The Beginning of ‘Life’

November 24, 2015

On November 23, 1936, the late great Life magazine published its first issue. Here are some facts about the magazine.

Life Magazine Logo

  • Photography became portable in the 1930s with the availability of handheld 35 mm cameras. That made almost anything photographable, and Time publisher Henry Luce wanted to make a magazine that celebrated photography and brought it into American homes. Photojournalism and the “photo essay” were born.
  • Fort Peck Dam Life MagazineOn the cover of the first issue of Life: a photo by Margaret Bourke-White of the brand new Fort Peck Dam, built by the Public Works Administration.
  • Before Life as we know it, Life had another life. Life was a humor magazine in the 1920s, a clone of The New Yorker. It didn’t survive the Great Depression. Luce bought the rights to the name.
  • Life was published every week from 1936 until 1972. By that point, photography (particularly color photography) was not the novelty it once was, especially with the advent of TV, and circulation dropped. It was published in special editions only until 1978, and then slightly more often as a monthly magazine until 2000, when it went back to a special publication-only schedule until 2007.
  • The last ever issue of life was a special issue in April 2007 with the cover story, “21 Places You’ve Got to See to Believe.”
  • At its peak, Life had a circulation of over 8 million. With those numbers today, it would be the bestselling consumer periodical in the United States.
  • Weird coincidence: One of the first pictures in the first issue of Life was, naturally, a baby. It was a newborn named George Story. A few days after Life announced it would cease monthly publication in 2000…George Story died.

Trivia Books

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