Luce, Henry R. (1898-1967)

Published on .

Henry Robinson Luce was born in Tengchow, China, on April 3, 1898. At age 15, he went to Connecticut to attend the Hotchkiss School. There he edited the Hotchkiss Literary Monthly, and for the school newspaper he sold automobile advertising for $2 per page. Auto marketers Dodge and Pierce Arrow were among his clients. He attended Yale University, his father's alma mater, where he edited the Yale Daily News. But his first foray into journalism was the summer before he attended Yale, when he clerked in the business office of the Springfield, Mass.-based Republican.

Mr. Luce graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in 1920 and did short stints as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Baltimore Sun. He soon linked up with a former Yale classmate, Briton Hadden and the two founded Time Inc. Using subscriber lists bought from other publications, they began selling readers on the idea of a national digest that grouped news into various categories and on March 3, 1923 introduced Time.

Mr. Luce believed that good advertising copy would boost sales of his news magazine, so he increased revenue by selling an abundance of ad space. Ads on atheism and evolution filled its pages alongside ads from alcohol and tobacco marketers. The recent repeal of Prohibition had brought with it a flood of liquor advertising and Mr. Luce did turn away much-needed revenue. With ads representing various industries, Time began showing a profit four years after it was launched.

When Time was launched, Mr. Luce was its business manager and Mr. Hadden its editor. Upon Mr. Hadden's death in 1929, Mr. Luce became editor-in-chief, a post he held until assuming the role of editorial chairman of Time Inc. in 1964.

Business news-focused Fortune was launched in February 1930, four months after the stock market crash in 1929. Despite the state of the economy, Fortune sold most of its ad space the year before the first issue hit newsstands. In 1930, Fortune had a circulation of 30,000; by the end of the decade, that figure had more than quadrupled. By 1934, Fortune was in the black.

The magazine, though, was running into ethical complications as it ran stories about companies from which it accepted advertising. But Mr. Luce maintained that his editorial policy was not influenced by his advertisers. Contrary to many business publications, Fortune was relatively liberal in its editorial temper, accepted the fundamentals of the New Deal and viewed both business and government with a tough-minded skepticism.

Mr. Luce created the radio program "The March of Time" as a way to tell Americans about current news events in dramatized form. Marking its first broadcast on CBS radio in March 1931, the show re-enacted the news for nearly 9 million listeners. In one episode of the program, actors played Jews treated harshly in the German pogrom. The broadcast helped to increase awareness among Americans that the lives of German Jews were truly in danger.

"The March of Time" newsreel series was an offshoot of the radio program. The series, which eventually evolved to appear 13 times a year in more than 6,000 theaters across the country, won an Academy Award in 1936. The popularity of this "pictured" news prompted Mr. Luce to move forward with his idea for a picture magazine.

Life, which debuted Nov. 23, 1936, had departments covering theater and the arts, as well as sports and sciences. Lively photos of subjects from Shirley Temple to the Amazon River-and even the birth of a baby-reeled in readers. Advertisers also supported the magazine and often submitted colorful ads that competed with the allure of the editorial photographs.

By 1941, Life, with an average of 134 pages a month, had a subscription renewal rate greater than 80%. Mr. Luce had underestimated how successful Life would be and as a result, many of his advertisers paid relatively low rates thanks to long-term contracts signed before the magazine was launched.

Bulging with ads and a circulation of more than 4 million, the weekly grew to average 156 pages a month by 1942.


Born in Tengchow, Shantung province, China, April 3, 1898; graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University, 1920; launched Time, 1923; Fortune, 1930; Life, 1936; Sports Illustrated, 1954; served as editor-in-chief of all Time Inc. publications, 1929-1964; died in Phoenix, Feb, 28, 1967.

Most Popular
In this article: