Skip to main content
Grolier Club Exhibitions

Building a Nation: 1793-1850

America’s first and still ongoing political battle intensified with the philosophical split over the power of a central government versus individual states and led to the emergence of political parties – The Federalists of George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic Republicans of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In this era magazines reflecting technical, scientific and social change and religious diversity first began to proliferate. Works by many notable authors and poets first appeared in magazines as well. 

National Magazine: or, a Political, Biographical, Historical, and Literary Repository

National Magazine: or, a Political, Biographical, Historical, and Literary Repository.

Volume 1, number 1, June 1, 1799. Richmond, Va.: James Lyon. 

The first magazine in Virginia, published in response to the imprisonment of editor James Lyon’s brother under the Alien and Sedition Acts. It provided “an extraordinary contemporary resource for the anti-Federalist, Jeffersonian, Strict Constructionist philosophy that Virginians developed to oppose the policies of Alexander Hamilton and the Washington-Adams Administrations.” 

The Port Folio

The Port Folio.

Volume 4 number 29, July 21, 1804. Philadelphia: Joseph Dennie. 

The Port Folio, was established in January 1801 by the “lay preacher” Joseph Dennie, who wrote as Oliver Oldschool. Dennie’s strong Federalist views appealed to a broad audience, and the magazine quickly became an invaluable repository of social and political comment. His rabid anti-Jeffersonian diatribes prompted federal authorities to prosecute him unsuccessfully for sedition. In 1802–03, The Port Folio published a series of poems that called out Jefferson’s relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings.

The Weekly Register

The Weekly Register.

Volume 1, number 1, September 7, 1811. Baltimore: H. Niles.

The first nineteenth-century magazine primarily devoted to news was Hezekiah Niles’s Weekly Register. Its scope and longevity were unique. It began with a subscription list of 1,500 that peaked at 4,000, but enjoyed a considerable secondary readership. It is best remembered, as its motto states, for a quarter century of trusted, balanced, and objective reporting about “the past—the present—for the future,” setting a high standard for future American magazine journalism. 

The North-American Review and Miscellaneous Journal

The North-American Review and Miscellaneous Journal.

Volume 1, number 1, May 1815. Boston: Wells and Lilly.

America’s first purely literary magazine was the long-running and influential North American Review. It became the place for American scholars to appear in print. In 1819, it published what is widely considered to be the first great American poem, William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis.”

The American Journal of Science, More Especially of Mineralogy, Geology, and the Other Branches of Natural History; Including Also Agriculture and the Ornamental as well as Useful Arts

The American Journal of Science, More Especially of Mineralogy, Geology, and the Other Branches of Natural History; Including Also Agriculture and the Ornamental as well as Useful Arts.

Volume 1, number 1, July 1818. New York: Published by J. Eastburn and Co.

The most important nineteenth-century American scientific journal. It was first edited by Benjamin Silliman, Yale professor of chemistry and mineralogy, the best-known scientist of the period and arguably the most respected. According to Frank Luther Mott, “There was a time when it was enough to prove a point in any popular American forum [by quoting] Silliman.” The journal was edited by him and then his son for nearly seventy years. It continues to be published.

The Jew; Being a Defense of Judaism Against All Adversaries, and Particularly Against the Insidious Attacks of Israel’s Advocate

The Jew; Being a Defense of Judaism Against All Adversaries, and Particularly Against the Insidious Attacks of Israel’s Advocate.

Volume 1, numbers 1–12, March 5583 [1823]– February 5585 [1824]. New York: Johnstone and Van Norden.

The first American periodical devoted to Judaism, primarily a defensive instrument against missionaries, edited by S. H. Jackson. The nineteenth century’s most prominent publisher of Jewish literature was Rabbi Isaac Leeser, who also edited its most important magazine, The Occident

Times and Seasons

Times and Seasons.

Volume 5, number 12, July 1, 1844. Nauvoo, Ill.: John Taylor. 

The second Mormon magazine and the first after the group settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. Within its pages can be found the first printing of the private journal of its patriarch, Joseph Smith. This black-bordered account of the assassination of Smith and his brother is a reflection of the continued violence that followed the sect to Salt Lake City.

The Casket, or Flowers of Literature, Wit and Sentiment

The Casket, or Flowers of Literature, Wit & Sentiment.

Volume 1, numbers 1–11, January–November 1826. Philadelphia: Atkinson & Alexander.

In June 1824, Samuel C. Atkinson and Charles Alexander issued a small format periodical, The Casket, or Flowers of Literature, Wit & Sentiment, to provide “a choice collection of amusing articles.” In January 1826, it was resurrected as a magazine and soon became the most widely circulated monthly in America. The first issue featured an anonymous poem, later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, entitled “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Santa Claus.”

The Ladies’ Magazine

The Ladies’ Magazine.

Volume 1, number 1, January 1828. Boston: Putnam & Hunt.

Already a successful novelist, Sarah Josepha Hale, changed the landscape of American magazine publishing. In 1828, shortly after the publication of her first novel Northwood, she became the first identified female editor of an American magazine, The Ladies’ Magazine, with the hope of making it a vehicle for the education of women. After its run ended in 1836, Philadelphia publisher Louis A. Godey recruited Hale to edit Godey’s Lady’s Book.

The New-England Magazine

The New-England Magazine.

Volume 1, number 1, July 1, 1831. Boston: Munroe & Francis.

New-England Magazine, founded by Joseph T. Buckingham in July 1831, was the most important literary magazine published in New England prior to the Atlantic Monthly. It featured the early writing of Oliver Wendell Holmes, most notably his series as the “Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” and some of the best-known writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Knickerbacker, or New-York Monthly Magazine

The Knickerbacker, or New-York Monthly Magazine.

Volume 1, number 1, January 1833. New York: Peabody & Co.

Knickerbocker Magazine (the name assumed after the first issue) was the distinctive product of its influential editor, Lewis Gaylord Clark, for three decades. It was a veritable guidebook to New York sensibilities, with a venerable stable of contributors that included Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and James Fenimore Cooper.

The Lady’s Book

The Lady’s Book.

Volume 8, number 1, January 1834. Philadelphia: L.A. Godey & Co.

(Godey’s) Lady’s Book was the most influential women’s magazine of the nineteenth century. Sarah Josepha Hale assumed the editorship in 1836. In addition to its fine hand-colored fashion plates and piano music, Godey’s published only original works by American authors. From a circulation of 10,000 copies in 1838, it reached 150,000 by 1860. This issue contains the first printing of “The Visionary” by Edgar Allan Poe, his first contribution to a national magazine. 

The Southern Literary Messenger, Devoted to Every Department of Literature and The Fine Arts

The Southern Literary Messenger, Devoted to Every Department of Literature and The Fine Arts.

Volume 1, number 1, August 1834. Richmond, Va.: T. W. White.

Presentation copy, inscribed by the creator and editor Thomas White. Southern Literary Messenger was the undisputed voice of Southern literature for three decades, beginning in August 1834. It afforded Edgar Allan Poe his first important literary platform as editor and contributor in 1834. He wrote sixty-eight reviews and literary appearances between February 1835 and January 1837. 

The Common School Journal

The Common School Journal.

Volume 1, number 1, November 1838. Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon. 

This journal, an early exponent of the common school movement that ultimately led to a radical transformation of the American educational system, was edited by Horace Mann. It advocated that schools should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; schools should educate boys and girls from diverse backgrounds; education should be nonsectarian and a reflection of a free society; and teachers should be well-trained professionals. 

Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and American Monthly Review

Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and American Monthly Review.

Volume 5, issue 3, September 1839. Philadelphia: William E. Burton. 

In 1841, George Graham combined two magazines he had recently acquired, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and The Casket to form Graham’s Magazine. After a slow start, with the editorship and literary talents of Edgar Allan Poe, Graham’s became the most widely circulated magazine in 1840s America. This issue contains the first printing of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic Gothic fiction tale “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine

Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine.

Volume 18, number 5, May 1841. New York: Israel Potter. 

Graham’s success was due in large part to paying contributors fairly and reliably, and demanding subscription fees up front. The decade saw a number of high-quality but less durable competitors to Graham’s, most notably Boston Miscellany, Union Magazine of Literature and Art, and Columbian Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine. These issues contain the first printing of “Descent into the Maelström” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion

The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion.

Volume 2, number 1, July 1841. Boston: W. H. S. Jordan.

The Dial (1840-1844) was arguably the most consequential review of the early nineteenth century. It was managed by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and edited by Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Dial was the official exponent of the transcendentalist movement. By turns profound, mystical, and incomprehensible, it never had more than three hundred subscribers. But by advancing the ideas of the celebration of the self and the validity of intuited religion, it still resonates today.

The United States Magazine and Democratic Review

The United States Magazine and Democratic Review.

Volume 9, number 38, August 1841. New York: J. & H. G. Langley. 

Some of the most widely circulated magazines in the first half of the nineteenth century were published by political parties. The Democratic Review was created in the 1830s to champion Jacksonian democracy. Editor John O’Sullivan extolled the virtues of the common man while criticizing the propounded aristocratic pretensions of the Whigs. This issue is notable for the first printing of “Death in the School-Room. A Fact” by Walt Whitman, his earliest known short story.

The American Review: A Whig Journal

The American Review: A Whig Journal.

Volume 1, number 2, February 1845. New York: Wiley and Putnam. 

The American Review: A Whig Journal was established in January 1845 to oppose the policies of newly elected Democrat James K. Polk. Like its political competitor The Democratic Review, it contained literature and poetry. This issue had the distinction of being the first periodical to publish “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, under the pseudonym “Quarles.”

The Lowell Offering: A Repository of Original Articles, Written by “Factory Girls."

The Lowell Offering: A Repository of Original Articles, Written by “Factory Girls."

Volume 5, June 1845. Lowell, Mass.: Misses Curtis & Farley.

The Lowell Offering was written and published by women employed in the Lowell fabric mills. It sought mostly to elevate the reputation of the working girl, but became more daring in the wake of labor unrest at the factories. Charles Dickens visited Lowell in 1842 and took with him copies of the magazine, which he later noted in American Notes to be “four hundred good solid pages which I have read from beginning to end.” 

Scientific American: The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements

Scientific American: The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements.

Volume 1, number 1, August 28, 1845. New York: Rufus Porter. 

Over the years, Scientific American has introduced the American reading public to many of its most important scientific advances, including Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877, his incandescent light bulb in 1880, and George Eastman’s Kodak camera in 1888. It also published the first advertisement for an automobile (by the Winton Motor Carriage Company) in July 1898 under the caption “Dispense with a Horse.”