by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Just a couple of weeks ago, media firm Meredith, which just purchased last November the parent company of the venerable news magazine, TIME (yes, it’s all caps), for $2.8 million, announced it was selling the empire, which includes such magazines as People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Entertainment Weekly.
Meredith’s deal, which included selling $650 million of the combined firms to the petrochemical billionaries Charles and David Koch, included borrowing $3.6 billion, but it was quickly stated that it was more interested in lifestyle magazines in the portfolio like Better Homes & Gardens and Martha Stewart Living and that it would sell TIME and others., including Fortune, Money, and Sports Illustrated.
TIME, like Better Homes & Gardens, dates back to the Homestead’s interpretive era, debuting in March 1923 under the guidance of two recent Yale University graduates, business manager Henry Luce and editor-in-chief Britton Hadden. The magazine was designed to provide brief synopses of news items from the domestic and international scenes, as well as entertainment and sports, and to be read within an hour.
After Hadden’s untimely death in early 1929, Luce took total control of the magazine and built an empire that ultimately produced over 100 magazines, including Fortune (1930) and Sports Illustrated (1954). TIME also reflected Luce’s ardent support of the Republican Party until his death in 1967 at which point the magazine was at its peak of readership and influence.
In 1989, parent company Time, Inc. purchased Warner Communications to create a massive media company reflecting consolidation of large firms in the U.S. A spinoff of Time, Inc. occurred in 2014, but, by then, the gradual decline of print media had a significant effect on the magazine, which just celebrated its 90th anniversary. Then, came the Meredith acquisition and recent announcement of the sale of TIME and other magazines.
Today’s “Read All About It” entry highlights a 9 April 1928 issue of the magazine, a copy of which is in the Homestead’s collection. It sports the classic cover with the red border and feastures the standard portrait of a newsworthy figure, in this case oilman Harry Ford Sinclair.
Sinclair was a key figure in the Teapot Dome scandal, in which his company was given, in 1922, a lease on federal land in Wyoming by Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, who kindly offered the same deal to Los Angeles oil tycoon Edward Doheny in the Elk Hills west of Bakersfield. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the lease cancelled and Sinclair went on trial that fall on fraud and corruption charges. A mistrial was declared by the judge when it was learned Sinclair hired a private detective to tail members of the jury.
When the issue was published, Sinclair was about to be retried on contempt of court charges and the magazine covered the events leading up to the new trial, noting that he was already sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of the United States Senate in its investigations. He was found guilty of the contempt charge and fought the two convictions to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in June 1929.
Sinclair served his time in a District of Columbia facility, working as a druggist (his first occupation) and allegedly receiving favors while behind bars. Released in 1930, Sinclair returned to running his oil company, before retirement in 1949. He died in Pasadena seven years later and is buried at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.
Other items of national interest in the magazine include tidbits about the upcoming presidential election in November, including coverage of Republican contender (and winner of the fall voting) Secertary of Commerce Herbert Hoover; a story about criticism of Abraham Lincoln by the son of President John Tyler (1841-1845), who TIME called “historically a dwarf;” and the bombings of the Chicago homes of a U.S. Senator and a judge.
International items included news from England; France; Germany; Italy (including a good deal of material on Roman Catholicism, a big issue in the U.S. presidential campaign because of Hoover’s opponent. New York Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for the office, and on dictator Benito Mussolini); China; and Mexico, where President Plutarco Elias Calles’ signing of oil laws considered by the magazine as “confiscatory” was excoriated.
Regular sections included “Comings & Goings,” “Sport;” “Science” (including a story about an Iowa family with four sets of twins); “Music” (including a brief piece on conductor Arturo Toscanini and an interesting one on Jewish contributors to serious music); “Religion;” “Business” (including a period of “March madness” at the New York Stock Exchange and concern “that stock prices are too high,” a prognosis foreshadowing the crash of October 1929); “Art;” “Education” (including an interesting acceptance letter by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to speak at “Fisk University (Negro)”); and others.
Also of note are letters from readers. Sidney Henderson of Chicago lampooned President Calvin Coolidge through the popular culture phenomenon of Charles Lindbergh’s famed trans-Atlantic flight of the prior year, claiming that if Coolidge and Lindbergh were to be in an airplane crash together “the loss of Lindbergh would dwarf the loss of Coolidge” and that Franklin D. Roosevelt (a rival of Al Smith for the Democratic nomination for president) “would fly with Lindbergh like a shot.”
C. Lockhart of Kansas City, meanwhile, expressed his displeasure at how TIME talked about the revived Ku Klux Klan, which peaked in membership and notoriety in the mid-1920s. Lockhart wrote that the magazine, which appealed “to the un-American elements in our population,” erred when it “infers the membership of the Klan to be weak-minded” but that it would take more than “feeble attacks to stop the steady progress of the Klan.”
Ruth Morgan Nicholls, meanwhile, criticized the magazine for inconsistency in dealing with matters pertaining to women. She was concerned that, in one issue, these were included in “regular headings with those of the men,” but that, in the next, there was “some obscure, uninteresting, and usually unflattering incident.” She asked, “just when does a woman cease to be PEOPLE and become WOMEN?” To her, when an “event is flattering it belongs to men; when unflattering, to women.”
She went on to say that “the world has changed since some of you were young” and that “it hurts some of you to see Women doing so-called ‘Men’s work’.” She counseled that the magazine should “better face the music and make the best of it” because “we of the younger generation have studied the position of women in the past, and we are NEVER going back to utter dependence.”
Finally, advertisements are always interesting to peruse and a few examples are provided here for amusement and edification. It’s always essential for we at the Homestead to make connections between the past and present and it’s generally more interesting when those links can be established with entities like TIME (well, for as long as it survives) that existed then and now.