March 1894 issue of The Cosmopolitan
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. (January 2013)
Cosmopolitan began as a family magazine, launched in March 1886 by Schlicht & Field of New York as The Cosmopolitan. Authors and their writings in the first issue included:
Paul Schlicht told his first-issue readers inside of the front cover that his publication was a "first-class family magazine", then adding, "There will be a department devoted exclusively to the concerns of women, with articles on fashions, on household decoration, on cooking, and the care and management of children, etc. There was also a department for the younger members of the family."
Cosmopolitan's circulation reached 25,000 that year, but by November 1888, Schlicht & Field were no longer in business. John Brisben Walker acquired the magazine in 1889. That same year, he dispatched Elizabeth Bisland on a race around the world against Nellie Bly to draw attention to the magazine.
Under John Brisben Walker's ownership, E. D. Walker, formerly with Harper's Monthly, took over as the new editor, introducing colour illustrations, serials and book reviews. It became a leading market for fiction, featuring such authors as Annie Besant, Ambrose Bierce, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Edith Wharton, and H.G. Wells. The magazine's press run climbed to 100,000 by 1892.
In 1897, Cosmopolitan announced plans for a free correspondence school: "No charge of any kind will be made to the student. All expenses for the present will be borne by the Cosmopolitan. No conditions, except a pledge of a given number of hours of study." When 20,000 immediately signed up, Walker could not fund the school and students were then asked to contribute 20 dollars a year. Also in 1897, H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds was serialized, as was his The First Men in the Moon (1900). Olive Schreiner contributed a lengthy two-part article about the Boer War in the September and October issues of 1900.
In 1905, William Randolph Hearst purchased the magazine for US$400,000 (equivalent to $11,154,000 in 2018) and brought in journalist Charles Edward Russell, who contributed a series of investigative articles, including "The Growth of Caste in America" (March 1907), "At the Throat of the Republic" (December 1907 – March 1908) and "What Are You Going to Do About It?" (July 1910 – January 1911).
Other contributors during this period included O. Henry, A. J. Cronin, Alfred Henry Lewis, Bruno Lessing, Sinclair Lewis, O. O. McIntyre, David Graham Phillips, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, and Ida Tarbell. Jack London's novella, "The Red One", was published in the October 1918 issue (two years after London's death), and a constant presence from 1910–18 was Arthur B. Reeve, with 82 stories featuring Craig Kennedy, the "scientific detective". Magazine illustrators included Francis Attwood, Dean Cornwell, Harrison Fisher, and James Montgomery Flagg.
Hearst formed Cosmopolitan Productions (also known as Cosmopolitan Pictures), a film company based in New York City from 1918 to 1923, then Hollywood until 1938. The vision for this film company was to make films from stories published in the magazine.
Cosmopolitan magazine was officially titled as Hearst's International Combined with Cosmopolitan from 1925 until 1952, but was simply referred to as Cosmopolitan. In 1911, Hearst had bought a middling monthly magazine called World To-Day and renamed it Hearst's Magazine in April 1912. In June 1914 it was shortened to Hearst's and was ultimately titled Hearst's International in May 1922. In order to spare serious cutbacks at San Simeon, Hearst merged the magazine Hearst's International with Cosmopolitan effective March 1925. But while the Cosmopolitan title on the cover remained at a typeface of eight-four points, over time span the typeface of the Hearst's International decreased to thirty-six points and then to a barely legible twelve points. After Hearst died in 1951, the Hearst's International disappeared from the magazine cover altogether in April 1952.
With a circulation of 1,700,000 in the 1930s, Cosmopolitan had an advertising income of $5,000,000. Emphasizing fiction in the 1940s, it was subtitled The Four-Book Magazine since the first section had one novelette, six or eight short stories, two serials, six to eight articles and eight or nine special features, while the other three sections featured two novels and a digest of current non-fiction books. During World War II, sales peaked at 2,000,000.
The magazine began to run less fiction during the 1950s. Circulation dropped to slightly over a million by 1955, a time when magazines were overshadowed during the rise of paperbacks and television. The Golden Age of magazines came to an end as mass market, general interest publications gave way to special interest magazines targeting specialized audiences.
Helen Gurley Brown arrives
Cosmo was widely known as a "bland" and boring magazine by critics. Cosmopolitan's circulation continued to decline for another decade until Helen Gurley Brown became chief editor in 1965. Helen Gurley Brown changed the entire trajectory of the magazine during her time as editor. Brown remodeled and re-invented it as a magazine for modern single career women. Completely transforming the old bland Cosmopolitan magazine into a racy, contentious and well known, successful magazine. As the editor for 32 years, Brown spent this time using the magazine as an outlet to erase stigma around unmarried women not only having sex, but also enjoying it. Known as a "devout feminist", Brown was often attacked by critics due to her progressive views on women and sex. She believed that women were allowed to enjoy sex without shame in all cases. She died in 2012 at the age of 90. Her vision is still evident in the current design of Cosmopolitan Magazine. The magazine eventually adopted a cover format consisting of a usually young female model (in recent years, an actress, singer, or another prominent female celebrity), typically in a low cut dress, bikini, or some other revealing outfit.
The magazine set itself apart by frankly discussing sexuality from the point of view that women could and should enjoy sex without guilt. The first issue under Helen Gurley Brown, July 1965, featured an article on the birth control pill, which had gone on the market exactly five years earlier.
This was not Brown's first publication dealing with sexually liberated women. Her 1962 advice book, Sex and the Single Girl, had been a bestseller. Fan mail begging for Brown's advice on many subjects concerning women's behavior, sexual encounters, health, and beauty flooded her after the book was released. Brown sent the message that a woman should have men complement her life, not take it over. Enjoying sex without shame was also a message she incorporated in both publications.
In Brown's early years as editor, the magazine received heavy criticism. In 1968 at the feminist Miss America protest, protestors symbolically threw a number of feminine products into a "Freedom Trash Can." These included copies of Cosmopolitan and Playboy magazines. Cosmopolitan also ran a near-nude centerfold of actor Burt Reynolds in April 1972, causing great controversy and attracting much attention. The Latin American edition of Cosmopolitan was launched in April 1973.
In April 1978, a single edition of Cosmopolitan Man was published as a trial, targeted to appeal to men. Its cover featured Jack Nicholson and Aurore Clément. It was published twice in 1989 as a supplement to Cosmopolitan. Hearst abandoned this project after the company purchased Esquire.