The History of Magazines

Reading a magazine is an activity many have enjoyed for years. Perhaps you’re a magazine fan yourself.  It may not be as intricate as the Phonautograph by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville but who can say magazines didn’t have a significant impact!

However, it’s worth remembering that there was a time when magazines didn’t exist. If you enjoy reading magazines, you may want to know a little more about their history.

No single blog post could tell you everything you need to know about the history of magazines. That said, this overview will introduce you to the basics, helping you better understand where one of your favorite leisure activities comes from.

The Early Years of Magazine Printing

Lack of access to printing technology was among the primary reasons humankind spent most of its existence without any type of media that could be compared to a magazine. In the 17th century, though, the printing press was widely available throughout Europe.

This triggered a new trend that would eventually result in magazine printing. In various spots across the continent, individuals and groups began printing brochures, almanacs, and similar publications. They eventually discovered they could be more successful by releasing these works according to regular schedules and focusing on topics that would appeal to specific groups of readers.

The Next Stages of Magazine Printing

Between the years of 1663 and 1668, German theologian and poet Johann Rist published what is generally considered to be the first magazine ever. It was called Erbauliche Monaths-Unterredungen, or Edifying Monthly Discussions.

The popularity of this regular publication gave rise to similar publications throughout Europe. Those who first followed in Rist’s footsteps were based in France, England, and Italy.

The early magazines mainly focused on serious topics, such as religion, global affairs, society, etc. However, in the early 1670s, French publishers began printing magazines that contained both serious stories and humorous content. They are credited with publishing the first magazines that were designed to entertain or amuse readers.

The British and Americans Join the Magazine Game

Magazine publishing in Britain started to become more commonplace in the early 18th century. Many British magazines were noteworthy in that they were printed daily. While this might make it sound as though they were simply newspapers, many scholars have determined that their content, which often focused on specific topics and included numerous opinion pieces, qualified them as a magazine.

American magazine publishing began closer to the mid-18th century. American magazines’ popularity faded quickly, mainly due to there being limited ways to distribute them and few citizens with enough leisure time to read them, but they regained popularity when the century came to a close.

Modern Magazines Are Born

Around the 1830s, methods of printing and distributing magazines started to become much more affordable than they had been. This resulted in printers focusing on printing magazines that amused mass audiences. Although this trend began to gain traction in the 1830s, the magazine credited with first starting it, The Saturday Evening Post, began printing in 1821. It may be the first modern magazine.

Now, magazines are everywhere. They’re so widely available that many of us take them for granted. However, as this brief history indicates, up until very recently, they were unavailable to the vast majority of people.

That’s something to consider the next time you open one up.