Skip to main content
Grolier Club Exhibitions

The Information Age: 1950-2000

Magazines published in the second half of the twentieth century reflected the revolutionary advances in music and art, the role of women and society in general.  Since their inception, magazines had always functioned as an analog internet of information. With the onset of television and the computer age, many of the old stalwarts of publishing fell victim, while others embraced innovative hybrid and digital formats that continue to thrive as important sources of specialized information, literature and investigative journalism. 

6.1 Seventeen.jpg


Volume 3, number 9, September 1944. Philadelphia: Triangle Publications, Inc. 

Seventeen, launched by media mogul Walter Annenberg in September 1944, succeeded with a formula of fashion and romance to appeal to teenage girls. Seventeen gave a start to star-crossed poet and writer Sylvia Plath, publishing her first short story, “And Summer Will Not Come Again,” in August 1950. Circulation exceeded two million in 2017, when it changed its focus to a digital market.

6.2 The Atlantic.jpg

The Atlantic.

Volume 176, number 1, July 1945. Concord, N.H.: The Atlantic Monthly Company.

After leading the Manhattan Project that developed the Atomic Bomb, Vannevar Bush advocated for science to refocus its efforts away from destruction towards creating a vehicle to transform an information explosion into a knowledge explosion. This is the first printing of his visionary essay “As We May Think” in which he postulated and correctly anticipated a “memory machine” to achieve that end. The article is widely recognized as an introduction to today’s digital information age.  

6.3 One.jpg


Volume 1, number 2, February 1953. Los Angeles: One Incorporated. 

The first “national legally sanctioned organization dedicated to the promulgation of information on Homosexuality.” A magazine that deals “primarily with homosexuality from the scientific historical and critical point of view ... to sponsor educational programs, lectures and concerts for the aid and benefit of social variants... to sponsor research and promote the integration into society of such persons whose behavior and inclinations vary from the current moral and social standards.”

6.4 Playboy.jpg

Playboy: Entertainment for Men.

Volume 1, number 1, [December] 1953. Chicago: Playboy.

Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy in December 1953 with financing that included a $1,000 loan from his mother. He didn’t include a cover date, not knowing whether there would be a second issue. The mission statement proudly proclaimed, “we are filling a publishing need only slightly less important than the one just taken by the Kinsey Report.” Circulation peaked at seven million in 1972. 

6.5 Sports Illustrated.jpg

Sports Illustrated.

Volume 1, number 1, August 16, 1954. New York: Time-Life. 

Sports Illustrated is the most successful sports magazine in American history. Time-Life launched it on August 16, 1954, but sales proved disappointing for a decade, because of a disproportionate focus on high-brow sports like golf, polo, and yachting. Circulation skyrocketed with the meteoric rise in popularity of professional football and basketball. New editor André Laguerre began using full-color photography of the week’s sporting events and introduced the now immensely popular annual swimsuit issue.

6.6 Berkeley Barb.jpg

Berkeley Barb.

Volume 1, number 1, August 13, [1965]. Berkeley, Calif.: [publisher not identified].

After World War II, the McCarthy period on the one hand and Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin on the other proved problematic for the American radical Left. A fresh wave of leftist publications, self-styled as counter-culture, cropped up at the height of the hippie movement, including the Berkeley Barb. Though many reformist magazines continue to be published, social and political movements have largely moved to the internet to organize, publicize, and galvanize.

6.7 Rolling Stone.jpg

Rolling Stone.

Advertisers’ preview edition, undated [November 1967]. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.

Rolling Stone was founded by two refugees from Ramparts: Ralph J. Gleason, with three decades of music journalism to his credit, and twenty-one-year-old Jann Wenner. Its mission statement called the tabloid “a new publication reflecting what we see are the changes in rock and roll and the changes related to rock and roll . . . about the things that the music embraces.” Rolling Stone remains the most influential force in American music publishing.

6.8 New York.jpg

New York.

Volume 1, number 1, April 8, 1968. New York: New York Magazine.

In 1968, Clay Felker’s New York provided a new platform for Tom Wolfe and writers such as Jimmy Breslin and Frank Rich to cover the Big Apple in a new, hip fashion, and also to report and opine on national issues. The ultimate “city magazine” it continues to brilliantly and concisely keep its finger on the pulse of vital issues affecting New Yorkers. 

6.9 Esquire (new)(1).jpg

Esquire: The Magazine for Men.

Volume 69, number 4, whole number 413, April 1968. Chicago: Esquire, Inc. 

Muhammad Ali rose to iconic status as cultural and racial barriers began to fall in the 1960s-70s. After he lost his heavyweight title for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War, he was featured on the April 1968 cover of Esquire as Christian martyr St. Sebastian, one of the most thought-provoking magazine images of the twentieth century. Ali was later vindicated by the Supreme Court, which affirmed his right to register as a conscientious objector.

6.10 Ms..jpg


Preview issue, Spring 1972. New York: Majority Enterprises, Inc.

Gloria Steinem started Ms. after a forty-page insert in the December 1971 issue of New York Magazine proved wildly successful. Quoting their website, “Ms. was the first national magazine to make feminist voices audible, feminist journalism tenable and a feminist worldview available to the public.” 

6.11 National Lampoon.jpg

National Lampoon.

Volume 1, number 34, January 1973. New York: National Lampoon, Inc. 

National Lampoon began in 1970 as a spinoff of Harvard’s long-standing campus humor magazine The Harvard Lampoon, which had published a series of magazine parodies. In the 1970s, it had a far-reaching effect on American humor across entertainment media including radio, film, and theater. The most collectible issue is the iconic May 1973 cover with the caption “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog,” conceived by writer Ed Bluestone. 

6.12 People Weekly.jpg

People Weekly.

Volume 1, number 1, March 4, 1974. Chicago: Time, Inc.

The first issue of the innovative and wildly successful Time-Life publication, based on short, gossipy, largely photographic personality profiles. It has regularly set records for print and digital circulation as well as advertising revenue. 

6.13 Byte.jpg


Volume 1, number 1, September 1975. Peterborough, N.H.: Green Publishing Company. 

When people began buying kits for “home-brewed” computers, or pre-builds like the Altair, and they needed a magazine for “eclectic technologists.” In his first editorial for the ground-breaking first popular magazine devoted to computers, Carl T. Helmers wrote, “Byte is your unit of information on the state of the art of small computer systems . . . hardware, software, applications . . . to cover a complete range of ideas spanning this triumvirate of concepts.”

6.14 Macworld.jpg

Macworld: The Macintosh Magazine.

Volume 1, number 1, February 1984. San Francisco: PC World Communications. 

Macworld launched in 1984 as did the Apple Macintosh, with the first graphical user interface “for the rest of us,” meaning it cost thousands of dollars less than Xerox’s attempt some years before. Steve Jobs’ monumental influence on daily American life is still being felt.  

6.15 Wired.jpg


Volume 1, number 1, March 1993. San Francisco: Wired.

In his first editor’s letter, Louis Rossetto wrote, “There are a lot of magazines about technology. Wired is not one of them. Wired is about the most powerful people on the planet today: the Digital Generation.” Much of the content of Wired was served up in swirls of color and knocked-out type. Nicholas Negroponte, founder and director of the MIT Media Lab, served as senior columnist.

6.16 Cosmopolitan.jpg


Volume 222, number 2, February 1997. New York: Hearst Corporation. 

Helen Gurley Brown assumed the editorship of Cosmopolitan in 1965 and completely remade a declining magazine that was first published in the 19th century.  Her first issue featured an article on “the new pill that promises to make women more responsive,” just as the FDA approved birth control pills for married women in all fifty states. She repurposed the magazine for modern career women—their lives, jobs, and relationships. Inscribed by Brown to Dr. Lomazow.

6.17 McSweeney's.jpg

Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.

Volume 1, number 1, Autumn 1998. Reykjavik, Iceland: Printed by the Oddi Printing Company. 

Dave Eggers co-founded Might in 1994 to be “a Goddamn Brain Picnic for the Young and Restless.” After an unprofitable three-year run, he followed with Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, whose contributors have included Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and David Foster Wallace. McSweeney’s received the National Magazine Award for fiction in 2007, and Eggers remains a major literary force in the twenty-first century. This issue is signed by Eggers (as McSweeney) and contributor Sarah Vowell.

6.4 O.jpg

O: The Oprah Magazine.

Volume 1, number 1, May 2000. New York: Hearst Communications. 

Who might have imagined in 1900 that an African American woman would launch and appear on the cover of a magazine named O? Or that it would sell 850,000 copies at launch and grow to 2.7 million circulation before “settling back” to 2.4 million copies in mid-2017? And why would Oprah Winfrey, the first Black woman listed on Forbes 2003 list of American billionaires, want to publish a magazine? “Because I love the written word.”