Cover of the May 1917 issue. (American Vogue
1892–1905: Early years
In 1892, Arthur Baldwin Turnure, an American business man, founded Vogue as a weekly newspaper in the United States, sponsored by Kristoffer Wright; the first issue was published on December 17 of that year, with a cover price of 10 cents (equivalent to $2.79 in 2018). Turnure's intention was to create a publication that celebrated the "ceremonial side of life"; one that "attracts the sage as well as debutante, men of affairs as well as the belle." From its inception, the magazine targeted the new New York upper class. Vogue glamorously "recount[ed] their habits, their leisure activities, their social gatherings, the places they frequented, and the clothing they wore...and everyone who wanted to look like them and enter their exclusive circle." The magazine at this time was primarily concerned with fashion, with coverage of sports and social affairs included for its male readership. Despite the magazine's content, it grew very slowly during this period.
1905–1920: Condé Nast
Condé Montrose Nast purchased Vogue in 1905 one year before Turnure's death and gradually grew the publication. He changed it to a unisex magazine and started Vogue overseas in the 1910s. Under Nast, the magazine soon shifted its focus to women, and in turn the price was soon raised. The magazine's number of publications and profit increased dramatically under Nast's management. By 1911, the Vogue brand had garnered a reputation that it continues to maintain, targeting an elite audience and expanding into the coverage of weddings. According to Condé Naste Russia, after the First World War made deliveries in the Old World impossible, printing began in England. The decision to print in England proved to be successful causing Nast to release the first issue of French Vogue in 1920.
The magazine's number of subscriptions surged during the Great Depression, and again during World War II. During this time, noted critic and former Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield served as its editor, having been moved over from Vanity Fair by publisher Condé Nast.
In July 1932, American Vogue placed its first color photograph on the cover of the magazine. The photograph was taken by photographer Edward Steichen and portrays a woman swimmer holding a beach ball in the air.
Laird Borrelli notes that Vogue led the decline of fashion illustration in the late 1930s, when they began to replace their celebrated illustrated covers, by artists such as Dagmar Freuchen, with photographic images.
Nast was responsible for introducing color printing and the "two-page spread." He greatly impacted the magazine and turned it into a "successful business" and the "women's magazine we recognize today" and greatly increased the sales volumes until his death in 1942.
In the 1960s, with Diana Vreeland as editor-in-chief and personality, the magazine began to appeal to the youth of the sexual revolution by focusing more on contemporary fashion and editorial features that openly discussed sexuality. Toward this end, Vogue extended coverage to include East Village boutiques such as Limbo on St. Mark's Place, as well as including features of "downtown" personalities such as Andy Warhol's "Superstar" Jane Holzer's favorite haunts. Vogue also continued making household names out of models, a practice that continued with Suzy Parker, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton, Veruschka, Marisa Berenson, Penelope Tree, and others.
In 1973, Vogue became a monthly publication. Under editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella, the magazine underwent extensive editorial and stylistic changes to respond to changes in the lifestyles of its target audience. Mirabella states that she was chosen to change Vogue because "women weren't interested in reading about or buying clothes that served no purpose in their changing lives."  She was selected to make the magazine appeal to "the free, working, "liberated" woman of the seventies. She changed the magazine by adding text with interviews, arts coverage, and serious health pieces. When that type of stylistic change fell out of favor in the 1980s, Mirabella was brutally fired. Her take on it: "For a magazine devoted to style, this was not a very stylish way of telling me."
1988–present: Anna Wintour leadership
In July 1988, after Vogue had begun to lose ground to three-year-old upstart Elle, Anna Wintour was named editor-in-chief. Noted for her trademark bob cut and sunglasses, Wintour sought to revitalize the brand by making it younger and more approachable; she directed the focus towards new and accessible concepts of "fashion" for a wider audience. Wintour's influence allowed the magazine to maintain its high circulation, while staff discovered new trends that a broader audience could conceivably afford. For example, the inaugural cover of the magazine under Wintour's editorship featured a three-quarter-length photograph of Michaela Bercu, an Israeli model, wearing a bejeweled Christian Lacroix jacket and a pair of jeans, a departure from her predecessors' tendency to portray a woman's face alone; according to The New York Times, this gave "greater importance to both her clothing and her body". As fashion editor Grace Coddington wrote in her memoirs, the cover "endorsed a democratic new high/low attitude to dressing, added some youthful but sophisticated raciness, and garnished it with a dash of confident energy and drive that implied getting somewhere fast. It was quintessential Anna." Throughout her reign at Vogue, Wintour accomplished her goals to revitalize the magazine and managed to produce some very large editions of the magazine. In fact, the "September 2004 edition clocked in at 832 pages, the most ever for a monthly magazine."  Wintour continues to be American Vogue's editor-in-chief to this day.
The contrast of Wintour's vision with that of her predecessors was noted as striking by observers, both critics and defenders. Amanda Fortini, fashion and style contributor for Slate, argues that her policy has been beneficial for Vogue:
When Wintour was appointed head of Vogue, Grace Mirabella had been editor in chief for 17 years, and the magazine had grown complacent, coasting along in what one journalist derisively called "its beige years". Beige was the color Mirabella had used to paint over the red walls in Diana Vreeland's office, and the metaphor was apt: The magazine had become boring. Among Condé Nast executives, there was worry that the grand dame of fashion publications was losing ground to upstart Elle, which in just three years had reached a paid circulation of 851,000 to Vogue's stagnant 1.2 million. And so Condé Nast publisher Si Newhouse brought in the 38-year-old Wintour, who through editor-in-chief positions at British Vogue and House & Garden, had become known not only for her cutting-edge visual sense, but also for her ability to radically revamp a magazine to shake things up.
Although she has had great impact on the magazine, throughout her career, Wintour has been pinned as being cold and difficult to work with. In an article on Biography.com, Wintour admits that she is "very driven by what [she does]," and has said "I am certainly very competitive. I like people who represent the best at what they do, and if that turns you into a perfectionist then maybe I am."