Whether the subject is FDR’s New Deal or the evolution of Alfred E. Neuman, the stories in the debut issues of these iconic magazines offer an intriguing glimpse into who we were and how far we have come. For example, an advertisement in the February 1930 issue of Fortune extols the benefits of “manufactured weather” to cool down New York’s skyscrapers, while five decades later, the February 1984 issue of Macworld includes an article explaining a newfangled contraption called a “mouse.” If your interests tend toward social norms, you may be interested in the July 1972 inaugural issue of Ms. magazine, which includes an article titled “Demystifying Your Car” followed by one titled “Body Hair: The Last Frontier.”
These magazines and dozens more first editions will be on display from August 26 to October 12 in Gallery 360 on the Northeastern campus. The exhibit is thanks to Steven Soboroff, a Los Angeles business leader and father of Leah, AMD’17. Soboroff is an avid collector who inspired Gallery 360’s exhibit of celebrity-owned typewriters in 2013.
Macworld » February 1984 » $4
Just days before the first issue of Macworld went to press, Steve Jobs called the magazine publisher saying he had changed his mind and didn’t want his picture on the cover. Rather than change the photo, publisher David Bunnell lied. “I said, ‘Steve, it’s too late, the magazine is on the presses as we talk. There’s nothing we can do about it.’” In truth, the issue had not yet shipped to the printer.
Playboy » December 1953 » 50 cents
In his introduction, Hugh Hefner warns, “We want to make clear from the start, we aren’t a ‘family magazine.’ If you’re somebody’s sister, wife or mother-in-law, and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies Home Companion.” Hefner had scored the coup of getting Hollywood’s emerging sex star, Marilyn Monroe, on his first cover, in a distinctly nonfamily magazine pose, making the patronizing caveat redundant.
Esquire » Autumn 1937 » 50 cents
The highbrow men’s magazine makes a splash with an article by Ernest Hemingway on marlin fishing. But that’s not all. The issue also included fiction by three writers whose works now appear on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century—Dashiell Hammett, John Dos Passos, and James T. Farrell.
MAD » July 1955 » 25 cents
Alfred E. Neuman appears in the debut issue of MAD magazine under the name Melvin Coznowski. The magazine changed his name in its December 1956 issue, which promotes Neuman as a write-in candidate for U.S. president. His campaign slogan? “You could do worse, you always have.”
Life » Nov. 23, 1936 » 10 cents
One would think that by 1936, frontier towns were a thing of the past in the United States. But the first issue of Life magazine features a photo essay on six frontier towns that sprang up virtually overnight in the Montana desert. As in gold rush towns 80 years earlier, these dusty communities are “short on sanitation, long on bars.” The economic boom, in this case, was the construction of the Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River, a New Deal project initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt. The photo essay and cover shot are by legendary photographer Margaret Bourke-White.
The New Yorker » Feb. 21, 1925 » 15 cents
A short item in the Ear to the Ground column notes that “Charging Buffalo, the Indian in training with the Yankees, has, at the insistence of management, agreed to change his name to John Levi, as being more typically American.”
People » March 4, 1974 » 35 cents
In addition to the cover story on Mia Farrow’s role in The Great Gatsby, the magazine shows its pop culture acumen by dubbing Bruce Springsteen “the next Bob Dylan” a year before the release of his breakout album Born to Run. The issue also includes stories on Marina Oswald, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Alice Cooper, and on Senator Strom Thurmond’s hair transplant.