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Guide to the Time Inc. Fortune Publishing and Business Records
 MS 3009-RG 25

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Samantha Brown and Holly Deakyne

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on February 25, 2021
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

For the majority of Time Inc.'s existence, the company maintained a strict separation of editorial from the publishing and business side of each magazine, colloquially called the separation of "church" (editorial) and "state" (publishing). Publishing and Business Management includes the publisher, general manager, business manager, advertising sales, marketing services, letters, circulation, and public relations. The editorial side reported up to the editor-in-chief and the publishing/business side reported up to the corporate business executive which was the president prior to 1960 and the chief executive officer after. Henry Luce structured Time Inc. this way so that the business side could not (in theory) influence the editorial content of the publications. For example, the advertising sales people could not interfere with a magazine's decision to run an article on the dangers of cigarette smoking, even though it might mean losing millions of dollars in tobacco ads.

In September 1928, Time Inc. cofounder Henry Luce presented cofounder Briton Hadden with an idea for a new magazine. Luce wanted to create a magazine that would cater to the men who ran businesses in the United States. This magazine would offer business men a sophisticated perspective on industrial business and its role in society. To cater to this clientele, the magazine would feature richly illustrated pages as well as high quality editorial content. Hadden was not convinced that Luce's idea would work but agreed to let Parker Lloyd-Smith, a business writer at Time, and some researchers explore Luce's idea. In February 1929, not long after Hadden's sudden death, Luce went to the board of Time Inc. with his idea and proposed the launch of  Fortune. At this meeting, Luce presented the board with a description of the magazine's appearance and an outline of its contents. This outline included samples of some articles that had already been written as well as illustrations. A few months after  Fortune was proposed, the board agreed to proceed with the idea and the first issue of the magazine was released in February 1930.

Much like with Time, Luce named himself  Fortune's editor. One of the first editorial decisions that Luce made was about how financial news would be presented. In other magazines and newspapers with similar content, facts and statistics were present in a straightforward fashion with no embellishment. To change this, Luce decided to hire literary talent instead of business experts or economists. Some of the talent that was recruited overs the years to work on  Fortune included James Agee, John Kenneth Galbraith, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Kazin, Dwight Macdonald, Archibald MacLeish, and Miné Okubo. Because  Fortune was taking a more literary approach to its content, there were human interest stories alongside in-depth articles about major businesses and industries. In addition to the change in editorial material,  Fortune also changed the approach to the advertisements and images used in the magazine. Instead of the standard black and white images, there was an emphasis on colorful advertisements and striking art, illustrations, and photographs. To make the imagery in the magazine stand out,  Fortune recruited well-known artists and photographers. Included among those who have worked for  Fortune over the years are Ansel Adams, Constantin Alajálov, John Atherton, Herbert Bayer, Lester Beal, Thomas Benrimo, Joseph Binder, Margaret Bourke-White, A.M. Cassandre, Thomas Maitland Cleland, Miguel Covarrubias, Walker Evans, George Gusti, Fernand Léger, Fred Ludekens, Erik Nitsche, Antonio Petruccelli, Diego Rivera, Ben Shahn, and Charles Sheeler. To receive a copy of this newly released magazine, members of the public needed to become subscribers. Despite there being no focus groups or trial issues to introduce buyers to the product, there were 30,000 subscribers at the time of the magazine's release. The initial copies cost $1 each or $10 for a yearly subscription. At the time, this was a steep price and was meant to act as a barrier so that only the most passionate and well off customers could afford to read it.

Fortune was well received by critics and industry professionals alike. By the end of 1930 and the release of the first eleven issues, the magazine's circulation had increased by 10,000 and was turning a profit for Time Inc. Despite the strong start,  Fortune suffered difficulties after the end of World War II and was beginning to become unprofitable. At the same time that the magazine was experiencing financial trouble, members of  Fortune's board of editors started to believe that the magazine was suffering from problems on the editorial side as well. Members of the board of editors suggested that the magazine had a lack of cohesion and no new ideas. Upon hearing these doubts, Luce decided to make some changes to the magazine and change its focus. The magazine would provide guidance to those interested in America's political economy. The changes upset the magazine's editors and writers, but renewed the interest of businessmen and helped increase the magazine's circulation.

Despite this somewhat tumultuous beginning, Fortune is still in print as of 2018. Over time the magazine has changed its publication schedule. Originally a monthly publications, the magazine became a bi-weekly publication in 1978 but switched to tri-weekly publication in 2009. While the magazine is primarily published in the United States, the magazine has had international editions as well. Many of these editions are no longer in print. These changes in  Fortune's publication schedule coincided with an increase in demand for the magazine. With the growth of the magazine's popularity with the general public, editors and writers from  Fortune began to make appearances on radio and television shows to share information found in the latest articles. The magazine also hosted its own short-lived television show  Fortune Week which was on CNBC from 1993 to 1994.


"About Us: Our History, Our Mission, Our Editorial Standards, and Who We Are." Fortune. July 20, 2018. Accessed November 08, 2018.

"Background Information - Fortune Magazine in the 1930s."  Fortune in the 1930s. Accessed November 08, 2018.

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows (1946-present). New York: Ballantine, 2000. Accessed January 07, 2019.

Elson, Robert T. Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise: 1923-1941. New York: Atheneum, 1968.

Elson, Robert T. The World of Time Inc: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise: 1941-1960. Edited by Duncan Norton-Taylor. New York: Atheneum, 1973.

Gibbs, Wolcott. "Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce." The New Yorker. June 20, 2017. Accessed November 08, 2018.

Hooper, Bill. Email to Holly Deakyne, 10 June 2016.

Okrent, Daniel. "How the World Really Works." Fortune. September 19, 2005. Accessed November 08, 2018.