This past week marked the 62nd anniversary of the first issue of Sports Illustrated — the magazine that became must-read fare for American sports fans, despite being ridiculed by Time Inc. highbrows who called it names like Jockstrap and Sweat Socks.
My grandfather the Time Inc. employee, perhaps attuned to the great possibilities ahead, saved not only that first issue from August 1954 …
… but also the first of several pre-production mockups, or “dummies,” from the previous December.
The SI saga is interesting enough … but really, an enterprise as entrenched and successful as SI doesn’t need me to tell its story.
Instead, we’ll look at a note from my grandfather’s personal journal, which documents a different, less successful Henry Luce magazine venture … one that my grandpa never bothered saving souvenir copies of.
I’d heard of Time Inc.’s Big Four publications – Time, Life, Fortune and SI — three of which continue to publish today.
I wasn’t familiar with Architectural Forum, but its name made it easy enough to imagine — a specialized trade journal. (The New York Times’ obit of Luce said he bought Architectural Forum in 1932 because he was interested in the field.)
But what was House & Home? Was it a lifestyle and decorating magazine, of the sort that are a dime a dozen on today’s magazine racks? Did Henry Luce pioneer a publication America wasn’t ready for, but has since come to crave?
The answer turned out to be … no.
Various sources, including the obit linked above, indicate that House & Home was spun out of Architectural Forum in 1952. The new title was aimed at the building trade, not at home decorators. It targeted the booming residential construction market, while the older title continued to focus on commercial construction.
Time announced the new magazine’s arrival in January 1952 with a characteristically backwards-written blurb: “To more than 100,000 subscribers this week went a brand-new magazine : HOUSE & HOME, ‘for those who plan, build, buy, sell or finance new houses.’ “
And 10 years later, a full-page ad in Luce’s Life magazine touted House & Home as “the management magazine of America’s biggest industry,” full of house plans, construction products and methods, financing information, and other dope that would help professionals “design, build, finance, supply and sell houses that won’t be obsolescent before the first owner moves in.”
(The cover of one issue, from April 1955, can be seen here.)
It actually sounds like an old issue of House & Home might be an interesting read, the way insider snapshots from the past sometimes are.
And, given all the houses that got built in America during those years, one would think such a magazine would thrive.
But it didn’t. Or, at least, it didn’t do well enough to be worth keeping around in the Time empire.
According to Luce’s obit, House & Home was sold to McGraw-Hill in 1964, the same year Architectural Forum was folded.
(The two decisions were apparently made separately — see how my grandpa reduced the number of Time titles from six, to five, to four.)
The name House & Home is still being used today, but the focus on the building trade was abandoned somewhere along the line. The current publication is very much in the mass-market home design tips-and-tricks bag, with a sideline in celebrity headlines like “Can You Believe A Jonas Brother Built This Jersey Home?”
Given the power of Henry Luce’s publishing empire back in the ’50s and ’60s, I wonder if Time Inc. could have created or defined the kind of home magazine America eats up today.
I’m sure ladies’ magazines over the decades have offered plenty of decorating tips, and Time would not have been the first publisher to enter the genre.
Still, since Luce and Co. dominated the newsmagazine and sports magazine fields, one imagines they could have owned home design and lifestyle as well, with a little bit of vision. All those new suburban homes could have been ripe targets for a well-pitched publication.
On the other hand, given the internal resistance to Sports Illustrated, imagining Time Inc. entering the home-design field might be farcical.
A company that scoffed at the idea of a magazine with Y.A. Tittle on the cover would probably have laughed itself hoarse at a cover piece on “Redecorating Your Farmhouse Colonial.”
So, who knows. Opportunities that seem evident in the rearview mirror are not always evident at the time.
Just ask the Time bigwigs who probably went to their graves thinking of Sports Illustrated as “Sweat Socks.”