" on the cover. In 1967, a subscription was $5 for 6 months or $10 per year.

11. Newsweek

Date: Feb. 17, 1933
The magazine formerly known as News-week started off with a snooze, featuring a compelling lead story titled "Easing Burdens of Debt and Foreclosure: Mortgagers, Ignoring Law, soon force virtual moratoria; Legislatures Prompt to Act; Congress Considers Measures for Early Relief of Hard Pressed Farmers, other home owners."  In a clever ploy to get people to actually purchase the magazine, they put Nazis on the cover. 

12. Life

Date: November 23, 1936

On the cover: a photo of Fort Peck Dam. Inside, an article titled "10,000 Montana relief workers make whoopee on Saturday night" and a center spread called "Black Widow," in which readers were reminded that "hardly a week goes by that some newspaper doesn't carry the account of Man Killed by Black Widow Bite. . ."

13. The Atlantic Monthly

Date: November 1, 1857
The "Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics" used their first issue to print Sally Parsons Diary, but sadly, no weird ads.

14. Variety

Date: December 16, 1905

Variety's initial editorial statement: "We want you to read it. It will be interesting for no other reason than it will be conducted on original lines for a theatrical newspaper." To that end, the first issue featured an array of articles covering fads among vaudeville managers, corks, a list of new acts, and a column called "Mick Norton's reminiscences."

15. Fast Company

Date: November 1995
The premier issue of Fast Company was ahead of its time, but looks older than its years in retrospect: a lead story about groundbreaking female tech leaders (“A Woman’s Place Is in Cyberspace”), a detailed account of “How Netscape Won,” and plenty of tips for people who love tech, business, and the ins and outs of corporate ladder-climbing — including a guide to career counselors and advice from the VP of Intel.

16. ESPN The Magazine

Date: March 1998
The inaugural issue of the cable network's magazine featured four athletes they felt defined the next generation: Kobe Bryant (then just 19), Alex Rodriguez, Eric Lindros, and Kordell Stewart.

17. Harper's

Date: June 1850

At 144 pages, the first issue of Harper's consists mostly of excerpts, poems, and articles culled from other sources. There was an illustrated fashion spread of tulip bonnets and straw hats for promenade, profiles (accompanied by illustrated busts) of T. Babington Macaulay, Archibald Alison, and William H. Prescott, an article titled "Women in the East," and an excerpt of Maurice Tierney's Soldier of Fortune.

18. Tiger Beat

Date: September 1965

Way back in 1965, a little mag called Lloyd Thaxton’s Tiger Beat debuted in the U.S., much to the delight of young ladies who hadn’t lost that lovin’ feeling for the Righteous Brothers. They shared the cover with a cartoon tiger and nods to The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Mia Farrow and Chuck Berry. Lloyd Thaxton, for his part, was a co-founder and columnist. The magazine lives on in print, on the web, in the App Store. The most current issue features all eleventeen members of One Direction.

19. mental_floss


Date: 2001
Launched at Duke University by Will Pearson (our president) and Mangesh Hattikudur (our magazine's editor-in-chief), the first issue pretty well established the kinds of things we'd cover in the next dozen years: dumb laws, sumo wrestling, and things you can't sell on eBay.

Adrienne Crezo and Bryan Dugan contributed to this story. There's probably going to be a sequel, so leave a comment telling us what other magazines to look up.

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August 9, 2013 - 4:55pm
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