Date: Launched in February, 1930
Significance: Fortune was the first true American financial magazine. Although the existing trade periodicals of the 1930’s were black-and-white compilations of statistics and facts, Fortune offered artistic covers, beautiful photographs, compelling advertisements, and literary articles with economic, political, and social analyses. Fortune became a global business brand, with significant franchises, worldwide readership in the millions, and an online presence.
In February, 1930, only four months after the stock market crash of October, 1929, America’s first real business magazine appeared. Fortune’s founder was the legendary publisher Henry Luce, who had founded Time magazine in 1923 and would introduce Life magazine in 1936.
Fortune embodied Luce’s bold new idea of business journalism. This stylish, upscale magazine was eleven inches by fourteen inches in size and featured art, culture, and literature, along with financial and economic news. Instead of hiring economists, Luce recruited talented writers such as John Kenneth Galbraith, Archibald MacLeish, Alfred Kazin, and James Agee. As a result, articles were often provocative and critical. Topics included munitions factories, the U.S.S.R, Herbert Hoover, farm life, and social issues.
Another innovation was the use of photography to document industrialization and business. Fortune’s first photographer was Margaret Bourke- White, a pioneer photojournalist who became famous for her poignant photos of the Great Depression. Renowned photographer Walker Evans, known for his images of the poor and everyday life, was an editor from 1945 until 1965.
A fervent believer in the potential of industrial design for the manufacturing industry, Luce conceived of covers with beautiful, original designs, unrelated to the contents inside. Cover artists included Herbert Bayer, Lester Beal, Fernand Leger, Diego Rivera, Ben Shahn, Charles Sheeler, and Gyorgy Kepes. However, in 1950, Luce redefined Fortune as a professional magazine with the mission of helping develop American business, and the art covers were discontinued.
Fortune developed into one of most influential business magazines. The first issue had 30,000 subscribers. By the mid-1930’s, with more than 450,000 subscribers, Fortune was making a profit of about $500,000. Fortune also developed significant business lists. First published in 1955, the Fortune 500 is an annual comprehensive list of the five hundred largest U.S. corporations, ranked by revenues, profits, assets, stockholders’ equity, market value, profits as a percentage of revenues, earnings per share, and total return to investors. Global 500 ranks the world’s largest companies. The magazine’s other lists include One Hundred Best Companies to Work For, One Hundred Fastest-Growing Companies, and the Fifty Most Powerful Women in Business.
By the early twenty-first century, Fortune had a readership of almost 5 million, with editions in Asia and Europe. It had also established online leadership as part of CNN.Money.com.
Augspurger, Michael. An Economy of Abundant Beauty: “Fortune” Magazine and Depression America. New York: Cornell University Press, 2004.
Okrent, Daniel. “Fortune”: The Art of Covering Business. Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1999.
Swanberg, W. A. Luce and His Empire. New York: Scribner, 1972.
See also: Barron’s; Bloomberg’s Business News Services; The Economist; Forbes; Magazine industry; Muckraking journalism; Reader’s Digest; stock market crash of 1929.