IV

“The Paper”

Brit Hadden did not move to Chicago that year. He returned to New York after a summer of traveling and went to work for the prestigious New York World, a job he got by marching into the editor’s office and stating that he needed experience at a good newspaper to prepare himself for starting his own. But Luce was not really much interested in what Hadden was doing in any case. He had other plans, centered on the promise of a job and, perhaps more important, the promise of romance.

The job at International Harvester proved chimerical. Shortly after his arrival in Chicago, in the midst of the severe recession of 1921, he went to the office of Mrs. McCormick’s son Harold, the president of the company. According to Luce’s own later accounts, one of the McCormick executives told him that, given Mrs. McCormick’s interest, he could have a job if he wanted one, but that someone currently on the payroll would have to be fired to make room for him. “Of course I don’t want you to fire anyone,” Harry remembered replying. The story is certainly plausible. But it is also consistent with Luce’s earlier explanations of thwarted ambitions—most notably his failure to win the chairmanship of the Yale Daily News, which he also claimed to have selflessly abandoned in the interests of others.1

Luce soon found another, less lucrative job, on the Chicago Daily News. The News was, in the eyes of the city’s prosperous middle class, the “respectable” paper in town—without the egomaniacal flamboyance of Col. Robert McCormick’s Tribune or the Hearstian populism of the Herald-Examiner. But the Daily News was hardly the sober guardian of standards that its defenders liked to believe—as Luce soon discovered when he was assigned to work as an assistant to the popular columnist Ben Hecht, who later became a successful playwright and screenwriter. He was perhaps best known for the play, and later film, The Front Page, which he wrote with Charles MacArthur—a classic, if romanticized, portrayal of life in a Chicago newsroom.

Hecht was only four years older than Luce, but he had already developed the crusty style of a grizzled newspaperman. His column, “A Thousand and One Afternoons,” consisted of colorful and often sentimental stories about ordinary Chicagoans. And while Hecht did not invent the stories—there was always a real event at the core of his column—he had no inhibitions about embroidering and enhancing reality. Luce’s job was to find a nugget of truth, an offbeat story or event, on which Hecht could base his flights of fancy. The relationship was apparently not a successful one, and it lasted little more than a month. Hecht was condescending toward his assistant. Luce was privately contemptuous of the column he was helping Hecht create. After a few weeks they parted ways.2

Years later Hecht claimed to have fired Luce for incompetence. But Luce did not leave the paper when he left the column, which casts some doubt on Hecht’s self-serving account. Luce joined the general news staff (moving, he later claimed, because both Hecht and his editor decided he was too talented to be Hecht’s legman). He worked for a while as a junior reporter, scouring police stations, the courts, and the streets for news. His occasional stories were not invented or embroidered, but they were sometimes as idiosyncratic as Hecht’s column had been. Among his published pieces were an account of a millionaire tossing money to a crowd in front of his hotel, a description of a Russian pianist giving a concert from a rowboat in Lincoln Park, a story about a religious group that had declared playing baseball a crime. He remained frustrated by what he considered the triviality of his assignments and by his lack of greater progress at the paper. “I haven’t shown any brilliance,” he wrote desolately to his parents (describing what he called his “fatuous existence”), “yet apparently the work has been satisfactory.” Even that did not last very long, however. The Daily News was no more immune to the postwar recession than was International Harvester, and it began laying off employees in the fall of 1921. Luce, among the most recently hired, was one of the first to go. “It was a pretty bad blow,” he confessed to his mother, but he took some comfort from the assurances he received from his editors that his work had been “thoroughly satisfactory” and that they would gladly hire him again if they could. “I don’t suppose it really means I have failed,” he concluded, “but just that I haven’t been anything out of the ordinary.”3

Once more without a job, he “went back to the conclusion I had come to in England”—that he should find a position in business and ensure his financial security. But the bleak recession winter was not a good time to be looking for work anywhere. He wrote Harold McCormick again asking about the possibility of a place at International Harvester, but there were still no jobs. He made the rounds of other Chicago businesses but found only more discouragement. As he always did when he sensed defeat, he tried to distance himself from his failure and took refuge in “philosophy.” He was, he insisted, not really interested in “worldly things,” and he was determined to wait before committing himself to any specific future. He expressed pity for Harold McCormick, whose path in life had been predetermined and who thus had “never had a chance.” And he insisted, perhaps somewhat too emphatically, that “I regret nothing.” He also took comfort in what he considered his great achievements at Yale. “What has been can never be destroyed. It is treasure laid up in heaven, and perhaps all I shall ever be able to claim there. And I am determined that no action of mine in the future shall cast a shadow upon the brightness of the past.” By the end of the year he was considering moving back to Manhattan, where his parents were living temporarily. But there was, he told his mother, “something that may keep me away from New York”: That “something” was Lila Hotz.4

Harry and Lila’s infatuation with each other had been sustained primarily by letters until they found themselves together in Chicago. In the nine months between their first meeting in Rome and their reunion in Chicago, they had spent a total of little more than a week in each other’s company. Now that they were in the same city, they had their first chance to spend extended time together—although it was carefully bounded by the proprieties of Chicago society and the strict chaperon-age to which, even at age twenty, Lila was still mostly subject. For Harry the relationship was dazzling not just because of his feelings for Lila, but because of the glamorous social world to which it gave him entrée. Lila’s family was wealthy, well connected, and socially prominent, and Harry found himself drawn into a swirl of parties, balls, dinners, and other events in the busy Chicago and Lake Forest social scenes. Modestly subsidized by the now-ailing Mrs. McCormick, he acquired some expensive clothes, hats, and even a slightly foppish walking stick. For a short time he sported a fashionable mustache. (Returning once to the Daily News building in the evening to retrieve a book he had left behind—dressed for Lake Forest, walking stick in hand—he entered an elevator with the editor in chief, Henry Justin Smith, who looked him over and said sardonically, “Ah, Luce, a journalist I see.”)5

Sometime in October, having previously said almost nothing to his parents about Lila, he wrote his mother a “personal line” on a subject he thought would be “of some interest to you.” He was seeing “the young woman,” he said, “about every other day, with the result that I am in no condition to have the custody of my own person and am totally irresponsible for any of my actions.” This was his first serious relationship, and he did not yet trust himself to succeed at it, particularly given his own penury and his fear (which turned out to be justified) that Lila’s mother would oppose their relationship because she believed Harry to have inadequate social or financial standing. And so he tried to prepare himself, as he often did, for disappointment. “I don’t dare look ahead,” he told his mother (after cautioning her not to say anything about Lila to his father, whose disapproval he still feared above all else). “I suppose the crash is bound to come, but it’s just too awful to think of. At present, everything is ok, in fact, magnificent, because, as I say, I just don’t think.”6

As their relationship deepened, Harry and Lila managed to find more time to themselves—on weekends, when they spent afternoons alone in the garden or in a sitting room at Lila’s home, or occasionally in the evenings, when they went alone to a restaurant or club for dinner. At some point that fall they proclaimed their love for each other, and Harry asked Lila to marry him. She was not ready to accept. She still had some “reservations” about their relationship, she told him, but had “great trust” in his ability to “work things out.” Harry claimed to be puzzled. “I did not absorb a very accurate understanding of these reservations,” he wrote her. “I hope you will explain them more formally.” But he almost certainly sensed that they were related to his straitened economic circumstances, which still made him seem an inappropriate match to Lila’s socially ambitious family (and perhaps to Lila herself). Speculating in a letter to Lila about the continuing uncertainty in their relationship, he suggested coldly that perhaps “it was unfortunate that I should have allowed myself to become interested in you since you would never marry such an impecunious nobody, even if I should succeed in making myself fairly agreeable, which apparently I have not altogether done.” But at other moments he expressed real pain. “Do you think I wanted to fall in love with you or anybody?” he asked, recalling his earlier and now abandoned determination to lead a single life. “Don’t you know how I tried to kid myself out of it? … Can’t you imagine how … I almost cheered when first it occurred to me that perhaps $1,000,000 stood between us, and how I almost praised God for such a thoroughly practical, sensible world? And—don’t you see?”7

One reason being laid off at the News came as such a blow to him was the threat it posed to his hopes of marrying Lila. It was also because the sense of professional failure it produced in him was in such contrast to the intoxicating social world he was simultaneously inhabiting. He yearned for the wealth that he saw around him. “How I should love to have an ancestral home where I could bring you,” he confessed. “I have never wanted this kind of thing before.” He even began to regret, even slightly to resent, his father’s choice in going to China and “giving up all that America offered.” This was, he said, “the only bitterness my heart has felt, that I have not the things I should love to give you.”8

At this dark moment, with Luce wrestling with his desire for Lila and his fear of failure, lifelines suddenly appeared. He accepted a verbal offer of a job with a machine-manufacturing firm in New York, despite Lila’s unhappiness about his leaving Chicago. He no doubt concluded that he would have a better chance of winning her if he was employed in New York than unemployed in Chicago. But before he could begin the new job, Brit Hadden wrote him to relay an offer to the two of them to go to work on the Baltimore News, part of a chain of newspapers owned by the legendary Frank Munsey, the longtime publisher of the popular Munsey’s Magazine. The jobs had been arranged for them by their Yale classmate and fellow Skull and Bones member Walter Millis, who was already working there. They would be paid forty dollars a week (far more than either of them had made at their previous newspapers), he wrote excitedly to Lila, and they would “circulate in all departments of the newspaper, with practically a guarantee that inside of a year we will be minor officers at $4,000 a year. They are crazy to get us.” They would also have a chance, Hadden reminded Luce, to work on what they both were now calling “the paper,” the magazine they still dreamed of starting. Luce wavered at first about taking the Baltimore job, but Hadden—“furious at me” for not being as enthusiastic as Brit was—finally persuaded him that it was a “good gamble,” and he accepted the position. Hadden had already quit his dreary job at the World, where he had been toiling on such stories as “Sugar Bowl Made Lump on Her Head,” and “Cuts Wife Silk Hose for Use as Socks.” He had spent previous months working on a tramp steamer. Like Luce, he was ready for a challenge.9

Suddenly filled again with self-confidence, Luce wrote his former editor at the Daily News that he was leaving “the grand army of the unemployed” for a job he made clear was considerably better than the one he had lost. He was, he said with mock regret, ignoring Smith’s advice to “get out of newspapers.” “What makes it worse,” he cockily added, “is that two of us are showing signs of pernicious insanity and will probably undertake a new publishing venture in a few months.” In a tentative postscript, however, he revealed his lingering professional anxiety: “I suppose I am not under any obligation to explain to Mr. F. Munsey’s representatives that I was ‘fired’ from the News. If you think I am, will you please let me know?”10

Luce spent no longer in Baltimore than he had in Chicago. Except for his separation from Lila, however, it was a much happier experience. The work at the Baltimore News was in fact not very challenging. He and Hadden were the junior reporters on the staff, and they were again covering the least-appealing stories. But because he was once again working with friends, and because the Baltimore paper, unlike the Chicago one, was proud to have “college men” on the staff, he was much better treated and felt much more confident than he had been at the Daily News. “I did a totally unique story, rather impossible, but elicited favorable comment,” he wrote shortly after his arrival. “Interest shown in us is the main point.” A few days later he reported, “Nothing that either of us has written has been rejected…. We seem to be quite the pets of the office.” Luce and Hadden quickly developed a reputation as “star men” in writing features and (ironically, given Harry’s experience in Chicago) were asked to “try our hand at working up a ‘Ben Hecht’ series.”11

But the newspaper job, despite the chances for rapid advancement—his salary, he reminded Lila, “will be about as much as any class-mate is making (with a year’s start on me)”—was only an expedient. He and Brit were quietly planning what Harry called “the gamble of our lives on which everything depends, everything … the crazy half-romantic thing that has ruined thousands before us.” They were, he told Lila, going to start

a weekly called “Facts.” It will contain all the news on every sphere of human interest, and the news organized. There will be articles on politics, books, sport, scandal, science, society, and no article will be longer than 200 words. Nothing will be too obvious. We assume nothing—e.g. that our readers know what 5-5-3* means, or who is John Masefield or Babe Ruth…. [It would] serve the illiterate upper classes, the busy business man, the tired debutante, to prepare them at least once a week for a table conversation.12

Luce and Hadden usually finished their work at the paper at 3 o’clock (the News was an evening paper). They then returned promptly to the apartment they shared with Millis on the shabby top floor of a Baltimore mansion (rented out by “nice people” who were in financial difficulty) to plan strategy and experiment with formats. “We were groping toward … the practice,” Luce later recalled, “by actually chopping up the New York Times, and reorganizing [it] on a weekly basis, and then trying to put these stories together.” Stopping only for dinner, which they took with another “‘society’ family, slightly impoverished,” they worked for hours every night. They typed out sample stories, experimenting with different styles and formats. Millis, who had the greatest literary talent of the three, actually did most of the writing; but Hadden and Luce were clearly in charge. They were trying to find the fatal flaw in their idea and, they claimed, failing to find it. But their ideas about timing, location, and business plans changed constantly. They would start publishing almost immediately; they would wait six months; they would wait a year, or more. They would stay in Baltimore; they would move to Washington; they would establish themselves in Detroit or Cleveland or New York. Hadden and Luce would be the sole stock owners; they would distribute stock among investors; they would attract people to work on the magazine by giving them stock as well. Almost everything was in flux. But the core idea—what the magazine would be and what purpose it would serve—remained fairly constant. “The thing is very largely Hadden’s idea,” Luce privately confessed to Lila, “but he swears that without me he cannot put it over. Personally I think I am dashed lucky to be teaming up with him again.”13

After a few intense weeks they began to interrupt their work occasionally to participate in the Baltimore social world—a world far more staid and conservative than the New York and Chicago scenes with which Luce and Hadden were familiar. “Before I forget it, please send dress suit and white vest and cut-a-way [sic] and old heavy shoes,” Harry wrote his mother. “Baltimore is very old-fashioned.” Making use of their Skull and Bones connections, they found themselves “adopted for the nonce” by several families of the Baltimore elite, who secured them invitations to the city’s major social events. Luce viewed these social leaders with the same envy and awe he had felt in Detroit and Chicago when in the presence of wealth.14

Left to himself, the security-conscious Luce might have settled in at the Baltimore News, at least for a while, and tried to build a life for himself (and Lila) in the city. But Hadden never let him get too comfortable. He goaded and exhorted Harry to move their joint project—“the gamble of our lives”—forward more rapidly. Even while still working for the News, both Hadden and Luce began traveling intermittently to New York, to solicit advice from, among others, their former Yale English teacher Henry Seidel Canby, and to court potential investors through their Yale (and Skull and Bones) connections. In Baltimore they continued to refine their plans for what they were not yet calling a “magazine,” but rather a “weekly newspaper,” still tentatively titled Facts. By the beginning of February 1922, they decided they were ready to take what Luce called the “great leap into the unknown.” Although they had as yet raised very little money and had still not hired any staff, they negotiated a seven-week leave from the Baltimore News and moved to New York to begin bringing “the paper” to life. “I am confident,” Hadden wrote his mother, “that in the seven weeks prior to April 1, we shall be able to determine whether or not the paper, Facts, is going to be brought into existence.”15

They were nothing if not presumptuous—two twenty-four-year-olds, with almost no money and less than two years of professional journalism experience between them, setting out to start a magazine at the tail end of a severe recession. But their youth and relative inexperience were in many ways advantages in the task they had embraced. If they had not still been cocky young Yale prodigies, if their outlook had been more tempered by the realities of the world, they might not have dared to imagine so bold a project. And because they were determined to create something, as Luce wrote, “totally different from anything now being given to the American public,” it was not entirely a disadvantage to have had relatively scant training.16

From their earliest conversations about “the paper”—at Yale, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, during the war, and most recently in their apartment in Baltimore—their vision of their magazine was shaped by their sense of the inadequacy of existing sources of news, which were thus not models for their own task. Both men were critical of the daily newspapers of the 1920s—the impassioned Brit far more outspokenly than the methodical Harry. Hadden was particularly contemptuous of the Hearst and Pulitzer papers, whose sensationalism, he said, pandered to the ignorance of their working-class readers, whom he disdained as “gum-chewers.” But he and Luce were almost equally contemptuous of the “serious” newspapers—what they considered their leaden formulaic prose, their slavish adherence to the mechanical style of the Associated Press, and their excessive length. Anyone interested in lively or imaginative writing, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism wrote in 1922, “makes a nuisance of himself in the newspaper.” An eye for “objective facts” and “clean copy” were what editors should want. “People have to think too hard to read [the newspapers],” Luce observed of the dry, fact-laden broadsheets. Hadden, never afraid to attack sacred cows, was particularly contemptuous of the most respected newspaper of the day, the New York Times. It was, he liked to say—throwing the paper dismissively onto a table—“unreadable.”17

The modern Times was the creation of Adolph Ochs, the publisher of the Chattanooga Times, who had moved to New York City just before the turn of the century to make his mark in the newspaper capital of the nation. He bought the floundering New York Times for $75,000 in 1896 and announced that he would transform it into a paper that would “give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society … impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect, or interest involved.” By 1922 the Times had long since established itself as the most serious and important paper in New York, and indeed the nation. “Taking” the Times was for many New Yorkers a symbol of membership in the educated elite, something close to a social obligation. But few people read the Times for pleasure. Its dense eight columns of small type, only occasionally relieved by pictures or illustrations, was daunting enough. But the sober language, the statesmanlike nonpartisan conservatism, the dutiful reporting of obscure political and diplomatic events, the vast transcripts of speeches and press conferences, the dry public documents, the scrupulous resistance to analysis or overt expressions of opinion—all contributed to the Times’s other, less-welcome reputation. It was not just the “newspaper of record,” it was also the “great gray lady,” or, as the legendary journalist A. J. Liebling described it, “the colorless, odorless, and especially tasteless Times … a political hermaphrodite capable of intercourse with conservatives of both parties at the same time.”18

Luce and Hadden found only a little more inspiration in the magazines of their time than they did from newspapers. There had in fact been something of a revolution in American magazines beginning in the late nineteenth century. The dominant journals of earlier decades—among them Harper’s Monthly, the Atlantic Monthly, and Century—were written explicitly for educated Protestant social elites and usually expressed their readers’ provincial literary tastes and their class and ethnic prejudices. But the new magazines sought, as one publisher put it, to convey the “whirlpool of real life,” and to do so in a livelier, more vivid way than had the staid, genteel publications of the past. The result was a dramatic increase in magazine circulation, which more than doubled between 1890 and 1905. (Newspaper readership increased by only about 50 percent in those same years.)19

The new magazines achieved this impressive growth by charging less, by broadening the range of their stories, and by encouraging livelier and more accessible writing. As a result they reached beyond the narrow, elite audiences of their older competitors and engaged the interest of an emerging new, urban middle class, increasingly diverse in both background and interests. The highest-circulating genteel magazine of the late nineteenth century had been Century, with a readership of roughly 250,000. By the early twentieth century, Munsey’s—having transformed itself from a weekly to a heavily illustrated and slightly racy monthly, and having lowered its price from a quarter to a dime—was regularly selling seven hundred thousand issues a month, more than the circulation of Century, Harper’s, and the Atlantic combined. McClure’s Magazine, another low-price illustrated monthly, which specialized in heroic biographies and history before it turned gradually into the leading journal of the “muckrakers,” was selling nearly three hundred thousand copies an issue by the turn of the century. Collier’s, long a publisher of popular and prestigious fiction, added commentary on public affairs, war reporting by the famous Richard Harding Davis, muckraking investigative work by Samuel Hopkins Adams and others, and a heavy dose of controversial social gossip. Later it flourished by publishing lengthy excerpts from important books. Its circulation, about half a million in 1912, approached a million in the mid-1920s. The Saturday Evening Post, purchased and saved from bankruptcy in 1893 by Cyrus Curtis, became the largest-selling magazine in the country (its circulation passed a million in 1908 and reached two million by the early 1920s) with its mix of Horatio Alger–like business stories, romantic fiction, Norman Rockwell covers, and conservative anti-immigrant politics laced with a vague anti-Semitism (one of its most popular features in the early twentieth century was a series of “funny stories about Jews”). Many other periodicals were also searching for an audience within the expanding middle class: Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, a lively melange of high and low culture and popular fiction, which had well over a million subscribers by 1920; Vanity Fair, reinvented by Condé Nast and Frank Crowninshield in 1913 as a sleek monthly “which covers the things people talk about at parties—the arts, sports, humor, and so forth,” and which acquired a relatively small but devoted readership among what was soon to be known as the “smart set;” and most important of all to Hadden and Luce, the Literary Digest, the only popular magazine that attempted to present real news.20

The Digest, which was to be Time’s principal competitor, was already a publishing legend by the early 1920s. Launched in 1890 by Isaac Funk and Adam Wagnalls—two Lutheran ministers-turned-publishers, best known in later years for encyclopedias and dictionaries bearing their names—it was modeled on several earlier efforts, in both Britain and America, among them the London-based Review of Reviews. Such magazines aspired to present readers with a wide selection of writing from other publications, which in an age before strict international (or even national) copyright laws was both cheap and easy to assemble. The Digest’s editors called it “a repository of contemporaneous thought and research as presented in the periodical literature of the world.” The Digest did not really synthesize the material it collected. It usually simply reprinted it (mostly unsigned and unattributed), often at great and redundant length. When it published straight news, it often chose the most detailed and extensive stories. A 1928 article entitled “A Free Hand for Coolidge in Nicaragua,” for example, sprawled over three densely printed (and densely written) pages: “A signal victory for sound principles and common sense is seen … in the vote of Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate, fifty-two to twenty-two, in favor of keeping American marines in Nicaragua.” When it ran editorials from other publications, it tried to pair opposing views—an argument against the United States joining the League of Nations paired with one in favor of it, for example. It also cannibalized other periodicals for humor and advice columns, poetry, society items, and cartoons. It did no reporting, and very little writing, of its own—other than its eclectic weekly quizzes on the contents of the issue (“What great European power has accepted the Kellogg plan to renounce war?” “What will take the pucker out of persimmons?”) and a gossipy feature called “Personal Glimpses.”21

By 1920, its circulation well over a million, the Digest launched the first of its celebrated straw polls by sending out sixteen million postcard ballots to readers (and many others) all over the country, asking them to name their choice in the upcoming presidential election. The sample, although dramatically larger than that of any modern public opinion survey, had no real scientific basis; it simply reflected the Digest’s own subscriber list (largely middle class) and other lists it was able to acquire. Even so the Digest polls accurately predicted the outcomes (although not the margins) of four successive presidential elections starting in 1920, giving the magazine enormous publicity. The surveys also helped the Digest pick up subscribers—seventy thousand as a result of a 1932 straw poll on Prohibition alone.22

The success of the Literary Digest was both an inspiration and a challenge to Luce and Hadden as they contemplated a newsmagazine of their own. It proved that there was a large appetite for a “digest” of the news—that they were right in thinking that many Americans found most newspapers an inadequate or unsatisfying vehicle for learning about the world. It also suggested that they would face stiff competition. They themselves, however, were not intimidated by the Digest. It was, they believed, a staid relic of an earlier age—with its Christian earnestness (a legacy of its founding by theologians, who had envisioned it as a high-minded tool for “educators and ministers”), its essential humorlessness, and its dreary design. Their “paper” would be better.23

Back in New York, without salaries or any immediate prospects of them, they moved in with their families. Hadden went back to his mother’s home in Brooklyn, and Luce settled on the Upper West Side, near Columbia University, where his family was living during one of his father’s arduous fund-raising sojourns in the United States. At the same time that they were boldly launching new careers, they were also returning to the familiar rituals of family life—rushing home for dinner, going to family birthday parties and anniversaries, celebrating holidays. Both men also led active social lives in the circles to which their Yale experiences had given them entry, although they often had to make strained excuses to avoid events that would cost them money. But in many ways Luce’s and Hadden’s social lives were very different from each other. Hadden preferred late-night excursions with colleagues and college friends to restaurants and bars. Luce was more likely to attend lunches and teas, to go to the theater or the opera, or to meet friends for dinner at the Yale Club (events mainly paid for by others).24

Mostly, however, they worked on their “paper.” Luce wrote confidently of their prospects a few days after arriving in New York: “This next month … will probably be pretty crucial. The first 10 days we spend marching from expert to expert, until we have convinced ourselves that there is no obvious, potent, reason why Facts cannot succeed. We then spend a week or 10 days amassing the necessary capital, and having done that, we hold our breath and jump!” But things did not go as smoothly as they expected. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and still they had failed to raise the money they needed. They alternated between periods of great optimism, even elation, and other periods in which they seemed almost to recognize the folly of trying to start a new national magazine at the age of twenty-four with no money and no reputations. “We were never surer of our idea than at this moment,” Luce wrote in March, one of many times when the project seemed stalled. “The only question is whether we are old enough, etc. etc., to put it over.” The fear of failure—of ceasing to be the dazzling golden boys they had been since Hotchkiss, or as Hadden once put it, of losing the “respect of my friends and acquaintances”—drove them forward almost as much as the dream of success.25

Even in their moments of greatest discouragement, however, Luce and Hadden stuck meticulously to their plan. The first step was drawing powerful and influential people into the orbit of their venture—asking advice from editors, publishers, and potential investors, and soliciting endorsements from the famous. It never occurred to Luce and Hadden that such people would refuse to see two unknown young men with no money or experience. For they understood instinctively how their social connections could ease their task. Their paths radiated outward from their fellow “Bones” alumni to the parents of their Yale friends, to other Yale alumni who remained loyal to the university, to a wider circle of eminent people to whom their Yale acquaintances provided access. They fanned out across New York—and up and down the East Coast—presenting their idea to prominent men, asking for advice, and, when the advice was encouraging, requesting a public endorsement. Not everyone was impressed. The well-known advertising executive Bruce Barton dismissed their plan as unfeasible: The Literary Digest, he said, already had a monopoly on magazine news—a warning they heard frequently from others as well. The former president of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot (himself the ostensible editor of the Harvard Classics, a popular condensation of great books), huffily dismissed the idea of condensing the news as “disgusting and disgraceful.”26

Others were encouraging and at least generous enough to lend their names to two earnest young men trying to get started, although they too could sometimes shake Luce’s and Hadden’s confidence. They paid a frustrating visit to Robert Underwood Johnson, former U.S. ambassador to Italy, whom Luce described as insufferably pompous, talking interminably about himself, unwilling to listen to their plans for the magazine, but ultimately agreeing to endorse the project nevertheless. Luce visited Cyrus Curtis—the famously successful publisher of the Saturday Evening Post. Curtis was aloof and condescending, unwilling to lend his name to the magazine, but he ultimately offered vaguely encouraging advice. Such were the perils of courting the rich and famous. Privately annoyed, Hadden and Luce were publicly polite and deferential. And they eventually won over a remarkable group of people. They attracted endorsements from academics: the presidents of Yale, Princeton, Williams, and Johns Hopkins, and the dean of Columbia College; the editor of the Literary Review (their old Yale instructor Henry Seidel Canby), the editor of the Springfield Republican (where Harry had worked during the summer after Hotchkiss), the editor of the New York World (where Brit had worked for a year after college), and Edward Bok, publisher of the Ladies’ Home Journal and other magazines, author of a renowned autobiography, now retired from business and “posing as the Medici of Philadelphia.” The editors of the Hartford Courant, the Century Magazine, and Harper’s also provided endorsements—but not, significantly, anyone at the New York Times, and not their former boss Frank Munsey. Walter Lippmann lent his support (“No American,” Luce said at the time, “has written more brilliantly during the last ten years on politics and government”). There were theologians (among them the Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, the dean of Riverside Church in New York, the Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts, the Presbyterian minister and diplomat Henry Van Dyke); financiers, secondary government officials, and a few people who were simply generically eminent—among them Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the former president. The list of names was a centerpiece of the magazine’s first advertising circular, sent to five hundred thousand people in the spring of 1922.27

Raising the money was far more difficult. Luce and Hadden drew up a budget that required them to find one hundred thousand dollars in order to put out their first issue, after which, they believed, circulation and advertising revenue (and additional investors attracted by their presumed success) would keep them going. They started with nothing. Renting a tiny office in a converted town house on East Seventeenth Street with money borrowed from Hadden’s parents, living abstemiously at home, deferring salaries for themselves and for most of their tiny staff, they began by seeking funds from friends and their friends’ families, confident that they could quickly find ten wealthy acquaintances, each of whom would invest ten thousand dollars. But it was a frustratingly slow process, and the confidence Luce had expressed at the beginning (“we will … spend a week or 10 days amassing the necessary capital”) quickly evaporated. “Every day,” Luce wrote in May 1922, “we see one or more ‘rich young men’ with the idea of getting them to come in with us on a proposition in which we expect to give them a pittance and take all the rest ourselves.” (Their plan was to offer investors “preferred” stock, while retaining for themselves almost all the “common” stock, the only stock that conferred voting rights.) “On the face of it,” he confessed, “this is not the easiest job imaginable.” His mood was not helped by a meeting with a “smart young vice president down at Bankers Trust,” who “as much as called us a bunch of crooks” and insisted that their entire financial plan was unrealistic, verging on fraudulent. (In fact, their financial plan, although slightly unorthodox, was in no way illegal.) “This is an awful month,” he moaned. “If we fail, our name is simple M-u-d mud.”28

The frustrating process fueled Harry’s envy, bordering on resentment, of his contemporaries who had inherited great wealth—and particularly of those who refused to part with any of it to help his own cause. He took sardonic note of the lavish homes, the expensive cars, the polo matches, the smug self-satisfaction of the rich young men he visited. (He made the mistake of expressing his disdain in one of his late-night letters to Lila, a young woman entirely committed to the world of wealth, only to receive a sharp rebuke from her. Harry quickly backtracked: “Far from being opposed to ancestors and aristocracy, I am heartily in favor of them…. Far from looking askance at inherited wealth, I only wish to heaven that I had nothing to do on earth but to inherit wealth.”) And working so closely with Hadden, he also occasionally—and uncharacteristically—echoed some of Brit’s class-bound prejudices as well. “Bratch and I are going to Philly to-morrow to see Gimbel (Jew store),” he wrote in early June. A few days later he reported a “raid upon ‘Charlie’ Rosenbloom—the Jewboy we missed, stupidly, at Pittsburg [sic].”29

At meeting after meeting they encountered friendly but guarded receptions, which usually ended with expressions of goodwill but no willingness to invest. Even those who did agree to buy shares usually did so in small increments—five hundred dollars here, a thousand there. (“Of course, any loose change I have is yours,” one of their wealthy Yale friends said, somewhat condescendingly, when they asked him for support.) “It’s an awful strain on the nerves,” Luce wrote, “because one has to believe and believe and believe.” In reality the fund-raising was going badly only when measured by their own unrealistically optimistic projections. By early June, only a few weeks after they had begun searching in earnest for investors, they had raised twenty thousand dollars. “Not bad,” Harry confessed in a hopeful moment. In mid-June they received a five-thousand-dollar pledge—one of their largest so far—from their Yale friend Shorty Knox, a wealthy, polo-playing “S-v-g-” (“Savage,” the Skull and Bones epithet for a member of a rival Yale senior society). A few days later another Yale friend invited Harry to lunch and, unsolicited, offered one thousand dollars. Even so it was hard to maintain their confidence and optimism in the face of the “terrible grind and slow results.” “People are naturally very scarey,” he admitted, “about entrusting their hard earned cash to youngsters.” It was not, he confessed, “the easiest thing ever attempted by three unknown musqueteers.” It was harder still because he could not turn to his most reliable supporter, Nettie McCormick, who was now gravely ill. Harry, in desperation, wrote to his father, who was himself traveling the country in search of money, asking (in vain) for five hundred dollars for the magazine and for help in identifying other investors. He even guiltily hinted that he would not be displeased if his father asked Mrs. McCormick for help on his behalf. (There is no evidence to suggest that his father did any of these things.) “If I had only $1,000, I would put it all in,” he said. “So much so, that right now, at least, I wish I hadn’t gone to Oxford—although fundamentally, I suppose, the Oxford year is indirectly invested in the paper as it is.” Even decades later Luce looked back on “that business of raising the money” as “about the toughest, hardest, most discouraging work that I’ve experienced.”30

In the midst of this grueling process they received a surprising inquiry from the Independent—a once-distinguished journal of opinion, closely associated with Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations, which was now floundering. The owners proposed that Luce and Hadden abandon their plans for a new magazine and take over the Independent instead. It would, they argued, be easier to raise money for an established publication than for a new one. “Of course, it is hard to resist the chance of stepping at our age into control of what has been a pretty famous and powerful publication,” Luce conceded. But after considering the Independent’s grim financial circumstances, they declined the offer. (The magazine declared bankruptcy a little over a year later.) Their own prospects did not seem much brighter than the Independent’s, but, Harry explained, “the best thing seems to be to keep lugging until we’re licked and we can stand a lot of licking yet. So carry on in hope is our motto.” By late July they had made modest progress—“38,000 in hand;” but that was still far from the one hundred thousand dollars they believed they needed. They were, Harry said, “laying many traps, wires, and fences, and are not without hope of achieving our purpose.” But “not without hope” was far from the confidence they had once expressed, and both Hadden and Luce were spending many long nights worrying about failure.31

Suddenly, in August, their fortunes changed. At the suggestion of a friend, Harry rode up to the Yale Club for a meeting with a recent graduate, William Hale Harkness, class of 1922, and his wealthy mother, Mrs. William L. Harkness, hoping at best for a $5,000 investment. To his astonishment Mrs. Harkness pledged $20,000 to the magazine, and her son $5,000 more, which—when combined with other small investments they had recently accumulated—brought their total up to $65,000. Another $10,000 came quickly from two other members of the Harkness family. “That means,” an exultant Luce wrote, “that by the end of September at latest we will be capitalized. So the end of a very long and arduous and trying job is now at least within crying distance.” And while the last $25,000 proved even more difficult to raise than the first, they managed to push their total up to nearly $87,000 by late October, at which point they decided to move ahead. A few weeks later—as carpenters banged away in the new and larger offices they had rented at Eighth Avenue and Thirty-third Street—they filed the papers that would create their new company.32

It had been hard during the long months of collecting endorsements and money to focus on the magazine itself. But Luce and Hadden did work steadily, amid all their other efforts, at building a staff, refining and elaborating their plans, and—not least—finding a name.

Hadden and Luce always claimed that they had never intended to stick with “Facts,” the working title for many months of what they were half-mockingly calling between themselves “the world’s greatest magazine.” In the spring of 1922 they began to experiment with alternatives. For a while, they were attracted to “What’s What,” and they briefly considered such others as “Destiny,” “Chance,” and the “Synthetic Review.” But one spring morning Luce came into the office to propose another name. He had, he later said, been riding home on the subway the night before, exhausted and glassy eyed, mindlessly reading the advertising cards above the car windows. For some reason he focused on an announcement—“Time for a Change,” or something like it, he later recalled—and he became convinced that “Time” was the right title. Hadden immediately agreed, and they never reconsidered. “Time” was attractive to them because it captured something of the dual purpose of their enterprise—to chronicle the passage of time and to save readers precious time. “Take Time—It’s Brief,” was one of the early slogans they attached to their announcements of the new publication; “Time Will Tell” and “Time Is Valuable” were others. They also attached a pretentious Latin phrase (De omni re scibili et quibusdam aliis—“About all things knowable and some others”). “Time” was not a particularly original title. Newspapers all over the world called themselves the Times, and there had been an English magazine in the late nineteenth century named “Time,” which Luce and Hadden soon discovered and whose logo they used as the basis of the distinctive lettering in the title of their own magazine. They experimented with various subtitles, using such words as “chronicle” and “digest” and “weekly newspaper;” but they finally settled on a term of their own invention: “news-magazine.” (The hyphen disappeared in the late 1920s.) It reflected Hadden’s delight in creating new compound words and phrases.33

At first they worked virtually alone. Culbert Sudler, their Yale classmate and close friend, joined the staff early on and seemed briefly to be a third and almost equal partner. (He even lived for a time with the Luce family in Morningside Heights.) He was energetic, enthusiastic, and good at using his contacts to identify potential investors. But he was never able fully to commit himself to the venture, partly because of pressure from his family to find a more secure job, and partly because he simply could not keep up with Harry and Brit. “Cully is unfortunately not equal to the ‘present crisis,’ as has been shown during the past two weeks,” Harry wrote during one of the many discouraging moments of their first months in New York. In August, Sudler left to take a publishing job with Doubleday Page. Later, Luce and Hadden tried to recruit their friend Walter Millis, who had remained behind at the Baltimore News when they moved to New York. Millis, Luce believed, “had the best mind in Yale 1920” and was destined to be their “star writer.” But he, too, wavered at the prospect of committing himself to so uncertain a venture; and after changing his mind several times, decided finally to stay in Baltimore after the newspaper offered him a raise—“an affair doing him very little credit,” Harry complained angrily. “His defection simply means that more still depends upon the Bratch & me.”34

Gradually they moved beyond the circle of their Yale contemporaries—but not far beyond. The early staff of the magazine was drawn entirely from their own generation; almost none of their significant colleagues was older than they were. And it was also drawn almost entirely from their own social world—recent graduates of Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Columbia, all of them, unsurprisingly, white male Protestants. “We didn’t hardly know anybody else,” Luce plaintively explained years later. For the most part Hadden and Luce did not question, or even really notice, what was in fact one of the most distinctive characteristics of their enterprise—its striking homogeneity. It seemed even less remarkable to them that the staff was virtually all male. They hired a few young women as secretaries (“stenos,” they called them), and Luce, at least, flirted at times with bringing in talented social acquaintances to do substantive work on the magazine—on the assumption that such women were likely bored and in need of something interesting to do. He wrote Lila at one point to see if one of her Chicago friends, then living in New York, might be interested in writing the music column for the magazine. And he once asked Lila herself if she would like to help with the religion section. Nothing came of either idea. Hadden and Luce had lived virtually their entire previous lives in all-male institutions—Chefoo (for Harry), Hotchkiss, Yale, the army, newspaper staffs. It rarely occurred to them, or to most other male professionals of their time, to question the absence of women from their offices.35

Their first important recruit after Sudler was Manfred Gottfried, an aspiring novelist, who had heard about the Luce-Hadden venture through the rumor mill at Yale, where he was a senior. He showed up one day in February at the office on East Seventeenth Street to find Harry and Brit alone in the room, sitting at matching, end-to-end desks under the window, an iron kettle between them to catch cigarette butts. Luce spoke energetically about their plans and grilled Gottfried about his modest experiences. Hadden, who was oddly shy with strangers, remained unsettlingly silent. A few days later Harry traveled up to New Haven to offer Gottfried the job, even if in a typically distracted way. He asked Gottfried to accompany him to see a tailor. Talking all the way, Luce finally made his proposal standing pantless in a shop stall while his trousers were being pressed. Gottfried (who soon became known within the office as “Gott” and who remained with the magazine for decades) immediately accepted and began work in October, several weeks before his salary was scheduled to begin. Eager and capable, he did everything from writing copy to fetching coffee. He even persuaded his father to invest one thousand dollars in the magazine.36

Not long after that they met Roy Larsen, a 1921 Harvard graduate and former business manager of the university’s literary magazine, the Advocate. He was trying to find a place in publishing in New York. Predictably his youth and limited experience did not open up very many important positions for him. His Harvard classmate John Cowles, son of the publisher of the Des Moines Register, offered him an attractive, low-level job in his father’s company. But before he could take it, Time stepped in. Luce and Hadden could provide far more senior positions within their nascent organization than someone of Larsen’s age could have expected anywhere else, and they took his undergraduate achievements more seriously than other employers would have done. They pursued Larsen aggressively, perhaps because they recognized something in him they badly needed. He was competent, certainly, but he also exuded an air of solidity, maturity, and competitive tenacity (“a grim but smiling terrier,” a colleague once described him) that, for all their self-confidence, they feared they still partly lacked. In a company staffed entirely by people in their early twenties, Larsen (although a year younger than Luce and Hadden) seemed the most securely adult. He turned down the job of advertising manager, but Harry and Brit went back to him and finally persuaded him to take charge of circulation, a job more to his liking. They even offered him a salary of forty dollars a week, more than they were paying themselves. In return they got a talented and energetic partner, who struggled to build a subscription base for a magazine no one had heard of and few understood, and who—next to Luce and his successors as editor in chief—would become the most important figure in the company until his death in 1979. Using multiple mailing lists and enthusiastically written circulars, Larsen managed to build up a base of about eight thousand subscribers before the first issue appeared—a disappointingly small number to Luce and Hadden, although even they occasionally had to confess that it was “not so bad for a group of whippersnappers.”37

As they moved closer to publication, they expanded the staff further, still drawing from friends, acquaintances, and people suggested by their Yale contemporaries. On the basis of a suggestion from a friend, they hired a young Oxford student, Thomas J. C. Martyn, by cable, without ever meeting him, because they had heard he was an experienced journalist. They discovered when he arrived in New York that he had no experience at all. “It was a stupid thing for us to do,” Luce later conceded. But Martyn turned out to be a talented writer of exactly the kind of stories Harry and Brit wanted. Thomas Rinehart, the son of a well-known novelist and a recent Harvard graduate (who, Luce believed, hid a “quick intelligence” behind a “simple” facade), and John A. Thomas, another recent Yale graduate, also joined the writing staff.38

In the meantime Hadden and Luce strove to shape the magazine itself. To some degree the concept remained remarkably unchanged from the idea they had developed in Baltimore, and even earlier—as the prospectus they prepared early in 1922 to present to potential investors made clear. “No publication has adapted itself to the time which busy men are able to spend on simply keeping informed,” they stated in bold letters on the first page of the document. They followed quickly with a claim of “COMPLETE ORGANIZATION”—six departments (National Public Affairs, Foreign News, The Arts, Sports, and People) and twenty-four “sections” (among them Books, Theater, Music, Education, Religion, Business, Law, and The Professions). There would be approximately one hundred short articles each week, “none of which are over 400 words in length,” each placed “in its logical place in the magazine, according to a “FIXED METHOD OF ARRANGEMENT.”39

Into this rigid structure they would pour the results of what they described as a comprehensive search through “every magazine and newspaper of note in the world.” The cover of their first advertising circular was framed by a list of almost ninety periodicals, which they promised to read every week and use as sources. Unlike the Literary Digest, they pointedly claimed, they would cover “EVERY HAPPENING OF IMPORTANCE.” And while they would not have an editorial page and would not write “to prove any special case,” neither would they strive for “complete neutrality on public questions.” They even presented a slightly fussy “catalogue” of their own largely conservative “prejudices”—which included “a belief that the world is round,” “a general distrust of the present tendency toward increasing interference by government,” and a “respect for the old, particularly in manners.” In this, Larsen later remembered, they were drawing from Mencken, whom Hadden (far more than Luce) greatly admired.40

Only in November 1922, after they had raised enough money to start publishing, did they begin the serious work of turning these plans into an actual magazine. In their larger (but still modest) offices on Eighth Avenue, the slowly growing staff began squeezing into newly built cages and cubicles. The few walls were paper thin, so no one, including Luce and Hadden, could easily have a private conversation. Desktops were piled high with magazines and newspapers, and the floor was littered with the scraps of periodicals from which useful stories had been cut. Neophyte writers wrestled to condense complex news stories into a few hundred lively words, while Hadden and Luce sat at their desks reading the results, marking them up with pencil, and sending them back. (On weekends there was so little heat in the building that they sometimes retreated to the card room of the Yale Club and spread their stacks of papers out on tables there.) Hadden, in particular, was a tough critic, snarling and growling at prose he considered dull or obscure, penciling in adjectives and phrases that he thought would enliven the story, intimidating the writers, none of whom was much younger than he was. As they produced prototypes of the various sections of the magazine, they took them to the established editors and writers with whom they had been consulting from the beginning. “First section to get into form is ‘Books,’” Luce wrote, now that “Wells (Harpers) & Canby (Evening Post) have given OK.” But mostly they were on their own.41

It was slow going. “We publish the first issue of Time the last week of January or the first of February,” Luce wrote in November 1922, acknowledging that the date of the inaugural issue had slipped from December into 1923. “But first we have to make Timegood enough to publish and that means eight weeks of writing, editing, and printing ‘practice issues.’ The writing of the practice issues will be carried on by a full staff just as if we were publishing. We shall be just as busy and rushed (if not more so) as we will when the thing is actually being published…. If they do not meet with our expectations, we will stop, having failed to produce what we said we would produce. If they meet our expectations, then the only thing that stands between us and certain success is that unknown quantity ‘luck,’ absolutely unguessable.”42

But while Luce and Hadden had often worried about the financing and marketing of the magazine, they rarely expressed real doubts about their capacity to write it successfully. “TIME is doing very well,” Luce wrote Lila early in December. “In fact a most unusual spirit of optimism seems to pervade the ranks.” A few weeks later, with the first “fairly good complete [sample] issue of TIME” in hand, he claimed to be in “a sort of soggy pleasant frame of mind.” There were, to be sure, moments of concern. “Things are going very badly,” Luce wrote after the second “specimen issue” appeared. “We have yet to find the ideal assistants.” Hadden once returned deeply discouraged from a meeting with Walter Lippmann, who had been harshly critical of another sample issue. They postponed publication three times as they tried to improve. But little by little, the magazine began to approach their image of it. The later specimens already contained some of the magazine’s most enduring features. There was the distinctive lettering of the title; the cover portrait of a significant individual (the first complete dummy carried a black-and-white drawing of the financier Bernard Baruch); the brief, punchy news items (“Who will be the Republican presidential nominee in 1924? Senator James E. Watson answered this question on the floor of the Senate with an emphatic: ‘President Harding is the only possible choice!’ At once political tongues began to wag”). There was also the casual insertion of opinions into the most straightforward stories (“President Harding, in a speech before Congress, placed a constructive program before the people;” “The great Senator John T. Morgan of Alabama advocated [a second Isthmian canal] in 1897”).43

For Harry the last weeks of 1922 were doubly stressful. Not only was he working with Hadden to shape the content of the magazine, he was also working more or less alone to ensure that Time would be able to function as a business. This was an area of the enterprise in which Hadden took almost no interest and for which he had little talent. Luce, however, proved to be a very good businessman, somewhat to his dismay—since, like Brit, his original interest in “the paper” had been primarily editorial. (“Now the Bratch is really the editor of TIME,” he wrote, “and I, alas, alas, alas, am business manager…. Of course no one but Brit and I know this!”) He negotiated contracts with paper suppliers and printers. He contracted out the advertising. He supervised the budget. He set salaries and terms for employees. He supervised the setting up of the office. And whenever he could, he sat with Brit and marked up copy or discussed plans for the next issue. In the meantime he continued to have obligations to his family, to lead at least a modest social life, and of course to write to Lila in whatever spare minutes he could find. Even for someone in his twenties, the days were long and difficult. He described one of them in December:

… my new steno arrived. Put her to work on 78 letters…. Then conference with paper-man…. Then down town to [bank] to open up our second account. Back to the office, advised … as to employing new man…. Then dashed to the Lotos Club where a disappointed printer gave me a drink and lunch…. Saw Hadden for a second and then began series of interviews with artists (commercial). Threw them out in time to dictate a few belated letters and then rushed out in pursuit of taxi and Helen [one of Lila’s friends from Chicago]. Arrived at Helen’s at 5:45, made profuse apologies … and then sat down to tea…. Skidded under the 7 o-clock wire at home for dinner…. After dinner back to work.44

“The whole staff felt the pressure,” Gottfried remembered years later. “For a couple of months nobody had any regular days off, and now [in January 1923] nobody had any days off whatsoever.” One by one staff members succumbed to the stress and exhaustion. Gottfried “was the first to weaken” and announced that he was going to take every Wednesday off. Nancy Ford, whose job as fact-checker for every article was one of the most difficult and time-consuming jobs on the magazine, seemed constantly to be battling exhaustion. (She left the magazine altogether a few months after it began publishing, unable to take the strain.) Luce, too, complained of the stress. “I’ve a splitting headache,” he wrote in the midst of one of those frantic days, and “never seem able to get as much done as seems positively necessary. If there were only 20 Bratches and 20 ‘me’s, we might have a chance of making good.” But for the most part these young pioneers—as they sometimes saw themselves—persevered; and as the release of the first real issue approached, they grew increasingly excited. “After this week,” Luce wrote as the publication day approached, “it’s head-on either to glory or perdition!”45

The intensity was partly a result of the smallness of the staff in relation to the size of the task it was managing. In addition to Hadden and Luce, there were four writers (Gottfried, Martyn, Rinehart, and Thomas), a circulation manager (Larsen), a fact-checker (Nancy Ford for a short time), and a few secretaries and part-time workers. Advertising sales (almost nonexistent) were handled by an outside contractor. Some copy came in from “contributing editors,” mostly recruited from friends and acquaintances, many of whom never appeared in the office; and much of what they wrote had to be heavily edited or entirely rewritten. In the end the tiny full-time staff did the vast majority of the writing. Although the magazine itself was neatly subdivided by topic, there were no clear divisions among the responsibilities of the writers and editors. Everyone did a little of almost everything.46

In mid-February they decided they were ready to publish, and they began aiming for the last week of the month. Their already frenzied lives grew more frantic still as they aimed to meet their self-imposed deadline. But finally they delivered the last of their copy to the printer. Virtually the entire staff, launching a tradition that would continue through the first year of the magazine, crowded into taxis for the trip to the presses—to proofread copy once it was set and to write new stories as the morning papers arrived. After a few hours they sent out for fried-egg sandwiches and coffee. People stretched out on the long tables at the back of the shop and slept. Everything—sandwiches, copy, clothes—became covered with printers’ ink. Finally, in the early morning hours, they stumbled out and headed for home, crossing paths with Wall Street workers on their way downtown.47

The first issue of Time appeared on late February 27, 1923 (with an official publication date of March 3). It was twenty-seven pages long, entirely in black-and-white, printed in small type. It had scant advertising, confined to the inside and back covers and the last few pages; most of the eleven advertisements were from banks and book publishers. But for now Luce and Hadden were concerned above all with the editorial content. And even in the first issue, readers could see the curious mixture of innovations that the two young men had been planning for years—rigid organization, concise news summaries, lively language, whimsical diversions, and casual, even at times sophomoric, expressions of opinion—that would characterize the magazine through much of its early history.

The cover was a black-and-white drawing of the retiring Speaker of the House of Representatives, Joseph Cannon. “Uncle Joe,” as he was known, had been a strict, even tyrannical, leader of the House for decades, and the editors of Time made no secret of their disdain for the “old guard” he represented. “Never did a man employ the office of Speaker with less regard for its theoretical impartiality,” they wrote. He was, they said, “no mere voice crying in the wilderness, but a voice that forbade anybody else to cry out—out of turn.” What was most striking about the inaugural issue, however, was how disciplined it was. No story was longer than four hundred words, and most were two hundred or fewer. There was no deviation from the “FIXED METHOD OF ARRANGEMENT” they had promised subscribers months before: a “National Affairs” section with eleven subsections; “Foreign Affairs” with sixteen subsections, each representing a particular area of the world; and another twenty sections covering the arts, professions, sports, finance, crime, the press, and other topics. A section titled “Milestones” presented news of significant marriages, divorces, and deaths. There was a strange (and deservedly short-lived) feature—“Imaginary Interviews”—that presented clever statements that the editors thought eminent people could or should have made. Perhaps most illustrative of Luce and Hadden’s commitment to sharing even their most trivial opinions with their readers was a pair of features at the end of the magazine—“Point with Pride” and “View with Alarm”—which gave them license to reveal their own passions and prejudices. In the first issue, for example, they “pointed with pride” to an effort by Yale faculty members to retain the requirement that all students study classics, and “viewed with alarm” the literary regard given to T. S. Eliot’s great, despairing poem The Waste Land and the high proportion of “Orientals” in the population of Hawaii. Over the next several years many of the frivolities and excesses of the first issue disappeared (sometimes to be replaced by others). But the enduring core of the idea for the magazine—organization, brevity, comprehensiveness, and partiality—was visible from the start.48 With the first issue finally in print, most of the staff went home to sleep. Luce, however, returned to his office, where he found Larsen on his knees on the floor, frantically burrowing through a chaotic pile of papers. They were the mailing wrappers for subscription copies. Larsen had hired a group of young women—“debutantes,” as he called them—to write the addresses on the wrappers and prepare them for the arrival of the actual magazine. Now he discovered that nothing was in order, that many of the addresses were wrong, and that some of the wrappers were too small to contain the magazine. Some of the subscription copies of the first issue did not get into the mail until after the third issue had been published.

Luce uncharacteristically ignored Larsen’s panic and went to his desk in the back of the office. Putting his feet on the table, he picked up the newly printed magazine—his already ink-stained fingers getting blacker still as he held it—and read it cover to cover. He had seen everything before, three or four times. But, as he recalled years later, “I had this sort of surprising feeling that it was pretty good.”49

*The ratio established by the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty that reduced the armaments of the Great Powers.

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