Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Growth of Magazine Popularity in America


The first ever published magazine, considered by many to be the precursor to those which followed around the world, was produced in 1663 by theologian and poet Johann Rist. Lasting for five years, it led the way to many other periodicals produced across England, France, and Italy to satisfy the reading appetites of young intellectuals. Before long, other types of gazettes sprouted up, some strictly aimed at gentlemen and others for ladies, including those published strictly for amusement. Le Mercure Galant, later renamed Mercure de France, was one such magazine credited to French writer and playright Jean Donneau de Vize. It contained some news, songs, verses, and gossip. The rag was very popular in France. 

Here in America, the first published magazine was produced in 1741 by Philadelphia printer Andrew Bradford, who beat out his newspaper rival Benjamin Franklin in the race to first introduce a magazine to the public. Unfortunately, neither or their publications enjoyed success. Bradford's lasted a whopping three months, and Franklin's lasted only three months longer. Here's an example of each, with Bradford's on the left and Franklin's on the right.


Their lackluster performance didn't deter him or others from launching new magazines, however. Franklin later went on to publish the more successful Gazette which ended up outliving him by ten years. Even after that run, his print shop went on to house the beginnings of highly successful Saturday Evening Post. A fellow named Charles Alexander decided to print a poem by a blind girl, and once he had 200 people subscribed to receive the poem, he approached the print shops new owner, Samuel Atkinson, with the idea of beginning a gazette to be printed in time for a Saturday delivery. The post went on to chronicle the changes in the country for generations. But even besides that magazine, by the end of the 18th century, there were more than one hundred magazines that had at least given publication a shot.

One of the first ladies' magazines to be published in America with raging success is one you've probably read about in some favorite historical fiction.
Godey's Lady's Book was also published in Philadelphia in 1830 by Louis A. Godey and enjoyed success for forty-eight years. It's circulation started at ten thousand subscribers but jumped to forty thousand within two years. By 1860, there were 150,000 people (presumably women) subscribing to Godey's. While it contained the usual stories, poetry, and articles of interest, it was probably most known for the hand-tinted fashion plate included at the beginning of each publication. There were also illustrations for patterns that included measurements for women to sew at home. Later, the magazine even included a piece of sheet music for piano. It is thought that an image of a Christmas tree on one cover was influential in more Americans putting up the decoration in their homes.

Fashion Plate from an 1865 Issue

Embroidery Pattern From an Issue of Godey's Lady's Book

For a real peek into the world of Godey's, here is a link to a free streaming of an 1840 archived copy: GODEY'S LADY'S BOOKAnd for more information specifically on Godey's, check out Janalyn Voigt's post on the topic from a few years back here on HHH. 

Many other magazines have a rich historical beginning and long-lasting life in America. By the 1800s, besides magazines geared specifically toward men or women, there were magazines for the literary minded, the outdoorsman, the political-minded, animal lovers, and lovers of science. In fact, one of the first special-interest magazines produced in the land was The American Journal of Science founded in 1818. That magazine still exists today. I'd call that quite a run.


While researching my upcoming novel Polly (Apron Strings, Book One, releasing January 2024), I was surprised to discover that there was a long-standing history of magazines and journals aimed at the hospitality industry. My heroine Polly subscribes to The American Restaurant in 1920. 

Although early on only the wealthy could afford magazine subscriptions or even the cost of single issues from newsstands, that changed, of course, as time went on. Today we can enjoy most of our favorite magazines by mail, from the library, online or by device, and many others are offered for free, paid for by the cost of advertising.

Do you still read magazines? Do you have a favorite today or from the past? 

If you are receiving this post by email, please go directly to the HHHistory blog to leave a comment or reply.

Read and write on,

Last time I shared the opening line from The Deepest Sigh. This one is one from The Softest Breath, the second in the Echoes of the Heart series. Remember Jacob Hessman, a character from The Deepest Sigh? In book two, Jacob has his own journey to take and story to tell, as does my heroine, Gwen Smith.

Check out the series here.

Naomi sends out monthly encouragements and updates to her newsletter subscribers, including sneak peaks, cover reveals, and occasional giveaways. To stay in touch, she'd love it if you signed up to join her.


  1. Thank you for posting today! I love magazines and subscribed to Ladies Home Journal for more than 20 years. I think it was 2016 when subscribers got the sad news that they weren't publishing it any more. After that I tried a digital subscription to a different magazine but it just wasn't the same so I haven't kept it up. It was a sad day when I couldn't get that magazine any more. Once in a while I will treat myself to one on the news stand, but it's just not the same.

    1. Oh, I know what you mean about the digital versions. Magazines are like comfort food, and they don't feel the same digitally, even when they makes that little swishing sound when you click the pages. I subscribed for many years to The Writer, Countryside, Home School Enrichment, and briefly to a few others, but it's been a long time. I still like to go check out magazines at the library in certain seasons.