MORE 1962 FUN & HISTORY
This week, Roadtrip-'62 ™ gets off the road and looks at the magazines of 1962. As I’ll show below, the variety of magazines available was huge. There were many general interest mass market magazines, something we don’t have anymore, and even more specialty magazines. No well-established magazines failed in 1962, though some had problems: Curtis Publishing lost over $15,000,000. But a recent change in postal rates was not as severe as suspected, helping the bottom line of most magazines. The Audit Bureau of Circulations estimated there were 3,250 different magazines available, with a combined circulation of over 311,000,000! I won’t be discussing all of these, but let’s take a look at some of both the mass market and specialty magazines.
Some of the about 40 new magazines introduced that year were Automobile Quarterly, Rx Health, Eros, Discount Store News, and Rental Housing. Eros was perhaps the most unusual, marketing itself as “the magazine of sexual candor” and presumably going beyond what one could find in Playboy. Magazines were a very important venue for advertising, and revenues totaled $880 million, beating the 1960 record. Some of the increase was due to a new plan of regional editions for some mass market magazines. This allowed the publisher to present the same content across the nation but to swap out advertising in various markets, and advertisers paid for the privilege of targeting different markets. This may have been the beginning of targeted advertising, a practice which has reached a peak over the internet.
In the past few years, magazines had been engaged in a subscription-price war, to try to claw back mass market advertising from television. This was somewhat successful, as subscriptions boomed. But some magazines could not cover their costs despite the new subscriptions, such as Coronet, which failed in 1961. Though subscriptions were booming, single-copy newsstand sales continued a multi-year slump. In order to remain profitable, some publishers diversified by buying other publishers or even broadcast media. Cowles, publisher of Look magazine, bought an encyclopedia publisher. They also purchased a newspaper publisher. Time Inc., publisher of Time, Life and other magazines, purchased its fifth broadcasting station and a textbook publisher. The company also began publishing foreign language magazines. On the flip side, the Washington Post, a newspaper publisher purchased Newsweek in 1961 and continued buying in 1962.
Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post were the big three of the general interest mass market. All featured extensive photo layouts, including some color, as a reason to buy. All three magazines died within a couple of years of each other: Saturday Evening Post in February 1969, Look in October 1971, and Life in December 1972. Look and Better Homes & Gardens were published in Des Moines, Iowa and you can find out more about them in my page about that city along US-6. Reader's Digest was another magazine for the mass market audience, but without the photojournalism. It specialized in fiction, humor, and in-depth reporting and was a handy size that could fit in your coat pocket. It is still publishing. Another mass market magazine was also a specialty magazine, TV Guide. It of course focused on entertainment, but a large percentage of homes subscribed because of the daily guide to show times. It is still being published.
A particular type of specialty magazine was aimed at what was then known as the negro market. There were negro-oriented entertainment magazines, news magazines, literary magazines, and confession magazines, among others. The most successful of these magazines, Ebony, had been published since 1945 as a negro-oriented Life clone. Being aimed at the general interest mass market, it is not surprising that it was tops in circulation. It is still publishing, but apparently in a digital format only since 2019.
In my research, I’ve uncovered 209 magazines published in the United States during 1962: only a fraction of the 3,250 available. Individual large businesses and many trade organizations have always published in house magazines, but I have only discovered a handful of these. Other categories that are poorly represented in my research are Business and Finance, Literary and Writing, Politics and News, Fiction, and Religion. For each of these, I’m certain there were more than the 2-3 titles I found so far. On the other hand the following catagories had dozens of titles being published: Automotive, Sports, Men’s, Women’s, Entertainment, Do-it-Yourself, and Negro. I may seem odd today that Negro interest magazines was a separate category, but in 1962 it allowed advertisers to leave black people out of their usual advertising so as not to offend the mostly white audiences of the major general interest magazines. Companies would then create separate ads just for the Negro publications. There is a great discussion of this phenomenon with lots of examples at the Messy Nessy Chic blog.
My personal collection comprises an issue or two of each of the following titles, so let’s lake a closer look at those. I’ve already done an in-depth review of Boys’ Life at ‘Fun with the Boy Scouts’.
- Life (2 issues)
- Saturday Evening Post
- McCall’s (2 issues)
- Boys’ Life
- Popular Mechanics
- Sports Afield
- Ellery Queen’s Mystery
- Model Railroader
- Humpty Dumpty
- Life and Health
Life and Saturday Evening Post were two of the largest circulation general interest magazines of the period. Look was the third big one, but I do not yet have a copy of that. These magazines featured articles based on current events, some fiction, lots of color photographs, and plenty of advertising. These were all weekly magazines, allowing them to feature slightly more current articles than monthlies. The two issues of Life that I have both include articles about people moving to California, as this was the period when that state overtook New York as the most populous. People all over the country wanted to know more about that momentous change even if they were not moving themselves! Other articles included one about young women diplomats in Washington, DC, sports articles about the New York Yankees and Mets, Richard Nixon’s campaign for Governor of California, and a fashion layout…all with lots of full page photos, many in color. The Saturday Evening Post had a little different formula, with articles about the Salvation Army, director Alfred Hitchcock, college basketball, and some fiction.
McCall’s was more directly aimed at women, even billing itself as the “First Magazine for Women”. Their focus on women started with models on the covers. Articles cover fashion, housework, patterns for sewing clothes, movie celebrities, decorating, marriage problems, and page after page of recipes. Like the Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s includes some fiction. McCall’s stopped publishing in 2002. On the flip side, Popular Mechanics, Sports Afield, and True were aimed a male audiences. Each took a different piece instead of trying to lump several interests together like McCall’s. Popular Mechanics was one of several do-it-yourself magazines, with ideas on how to improve or build your home, tools to buy, model building, and an occasional article about one of the wars of the past 30 years. Ads were often for tools or career improvement.
True positioned itself as more high-testosterone publication, with articles on war, big game hunting and fishing, corporate success, and historical derring-do. It also had many cartoons, with punch lines often at the expense of women. Beer and cigarette ads dominated, along with career improvement, and hunting equipment. Sports Afield took the hunting interest even farther, being almost exclusively hunting stories. But it also looped back to Popular Mechanics-style articles about building hunting lodges, boat repair and such. Some of the stories were true accounts and other fiction. As with the other men’s magazines, ads for career improvement, hunting and fishing equipment and cigarettes predominated. All three of these publications also carried many pages of small, classified style ads for equipment, self-improvement, hobbies, vacation property (the famous swampland in Florida and desert in California scams), men’s health concerns, and shoes. Popular Mechanics and Sports Afield are still being published, but True closed in 1975.
Of course, as a 9-year old during 1962, my interests ran more to Humpty Dumpty, Boys’ Life, and MAD. I was just on the edge of a kid’s magazine like Humpty Dumpty; its mix of easy-to-read stories, crafts and other activities, and games no longer very interesting. I didn’t help that pages were printed in cheap one color plus black with cartoony artwork. I still made a few of the projects, but seldom read much of the book at this stage. What began to capture my interest were comic books and MAD. An older boy on the block gave my family a box of comics he was no longer interested in, and there were two issues from 1962 in it. The satire and irreverent humor just grabbed this pre-teen. I’m sure one of these was issue #71, which included “Don Martin in Sherwood Forest”. I still find that to be one of the best Robin Hood spoofs ever. And “The Birth of a Madison Avenue Brand Name” gave the most improbable reasons for how common household products I recognized, like Lava Soap and Comet Cleanser, were named. There was enough fun stuff in the few issues I got hold of to get me to subscribe by 1964! Humpty Dumpty is currently published by the Saturday Evening Post Society Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization. MAD is also still being published, despite a rumor in recent years that it was folding.
The last four magazines I have are kind of mixed bag of genres. These were all specialty magazines of types I never saw as a kid. Ellery Queen’s Mystery was a magazine of short stories and installments of longer stories in the genre of mysteries. They were by both new authors and established authors, and the issue I have even included a reprint of an original Sherlock Holmes mystery installment. Advertisements were limited to other offerings from the publisher, the same system used by MAD magazine. Life and Health covered a wide range of health subjects. The cover story featured astronaut John Glenn and his good foundation of health that allowed him to be selected for the astronaut program. There were also articles on diaper rash, chickenpox, coffee and tea, and healthy recipes. The advertising was for various health-related products like home a yogurt maker, various juicers, herbs, spices, and supplements, and books on health. Ellery Queen’s Mystery is still being published. Life and Health disappeared long ago but I cannot find when: perhaps it merged into some other health magazine.
Model Railroader was specifically for folks who liked to build models of railroads. I had a model railroad later in life and subscribed to the magazine then. The 1962 version appears very similar in format and topics. It contained reviews of new equipment on the market, photo of real railroads for modeling reference, a complete track layout of someone’s model, articles on how to build models from scratch, and how to best use model kits. There are two major differences from more recent issues though: much more emphasis on the metal machining and woodworking to build your own models, and a complete lack of color photos. Trains magazine seems to be a hybrid between a magazine for people just generally interested in trains and railroading, and a trade magazine for people in the business. This issue includes articles on what railroad companies are doing in areas such as switching to diesel power, food service, and locomotive repair. The ads seem more oriented to drumming up passenger business for the railroads, which means they are for the railroad fan, though there are also ads for actual railroad equipment targeted to managers. Though there are plenty of photographs, none are in color. Trains and Model Railroader are both from the same publisher and are still published monthly: it appears they tried to cover the railroad market.
Well, I’m off to read a magazine until the next installment of Roadtrip-'62 ™, maybe Readers’ Digest. My mother had a subscription to that when I was young. I think I mostly read the food advertisements because the coupons fascinated me.
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2020 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2020 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.