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Fortune the Magazine
autoworker LUCE'S PURPOSE:   To capture the "struggle, excitement, romance, wealth and power" that he attributed to the world of business, Henry Luce created a new magazine to handle the overflow of Time's Business section (Swanberg). He considered titles like "Power" and "Tycoon," but settled finally on "Fortune." Luce established a business magazine at the onset of the United State's shocking economic turn for the worse despite inopportune timing because, like most of his colleagues, he viewed the economic slump as a temporary downturn. Luce's assurance came from his absolute faith in the link between business and America. He once offered an alternative to Calvin Coolidge's "The business of America is business," saying, "I think I can improve on that: the business of business is America" (Time/Luce). Fortune's main audience included business executives and the well-to-do, who favored a positive reporting tone -- especially on business items. Their optimism, however, was not unconditional, nor did Fortune remain wholly unaware of the national crisis. As the Depression persisted, Fortune "had to adjust its approach to address the gnawing questions of its cause, effect, and remedy" (Sass). Throughout, Fortune would operate on the mission statement found in its prospectus: "Business is the greatest single common denominator of interest among the active leading citizens of the U.S. . . . Fortune's purpose is to reflect Industrial Life in ink and paper and work and picture as the finest skyscraper reflects it in skill and architecture" (Peterson).

FORTUNE'S PHOTOGRAPHY:   In 1929, when Luce was still forming his ideas for the new magazine, he saw photographs of an industrial steel-mill that he greatly admired. He sent for the artist, and thus began his professional relationship with Margaret Bourke-White. In conversation with Bourke-White, Luce explained the goal of his magazine, where "pictures and words should be conscious partners" to explore business and "modern industrial civilization" from every angle (Swanberg). Sass argues that instead of following the format of other business magazines, full of stark data and analysis (and occasionally a current or industry event), Fortune drew from artistic publications like Camera Work or Vanity Fair (which you may investigate further on the Xroads site), as well as German illustrated magazines and the French publication, "Vu" (Newhall). The New Yorker was popular then as it is now, also supporting the artistic trend in American magazines. While Luce began his project with Bourke-White, whose aesthetic style was integral to Fortune's reputation for fine photography, but a wide range of photographers whose work appears in these successive pages helped give the magazine depth and complexity.


and publishing hero TONE AND VISION:   Fortune faced a distinct challenge throughout the Depression years to maintain an optimistic tone and pro-business rhetoric for its upper class readership, but its message was not blind or simplistic. Luce favored debate and supported writers and editors who analyzed various views. His associates in 1967 noted that, "The degree of autonomy he gave his editors and the interplay of ideas he encouraged was a constant source of amazement to any outsider who encountered it" (Time/Luce). Fortune exhibited essays on both the accomplishments (Wards) and failures (Wool) of various companies through corporation stories (seePhoto Essays, but it sympathized with business over the issue of labor. Fortune consistently catered to the entertainment and preferences of its elite readers through various devices. The "Life and Circumstance" articles under managing editor Eric Hodgins made quaint, harmless caricatures of poor and lower-middle-class workers. The essay at the top left of this page is one such example. The series was cancelled before its fourth article, but not before Fortune commissioned Walker Evans and James Agee to study "Life and Circumstances" in Alabama (discussed later). Such an optimistic take on the hardships of the lower classes was not only uplifting, but also a necessary business strategy: "Optimism was considered a profitable commodity and was promoted not only to sell products but also to 'cure" the Depression" (Guimond). The magazine allowed certain debates but kept a unified vision and faith, becoming an elevated literature of industrial forces through its photographs and prose. Fortune defined America through her innovations and developments, suggesting business as the artistic and cultural force capable of replacing old forms of reassurance and tradition (Cooney). Fortune dispelled Americans' fears of new technology by showing industry as a beautiful force and as a continuation of the Protestant work ethic, integral to the American character and landscape.

NEXT: The American Photo Album