1930s |

Life Publishes First Issue – 11/23/1936

The now-famous magazine Life had its’ first issue premiere on November 23rd, 1936 with Margaret Bourke-White’s photo of the Fort Peck Dam featured on the cover. The pictorial magazine actually appeared in the 20th century earlier as a humor publication seen weekly which could be compared to The New Yorker seen today for its’ use of cultural reporting, tart cartoons and humorous pieces. The Great Depression caused the first Life magazine to stop appearing; however, it would be reborn again when the name was purchased by Henry Luce, an influential American publisher who morphed it into a picture-based periodical on November 23rd, 1936. By now, Henry was successful being the publisher of a weekly news magazine called Time.

Luce was considered as a newsman going back to his days at high school where he served as managing editors of their school newspaper with his friend, Briton Hadden. The partnership would continue throughout college as they were both managing editors and chairmen at Yale University of the Yale Daily News. After college, the pair joined in 1921 the Baltimore News and was there that both of them created the idea for Time magazine. Their goal was being able to produce the news about the world from the vision of those who made it and it launched in 1923.

While the starting goal of Time was to tell the news, showing it was the purpose of Life. From the mouth of Luce, the purpose of the magazine was to supply a means for the people of America “to see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events … to see things thousands of miles away… to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed… to see, and to show…” The tone of the magazine was established by Luce using Margaret Bourke-White’s breath-taking cover picture of the Fort Peck Dam. The photograph has not only been considered today iconic of the 1930s but also an example under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of great public works that were built.

During the first year of it being circulated, Life was a huge success. Practically overnight, the magazine influenced how individuals viewed the world by adapting the way individuals could see the world. The images flourished which painted distinct pictures in the mind of the public that captured the public and the personal; the world would absorb the display that was put in front of them. At its’ height, the circulation for Life had reached more than eight million while exerting major influence on life in America at the start and in the middle of the twentieth century.

Though the driving force that enabled the magazine to be so popular was the picture-heavy content, Life was negatively affected when society’s main form of communication became television. The loss of advertising money and their audience to television in 1972 resulted in the magazine would no longer being published as a weekly publication. Fortunately, Life resumed once again as a weekly publication in 2004 as a substitute to newspapers in the U.S. The magazine’s combined circulation was again in the millions when it re-launched.

Share On Facebook

Kelly Sutherland


Hi! I'm Kelly. My favorite time period was the 70s. I had a boatloads of fun traveling around with my close friends spreading love and just living my life to the fullest... if you know what I mean ;) Now I enjoy sitting in my cozy nook writing and learning about history.