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Fortune Magazine was created as part of Henry Luce’s Time, Inc. publishing empire in February 1930, four months after the Stock market crash that started the Great Depression. It was created as an expanded and specialized publication drawn from the business section of Time magazine, written and designed with big executives and upper level managers in mind. The original prospectus stated that “business is the single common denominator of interest among the active leading citizens of the U.S . . . Fortune’s purpose is to reflect Industrial Life in ink and paper, and word and picture as the finest skyscraper reflects it in steel and architecture”. Fortune’s annual listing of the 500 leading corporations, “the Fortune 500”, as it is known, became an American institution, against which all other businesses are measured.
Among its many innovative editorial approaches was to publish a standard feature article that examined different aspects of a single corporation, much like a biographical portrait. Henry Luce believed that all business was invested with a public interest, and so published Fortune with the idea of creating public awareness of corporate practices and activities—good, or bad. As the magazine developed and took shape, the subject matter started to encompass both commerce and culture- subjects such as a specific company, an entire industry, a wealthy or influential family, an American place of interest or a foreign country were covered by Fortune.
From the very beginning, Fortune was known for the quality of its artistic, advertising and editorial content. High quality printing on fine paper added to its character, along with excellent illustrations. The large size format, rich color and textures of the cover art made Fortune an impressive an easily recognizable publication. Much of the magazine’s success was attributed to its beautiful covers, unusual for a magazine primarily concerned with business and social issues. Original artwork was commissioned from prominent artists who created some of the most innovative cover artwork of the times. Fortune artists illustrated the growth of 20th century industrialization with streamlined, modern graphic styles and layouts, as well as more rustic, traditional subjects with more conventional illustration styles.
Artists like Ben Shahn, Arthur Lidov, were commissioned to illustrate Fortune covers. Fortune also had its “regulars, such as Antonio Petruccelli (1907-1994), who from 1933-45 designed 25 Fortune covers in his time. (See the January 1937 cover in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum Library's flicker set). Walker Evans was their first and only staff photographer, choosing his own assignments, writing and designing his own layouts. Photographers like Margaret Bourke-White, another renowned WPA photographer, and Peter Stackpole, later a Life photographer, contributed to the artistic design of Fortune. The magazine itself was regarded as a work of art because of its cutting edge graphics, contemporary typography and the variety of its illustrations. Black and white drawings, color photography, monochromes and old prints along with a streamlined machine aesthetic in graphic design all co-existed together to form a characteristic look of its own. The commercial advertising, which was often specifically designed to appear in Fortune, set new standards of advertising art and layout. The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library is happily building up its collection of Fortune magazine holdings (qHF5001 .F7X CHM Bradley Room), with issues donated by library patrons, auction and bookseller purchases.—Elizabeth Broman