Life Magazine was once the most popular magazine in the United States. Similar to other magazines, the publication focuses on general interest topics and humor. But this wouldn’t always last.
As we know, it’s difficult to produce a print magazine. It’s expensive to stay relevant to the many competitors. That’s what led Life Magazine to rebrand on November 23, 1936—changing the vision of print magazines in the mid- to late 20th century.
Starting as a humor magazine
Life was founded on January 4, 1883, as a humor and general interest magazine. The magazine was a huge success, but this success only attracted the attention of its many competitors. More humor magazines, including Judge and Puck, competed against Life for readers’ attention.
But readers loved the fun, clean and cultivated humor in each issue of Life. But following World War I, the magazine industry began to change. The new variety was crude, sexy, and cynical. This wasn’t Life; therefore, things had to change.
Failing in the Great Depression
In the 1920s, Life continued to fail during the Jazz Age and the Great Depression. The magazine lost readers and money at a rapid rate. The magazine had passed its prime and was in a state of financial emergency. Publisher Clair Maxwell and editor George Eggleston switched the magazine from a weekly publication to monthly.
But this still didn’t help the financial crisis. The magazine would need a miracle—or perhaps a rebranding.
Changing its focus
In 1936, magazine publisher Henry Luce paid $92,000 to buy Life and run it under his company, Time Inc. This is with the understanding that Life would change its focus from humor and general interest to strictly photographs. Luce knew pictures could tell a story more than written content.
On November 23, 1936, Luce launched his new vision for Life magazine, mirroring today’s Time magazine. The magazine would be famous for printing some of the most famous photographs in history—including photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, President John F. Kennedy, and more.