No publication is so closely linked with the traditions of 20th century America as the The Saturday Evening Post. Cyrus Curtis founded The Ladies Home Journal (1883). With the succes of the Journal he founded the Curtis Publishing Company (1890). A few years later he happened upon a sixteen-page, un-illustrated weekly with a readership of less than 2,000 and virtually no paid advertising 1897). The paper's lineage indicated it was descended from Ben Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette. Curtis turned it into one of the most important periodical magazines in America. It was the most popular American magazine in the first half of the 20th century. The Post included political cartoons, artwork, literary works, and much more. The Post was especially known for its covers which were done by important illustrators like Norman Rockwell. The work of popular authors appeared in The Post. It was in The Post that Lassie first appeared. Although mundane at the time, even the advertisements make issues of the Post fascinating to modern readers. The Post came to compete wuth Look and Life. The Post was a bit different than these two magazines. It did not have the focus on current news and photography like the other two publications had.
No publication is so closely linked with the traditions of 20th century America.
Through fiction, articles, humor and incredible illustrations, "America's magazine" informed, entertained, and encouraged millions of readers. It became the looking glass in which Americans saw their lives and their nation reflected.
Cyrus Curtis founded The Ladies Home Journal (1883). With the succes of the Journal he founded the Curtis Publishing Company (1890). A few years later he happened upon a sixteen-page, un-illustrated weekly with a readership of less than 2,000 and virtually no paid advertising 1897). The paper's lineage indicated it was descended from Ben Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, which held enourmous appeal for the publisher. He paid $1,000 for the name, the Franklin tradition, and a bucketful of printer's type. Curtis then found an editor, George Horace Lorimer, who understood his vision. The two began work to turn the weekly paper into a full-fledged magazine. Lorimer set the tone and secured the efforts of the best authors and illustrators. Curtis concentrated on promotion, investing $1,250,000 in the Post, an incredible amount even by today's standards, over a 5-year period. The result was phenomenal. Circulation increased a hundredfold by 1901, and in 1909 the cover proudly proclaimed "Over 1,000,000 Copies Sold!" America's magazine was in full swing.
The magazine took its title from the fact that there were at least two mail deliveries a day in mostt cities. Some actually had more. The U.S. Post Office did not shift to one delivery untill the 1950s. The Post came in the Saturday evening's mail delivery. Many boys made extra money by signing up subscriptions and delivering the magazines.
The Post experienced financial problems and bankruptsy was a rel possibility (1899). The management came up with a srtegy to increase sales. They recruited Post Boys to go door to door and sell the magazine. They also delivered it like a newspaper. As it ws on Satuday, it interferdless with school.
Oneauthor reports, "“In less than a year, the scheme for selling the magazine through boys had succeeded so well that their share of the sales now exceeded the entire circulation for July 1898. By 1900 the circulation of the Post had soared to 193,544. At 13,947 copies a week, the Post boys’ sales represented 7.2 percent of an issues circulation. They had become a fixed asset in the distribution system of The Saturday Evening Post”. (Cohn, p. 189.) Boys not only helped save the Post, they became proiminanrlty featured inside the magazine. The Post prominately developed the image of hard working, industrious boys, essentially the Horatio Alger imge of hard work rewarded. Some of Norman Roickwell's best remenbered covers featured boys, especially in the early years. Ahd the Post had numerous articles about hard wok and financial success. Eventually the Post shited entirely to mail delivery. I am not entirely sure
when this occurred.
The original magazine focus was literary, enlived with cartoons. Gradually, the focus of the fiction, articles and humor grew to include a variety of topics and photography took on greater importance. The Post came to compete wuth Look and Life. The Post was a bit different than these two magazines. It did not have the focus on current news and photography like the other two publications had.
The Saturday Evening Post was an important vehicle for authors. The Post carried the work of many important authors. We do not yet have a list of the authors. Some books were serialized in the The Post. One notable work was Lassie Come Home by Eric Mowbray Knight. Actually the book with an expanded version of the story was only published after the story proved so popular in The Post. More common was short stories.
The Satutday Evening Post was an important magazine in American families. Imagery from the Satuday Evening Post and later Life and Look were very important to Americans in the years before television. It must be remembered in the pre-television era that there were far fewer views of the outside world. Many families awaited the arrival of the Post. There was someting in the magazine to appeal to everyone in the family, including the children.
It is the covers from the Saturday Evening Post that most of us remember today. As the magazine began to take its familiar shape, covers diversified as well, displaying the work of top illustrators including, N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker , Harrison Fischer, John Falter, Steven Dohanos and of course, the beloved Norman Rockwell. The Saturday Evening Post grew in popularity and became an American institution with an influence unequaled by any other publication. These cover illustrations are fascinating because they are wonderful, usually clever period pieces. They are epecially useful for HBC because they generally portray contemporry clothing and, unlike many photographs that HBC has archived, these covers are all dated.
Cohn, Jan. “The Business Ethic for Boys: The Saturday Evening Post and the Post Boys', The Business History Review. Vol. 61, 2 (Summer 1987), pp. 185-215.
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