Newsstand: 1925: Collier’s Weekly

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

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Overview

           Collier’s: The National Weekly was one the most influential

and popular mass-market magazines of the first half of the 20th century.

 A general interest news and lifestyle magazine, Collier’s appealed to

middle-class Americans with its progressive editorial philosophy and

big name contributors. Other than a major dip in the early 1920s,

Collier’s consistently had one of the highest circulations in the country

until its end in 1956, often rivaling The Saturday Evening Post for the

most readers in America.

Collier’s and Muckraking

 

           Some of Collier's: The National Weekly's most influential years were during the first decade of the 20th Century.  Those were the heydays of “muckraking,” a term coined by then current President Theodore Roosevelt to describe the kind of investigative journalism perfected at Collier's.  Two of the period's most influential muckrakers, Upton Sinclair and Samuel Hopkins Adams, published articles in Collier's that proved the influence the magazine had over the American populace. First, Sinclair published an article entitled “Is Chicago Meat Clean?” in the issue of April 22, 1905. Then, from October of that year to February of the next, Adams published a series of articles about Patent Medicine fraud in the United States.  The combined outrage these articles elicited from American readers led to the passing of two revolutionary acts in the American food and healthcare industries.

           Upton Sinclair is perhaps most famous for his novel The Jungle, published in 1906, about the Chicago meat-packing industry.  The novel not only showed the unsafe working conditions of the meatpackers, but also the unhygienic process of packing the meat.  For instance, it was not uncommon for a worker to fall into a meat grinder and be processed, clothing and all, with the animal meat and made into sausage to be sold all over the country.  Graphic depictions of such acts, as well as descriptions of the general nature of the meatpacking life, made it difficult to get The Jungle published. Sinclair began to write the novel in December of 1904, and finished it in the summer of 1905, but no publisher would touch it.

           In an effort to garner public support for his ideals and build an audience for his novel to show to publishers, Sinclair decided in March of 1905 to write an article called “Is Chicago Meat Clean” for publication in a mass-market magazine. The Jungle was already being published in serialized form in the mid-sized Socialist magazine The Appeal to Reason, but Sinclair needed a mass-market magazine's support to reach out and educate said masses.  He wrote letters to editors and authors from all over the nation, looking for anyone to publish his article.  One of those letters landed in the hands of Robert Collier, son of Peter Collier, founder of Collier's: The National Weekly.  Robert said he would get the article in Collier's and invited Sinclair to dinner with his father.  However, as Sinclair later wrote, when Peter heard that his son was going to publish the article, he exclaimed “What's this? You are going to publish an article like that in my magazine? No, no! I won't have it! It's preposterous!”(1)  The article that Peter Collier was so worried about contained just the facts from what had already been written in The Jungle.  Everything from the slum life of the workers to the unhygienic meatpacking process was brought to light for a million Americans to read in the April 22, 1905 issue of Collier's.  The magazine received thousands of letters, and Congress founded a commission to look into the allegations in the article.

           Later in 1905, Collier's once again hit muckraking gold with a series of eleven articles by Samuel Hopkins Adams.  Adams had already made a name for himself as a reporter at the New York Sun from 1891 to 1900 and as a muckraker at McClure's Magazine from 1900 to 1904.  In 1905, he began researching the ever-growing business of patent medicines. His articles would cover the history and current practices of “The Great American Fraud,” which would later become the title of book collecting said articles.  In the early 20th Century, there was no such thing as healthcare; doctors owned small private practices, hospitals were more like homeless shelters, and respected medicines of the day included laudanum, heroin, and cocaine. 

           In the wake of lacking healthcare, so-called patent medicines were sold to the masses to cure every possible ailment.  They were called “patent medicines” because they claimed to be patented, and thus proven to be successful, but most were merely trademarked, so as to not reveal the simple ingredients and questionable effectiveness of the drug. For example, Adams printed this exchange about a possible new patent medicine:

           A distinguished public health official and medical writer once made this jocular suggestion to me:

           "Let us buy in large quantities the cheapest Italian vermouth, poor gin and bitters. We will mix them in the proportion of three of vermouth to two of gin, with a dash of bitters, dilute and bottle them by the short quart, label them 'Smith's Reviver and Blood Purifier; dose, one wineglassful before each meal'; advertise them to cure erysipelas, bunions, dyspepsia, heat rash, fever and ague, and consumption; and to prevent loss of hair, smallpox, old age, sunstroke and near-sightedness, and make our everlasting fortunes selling them to the temperance trade."

           "That sounds to me very much like a cocktail," said I.

           "So it is," he replied. "But it's just as much a medicine as Peruna and not as bad a drink."(2)

           Peruna was one the first and most successful patent medicines.  Much like the suggested concoction above, Peruna was made from 3 parts water and 1 part 190-proof cologne spirits, with a little pepper for flavoring and burned sugar for coloring.  Made for eighteen cents, it was sold for one dollar, and by the time anyone realized it did nothing but get one buzzed, Peruna had already made a hefty profit.(3)

           Adams was fighting against a scam like this, multiplied a hundred times over. And he, like Upton Sinclair, would be very successful in the fight.  In June of 1906, Congress passed two acts, the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, which forever changed the America food and healthcare industries.  At the most basic level, each act simply required accurate labeling of ingredients, but they allowed for later regulations, including suing Coca-Cola in 1909 for containing too much caffeine.(4)

Collier’s in 1925

           Two decades later in 1925, Collier's: The National Weekly was just beginning to bring back the muckraking, progressive attitude of its past.  With the death of Peter Collier in 1909, Collier’s lost the driving force of the muckraking movement. Then, with the death of Robert Collier in 1918, Collier’s was sold to Crowell Publishing Company in 1919, which kept the magazine from going under while searching for a new editorial staff to bring Collier’s back to its former glory.  In 1925, under new editor William Ludlow Chenery, articles exposing the financial success of horse betting and a change of position from pro-Prohibition to pro-legalization helped Collier's lead the way in informing the public of the necessity to lower regulations of such economically viable industries.  This influence became especially apparent during the Great Depression, which saw an end to Prohibition and an increase in number of states that legalized gambling on horse races.  To this end, Collier's: The National Weekly was at the top of popularity once again, and the influence of the mass-market magazine prevailed.

           Unfortunately, Collier's: The National Weekly would begin its decline after the end of World War II.  While continuing to publish world-class articles, including some of the first reports of the concentration camps in Germany during World War II, Collier's slowly began to lose readers and money.  With 3.7 million readers in 1955, Collier’s was nearly one million readers behind its rival, The Saturday Evening Post, and two million behind relative newcomer Life.(5) This, coupled with changing advertising rates that favored the new medium of television, left Crowell-Collier Publishing with out the revenue necessary to cover the cost of production and distribution.  After changing to the bi-weekly format in 1953 to try to save money, Collier's: The National Weekly stopped publication on December 16, 1956.

—Contextualization by Brad Bullock

Notes

 

1. Anthony Arthur. Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair. New York: Random House, 2006

2.  Samuel H. Adams.  The Great American Fraud. Chicago: P.F. Collier & Son, 1907.

3. Samuel H. Adams.  The Great American Fraud. Chicago: P.F. Collier & Son, 1907.

4. "U.S. v. FORTY BARRELS AND TWENTY KEGS OF COCA COLA , 241 U.S. 265 (1916)."  

     FindLaw: Cases and Codes.

5. Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: The University of Illinois, 1956.

 

Works Cited

 

Adams, Samuel H. The Great American Fraud. Chicago: P.F. Collier & Son, 1907. Google Books. Google. Web. 24 Oct. 2009.

Arthur, Anthony. Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.

Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: The University of Illinois, 1956. Print.

"U.S. v. FORTY BARRELS AND TWENTY KEGS OF COCA COLA , 241 U.S. 265 (1916)." FindLaw: Cases and Codes. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.

 

June 13, 1925

Genre:

News and Editorial

Publisher:

P. F. Collier’s and Son

Place of Publication:

Springfield, OH

Years of Run:

1888—1956through 1939

Frequency of Publication:

Weekly

Circulation in 1925:

 1 Million