May 10, 1924
Liberty was a weekly, general-interest magazine, originally priced at five cents and subtitled, "A Weekly for Everybody." It was launched in 1924 by McCormick-Patterson, the publisher until 1931, when it was taken over by Bernarr Macfadden until 1941. At one time it was said to be "the second greatest magazine in America," ranking behind The Saturday Evening Post in circulation. It featured contributions from some of the biggest politicians, celebrities, authors, and artists of the 20th Century. The contents of the magazine provide a unique look into popular culture, politics, and world events through the Roaring 20s, Great Depression, World War II, and Post-War America. It ceased publication in 1950 and was revived briefly in 1971.
Liberty Magazine was founded in 1924 by cousins Colonel Robert Rutherford McCormick and Captain Joseph Medill Patterson, owners and editors of the Chicago Tribune and New York Daily News respectively. In 1924, the owners held a nationwide contest to name the magazine offering $20,000 dollars to the winning entry. Among tens of thousands of entries, Charles L. Well won with his title Liberty "A Weekly for Everybody."
The publication was constantly losing money under the family duo, though achieving high circulation. It is believed to have lost McCormick and Patterson as much as $12 million over the course of their ownership, and as a result, it was sold to Bernarr McFadden in 1931.
Under McFadden's early leadership, the magazine was a strong proponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an article proclaiming him to be physically fit to hold office may have held substantial sway in the outcome of the election. McFadden led the magazine to considerable success, until it was discovered in 1941 that he had been falsifying circulation reports by as many as 20,000 copies to increase ad revenue. John Cuneo and Kimberly-Clark Paper company took over for McFadden in 1941 and righted the indiscretions, but ad revenues would never recover.
Following the lead of The Saturday Evening Post, in 1942 Liberty increased its price from five to ten cents, resulting in a huge drop in sales, down to only 1.4 million, and advertising dollars. In 1944, the magazine was passed on to Paul Hunter, and until its final publication in 1950, a number of different owners would try to revive its former popularity to no avail.
In 1968, Dr. Seuss sued Liberty over a copyright dispute regarding cartoons the author and illustrator had sold to the magazine in 1932. Unlike most publications at the time, Liberty typically bought not only first serial rights, but all publishing and distribution rights to the work of their contributors. Liberty won the case, and their copyrights were solidly established by a landmark ruling in copyright law.
Robert Whiteman purchased the Liberty Library Corporation, holder of the many rights of Liberty magazine, in 1969. Shortly after, from 1971 to 1976, Whiteman produced a nostalgic quarterly reprint of the original issues.
In 2014, glendonTodd Capital acquired a controlling share of Liberty Library Corporation. The company hopes to revive the brand and reinvigorate the content after its 40-year dormancy.
The editors included Fulton Oursler, in the Macfadden years, and Darrell Huff. The first editor was John Neville Wheeler. In 1913, sportswriter Wheeler formed his Wheeler Syndicate to distribute sports features to newspapers. In 1916, after the Wheeler Syndicate was purchased by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, Wheeler immediately founded the Bell Syndicate. In 1924, Wheeler became executive editor of Liberty and served in that capacity while continuing to run the Bell Syndicate.
Two prominent editors in the fiction department died a month apart in 1939. Elliot Balestier, Rudyard Kipling's brother-in-law, was an associate editor from the magazine's founding through his death on October 17, 1939. Oscar Graeve, former editor of The Delineator, died in the Liberty offices on November 20, 1939.
Beginning in 1942, the cartoon editor was Lawrence Lariar, who started The Thropp Family, the first comic strip to run as a continuity in a national magazine.
Liberty carried work by many of the most important and influential writers of the period. As a general interest magazine, it featured content across a broad range of genres including adventure, mystery and suspense, western, biographies and autobiographies, love, war, humor, and a whole host of opinion and interest articles. Unusual for a magazine of the era, they bought the rights to many of the printed works outright, and these remain in the hands of the Liberty Library Corporation.
The magazine featured works of fiction from literary giants whose legacy is still strongly felt today. Examples of some of Liberty's most well known authors include F. Scott Fitzgerald, P.G. Wodehouse, Dashiell Hammett, George Bernard Shaw, Agatha Christie, H.L. Mencken, Robert Benchley, Paul Gallico, Irvin S. Cobb, John Galsworthy, Mackinlay Kantor, F. Hugh Herbert, H.G. Wells, and Louis Bromfield.
As a general interest magazine for the masses, Liberty frequently had opinion pieces by the biggest names in sports and entertainment of the day, many of whom remain iconic in American culture. Featured in Liberty's pages are articles by Frank Sinatra, Harry Houdini, Groucho Marx, Shirley Temple, Mae West, Jack Dempsey, W.C. Fields, Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Al Capone, Babe Ruth, Mickey Rooney, Jean Harlow, and Joe DiMaggio. The magazine offers a unique look into popular culture during some of the most influential times in American history.
Statesmen and historical figures
Perhaps giving Liberty its greatest historical significance and value is its contributions by some of the most influential world leaders and historical figures, including: Mahatma Gandhi, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, and Amelia Earnhart. The articles written by these figures provide a unique view of world events and insight into the minds of those who changed history, supplemented by an extremely large quantity of articles written about these figures.
Liberty's image library consists of 1,300 vibrant full-color covers, 12,000 article illustrations, and 15,000 cartoons from a combined 818 artists. Some of the greatest artists and cartoonists of the 20th Century contributed images to Liberty, and their work retains its poignancy, relevance, and humor today. Included within the magazine's pages are James Montgomery Flagg (of "Uncle Sam Wants You" fame), Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, Leslie Thrasher, John Held Jr., Peter Arno, McClelland Barclay, Robert Edgren, Neysa McMein, Arthur William Brown, Wallace Morgan, Ralph Barton, W.T. Benda, John T. McCutcheon, Willy Pogany, Harold Anderson, and many, many more.
A memorable feature was the "reading time," provided on the first page of each article so readers could know how long it should take to read an article, such as "No More Glitter: A Searching Tale of Hollywood and a Woman's Heart," Reading Time: 18 minutes, 45 seconds." This was calculated by a member of the editorial staff who would carefully time himself while reading an article at his usual pace; then he would take that time and double it.
Columnist and writing instructor Roy Peter Clark calculated the reading time of an entire issue (February 10, 1940):I tested Liberty's calculation by timing my reading of two short pieces, a fictional story and an analysis of national politics. The first one promised me I could read it in 5 minutes, 25 seconds. (It took me 4 minutes and 40 seconds.) Reading Time for the next was 5 minutes and 35 seconds. (For me, 4 minutes, 50 seconds.) I'm not the fastest reader in the world, but I do have practice and education on my side, which leads me to the conclusion that the magazine got the average reading time about right. Now there is a difference between Clock Time and Experience Time. We say that "Time dragged," or that it "Flew by." Some stories read so well that they trap us in Story Time ("I couldn't put it down"). Others forces us to slog through dense verbiage, an experience where seconds can seem like minutes... In the 58 pages of Liberty magazine, there were 15 features marked by Approximate Reading Time. Rounded off to minutes, here they are in order: 21, 19, 14, 5, 17, 7, 4, 12, 5, 28, 7, 15, 8, 9, 7. I'll do the math: 178 minutes. That's two minutes shy of three hours. That doesn’t count the time it would take to read the ads, the movie reviews, and do the crossword puzzle. Liberty magazine existed in a world without television and the Internet. Time pressures on readers and potential readers change with the times.
Revival as "The Nostalgia Magazine"
Liberty was revived in 1971 as a quarterly nostalgia-oriented magazine published by the Liberty Library Corporation, a company formed by Robert Whiteman and Irving Green. Originally dedicated solely to reprinting material from the original magazine, the 1970s Liberty eventually settled into a "then and now" format, featuring thematically related newly written articles alongside the vintage material. The new version ended with the autumn 1976 issue. Liberty Library Corporation now offers a similar online feature called "The Watchlist" which features early stories linked to current news headlines. A recent pairing, for example, was a 2009 headline about New York Yankee player salaries and a 1938 article by Joe DiMaggio titled "How Much Is a Ball Player Worth?"
The complete run of the 1970s version was briefly available online via Google Book Search. Liberty Library Corporation, which still owns the rights to the Liberty archives, stated at the time that Google would also eventually digitize the 1,387 issues that comprised the original magazine's run. As of 2014, collections of Liberty articles were available via the Amazon Kindle store.