Background Information - Fortune Magazine in the 1930sThe first issue of Fortune magazine hit the stands in February of 1930, four months after the dramatic crash of 1929. That kind of timing may seem the result of an ironic, if not an unfortunate, business decision, but the release date of America's first real business journal was actually quite a savvy maneuver. It reflected the good intuition the magazine's founder, Henry R. Luce, would continue to demonstrate in the coming decade. At a time when other dealmakers were cowering, Luce built Fortune magazine into one cornerstone of a media empire.
The crash only piqued Wall Street's desire for a smart and stylish
journal of entrpreneurial culture. Briton Hadden, Luce's partner and the
man who had founded Time with him in 1923, thought that a magazine
devoted to business would be boring and unmarketable. But
Henry persisted, and Fortune's 184 bright, lavish pages debuted
with 30,000 subscribers. Luce believed that most businessmen were
stodgy, uncultured, and lacking a social conscience. The spate of
trade periodicals available at the time attested to this. They
were no more than facts and statistics printed in black and white,
and the Wall Street Journal was hardly the comprehensive paper it
So Luce didn't hire MBAs or experienced economists to write his
copy; he recruited young literary talent instead. Archibald
MacLeish, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Alfred Kazin filled the pages
of Fortune with flowing human interest articles that were
brash, irreverent, and critical. Fortune's advertisements
were colorful and lush, and the photography of Margaret Bourke-White
provided stunning looks inside the factories and farms that fed the
American economic machine. Fortune style was an upscale and
intelligent upgrade of the older and more middle-class Time.
The result was a product that matched Luce's vision of business
itself, an activity he called "the distinctive expression of the
Henry wanted to bring entrepreneurs out of their back offices, give
them an identity, and make them accountable to the public. In those
first months after the crash, most people expected economic recovery.
But when no recovery came and the decade wore on, Luce turned the
attention of Fortune to a tempered brand of muckraking. It exposed
the munitions industry without losing advertisers. It published
pieces which alternately criticized both Hoover and Roosevelt. And
though the tone of its columns had a socialist twinge, Fortune
presented a disturbing picture of communist Russia in March of 1932 while
praising Italian fascism in July of 1934. Fortune seemed to have a
magical ability to be seen as both a challenge to business and a
boon, to keep its integrity while throwing its hat into the
political ring. This balance yielded consistent and respectable
profits, and in 1937 the magazine netted close to half a million
dollars with a circulation of 460,000. By decade's end Fortune
had become required reading on Wall Street.
1 Kobler, pg. 85.
Kobler, John. Luce; his Time, Life, and Fortune. Doubleday: New York, 1968.
McKerns, Joseph P., ed. A Biographical Dictionary of American Journalism. Greenwood Press, Inc.: Westport, Connecticut, 1989.
Swanberg, W.A. Luce and his Empire. Scribner's: New York, 1972.