Newsstand: 1925: The Delineator

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

Overview

           The Delineator started its 64-yr run in 1873 as the flagship fashion

magazine for the Butterick Publishing Company to promote Ebenezer

Butterick’s new sewing patterns to a broader audience across the US.

Over the early 20th century the magazine flourished and became one of the top women’s magazines in the country, gaining a reputation for crusading and social housekeeping. The Delineator switched to a more conservative stance in the 1920s and continued to flourish until the early thirties when circulation began to decrease. Butterick ceased publishing the magazine in 1937 to focus on the more profitable pattern production.

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The History of The Delineator and the Butterick Company

      The history of the Butterick Company and the Butterick Publishing Company, with its flagship magazine The Delineator, is a tangled web of fashion, invention, and capitalism that began with the first graded pattern stenciled by Ebenezer Butterick in 1863 and continued through the Butterick Company’s takeover by McCall’s in 2001. The Butterick Company was the premier fashion and sewing corporation in America for most of the early 20th century and retained a large niche in the sewing market for the rest of the century even after the collapse of The Delineator in 1937. Even today, the Butterick name is still known for its history of quality patterns, innovation, and its position among McCall’s and Simplicity as one of the top three sewing pattern companies in America though the memory of The Delineator and its impact on women’s magazines and fashion has long disappeared.

The Butterick Company was founded in 1863 with the first graded patterned constructed and distributed by Ebenezer Butterick, though the reports of who initially instigated the idea of creating graded patterns vary.  The official Butterick Company website credits Mrs. Ellen Butterick while other reports credit her husband and the company founder, Ebenezer, who was a tailor in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Whoever’s original idea it was, all reports agree that Ebenezer Butterick developed the idea into a reality and created the first graded Butterick Pattern using his nephew’s measurements as a reference for sizing boys’ shirts.(1) From the original Butterick pattern, the company completely revolutionized sewing patterns and the sewing industry by introducing tissue-paper patterns, pattern markings such as size, construction notes, and numbering pieces, and by introducing the Deltor in the early 1920s, a detailed set of pattern instructions intended to maximize fabric usage and simplify the construction process, whose name was taken from the first three and last two letters of The Delineator. All of these innovations, including the instructional style of the Deltor, are now standard in all mass-market sewing patterns.

As a young company, the Butterick Company wasted very little time after its inception not only producing sewing patterns, but also to joining the rapidly expanding magazine industry, staking its position as a publishing powerhouse. The company’s publishing aspirations began in 1864 with its first fashion magazine, The Ladies’ Quarterly Review of Broadway Fashions, which was soon followed by the Metropolitan Monthly in 1868. However, even the combined efforts of both magazines were unable to keep up with the rising demand for fashion information and Butterick’s paper patterns. In 1873 the Butterick Company merged The Ladies Quarterly and Metropolitan Monthly into The Delineator, which would become one the top “Big Six”(2) women’s magazines that dominated newsstands in the late 1800s and early 1900s and cemented Butterick’s reputation as a major contender in the fashion world.(3) It originally consisted of “forty-eight pages devoted to fashions, at an annual cost of $1.00” or $0.15 per issue.(4)

       The editorship of The Delineator changed hands several times from 1873 until 1894, when Charles Dwyer took over as sole editor and adopted a new focus and expanded the magazine. This change ushered in the start of the top-ranking Delineator magazine as most people knew it, containing articles, fiction, home and sewing tips, editorials, and of course, pages of Butterick’s own clothing designs. It was a “fashion” magazine in the truest sense, adopting a definition of fashion to include “not only clothing but home decorating and housekeeping, women’s issues, health, and the arts as well,” presenting a distinctly American view of these subjects to the rest of the world (Endres and Lueck 59).

By 1902, the Butterick Publishing Company moved to the Butterick Building in New York City and was publishing 32 periodicals with The Delineator comfortably settled in as one of the top women’s magazines in the US and gaining a strong foothold in the Canadian and European markets (Endres and Lueck 58-59). The Delineator was being published in five languages, claiming to have “the largest paid circulation of any Fashion magazine in the world” (Zuckerman 14).

 On top of its periodical publishing, the Butterick Co. also was a highly-successful book publisher that printed practical books on homemaking, sewing, cooking, and fashion that were marketed through The Delineator, reminding the public that the magazine was indeed a capitalist venture. As a fashion magazine published by a pattern company, the vast majority of clothing and home design ideas displayed in the magazine were patterns available through Butterick, complete with convenient ordering information. Many advertisements within The Delineator were for Butterick products, almost every article was accompanied by a call to send in for a Butterick pamphlet or book on the topic, and the only job advertisement in the July 1925 issue was for women to sell subscriptions to The Delineator. The magazine did its job well, though, and throughout the early 1900s, the Butterick Publishing Company grew into one of the largest publishing houses in the United States. The company actually continued to successfully publish homemaking books through the 1990s, long after the fall of The Delineator in 1937.

Despite its capitalist focus, though, The Delineator contributed to its share of social campaigns. It was a driving force and a public voice of the women’s rights movement and lobbied for women’s suffrage during the early 1900s. In 1907 under the editorship of muckraker and author Theodore Dreiser, The Delineator took on an “investigative, authoritative tone and expanded focus on America’s social problems [that] challenged The Delineator’s readership to be more involved.”(5) One of these social problems that Dreiser tackled was the large numbers of orphaned and abandoned children scattered in orphanages and foster homes across the US. He began The Delineator’s highly-successful “Delineator Child-Rescue” campaign that ran from 1907 through 1911 and found homes for over 2,000 orphaned and abandoned children (Bland 177-78). Through the early 1920s, under the editorship of The Delineator’s first woman editor Marie Mattingly Maloney, The Delineator was also responsible for a campaign to raise $100,000 to purchase Marie Curie a gram of radium for her research (Bland 182). However, the this campaign signaled the end of The Delineator’s crusading years as the magazine industry took a turn from muckraking and social campaigning to the home, family, marriage, and children.

The Delineator remained one the top women’s magazines in the US throughout most of the 1920s, but its proud run took a sudden tumble in the late 1920s with the downturn of the economy. It was merged with another Butterick fashion publication, The Designer, in 1928, which started a downward spiral for The Delineator. The editors at the time decided to stop chasing high circulation numbers and change the focus of the magazine back to a more elite high-fashion magazine “keyed in to the modern scene, the modern woman, and her staccato mood” and changed the name to simply “Delineator” (Endres and Lueck 65).  Fiction stories and articles became almost non-existent and could be no more than three installments, each at page long. The editors hoped to attract a more focused, loyal, elite readership to support the magazine through the Depression and to combat the sudden affordability of ready-made clothing versus the traditional clothing construction and competition from other fashion magazines such as McCall’s and Vogue (Endres and Lueck 64-5). 

Despite the changes made by the editors to save the magazine, Delineator was struggling to stay afloat through most of the 1930s, most notably in 1936 and 1937. It suddenly stopped publishing in April 1937 and with almost no warning was sold to the Hearst Corporation. The next month, readers had an unexpected surprise as William Randolph Hearst had the Delineator merged with his fashion magazine, the Pictorial Review, in May of 1937. The Pictorial Review combined with the Delineator soldiered on for another two years through the Depression until it ceased publication in 1939 and took with it the last vestiges of the once proud Delineator (Endres and Lueck 65).  ­

The Butterick Company, however, continued to focus on its more profitable pattern production and remained one of the top pattern companies in the US for most of the 20th century. It continued to print home-help books through the 1990s and patterns as a profitable, independent company until 2001 when it was purchased by the McCall Corporation. The Butterick Co. continues to produce Butterick and Vogue patterns today as a subsidiary of McCall Corp., and its patterns are still a common sight in fabric and craft stores across America.

—Contextualization by Kelley English

 

Notes

 

1. Crane, Ellery Bicknell. “Ebenezer Butterick” Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts. Vol 1. New York: Lewis Pub Co., 1907. 300-301.Google Books. Web. 30 Oct 2009.

2. The “Big Six” included The Delineator, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, The Pictorial Review, and the Woman’s Home Companion

3. Endres, Kathleen L. and Therese L. Lueck. “The Delineator.” Women's Periodicals in the United States: Consumer Magazines. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995. 58-65. Google Books.     Web. 29 Oct 2009.

4. Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. A History of Popular Women's Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995. Westport: Greenwood  Press, 1998. Print.

5. Bland, Sidney R. “Shaping the Life of the New Woman: The Crusading Years of the Delineator.” American Periodicals. 19.2 (2009): 165-188. Project Muse. Web. 5 Sept 2009.

 

Works Cited

 

Bland, Sidney R. “Shaping the Life of the New Woman: The Crusading Years of the

Delineator.” American Periodicals. 19.2 (2009): 165-188. Project Muse. Web. 5 Sept 2009.

Crane, Ellery Bicknell. “Ebenezer Butterick” Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical

 and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts. Vol 1. New York: Lewis

Pub Co., 1907. 300-301.Google Books. Web. 30 Oct 2009.

Endres, Kathleen L. and Therese L. Lueck. “The Delineator.” Women's Periodicals in the United

           States: Consumer Magazines. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995. 58-65. Google Books.    Web. 29

           Oct 2009.

Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. A History of Popular Women's Magazines in the United States, 1792-

           1995. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998. Print.

 

July 1925

Genre:

Woman’s Magazine

Publisher:

Butterick Publishing Company

Place of Publication:

New York City

Years of Run:

1873-1937, combined with The Pictorial Review through 1939

Frequency of Publication:

Monthly

Circulation in 1925:

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