Nov 302010
Authors: Courtney Riley

Clarification: It was reported that magazines became popular in the 1890s because they were more affordable than newspapers when they instead were cheaper because of printing technology and advertising revenue. In the same article, it was said that Mark Twain was a prevalent writer in the 1920s when instead he was published frequently in Cosmopolitan magazine during the 1890s and early 1900s.

Only one magazine, over the course of more than 100 years, has transformed from a family literary work, to a muckraking expose into one of the most sexually explicit women’s magazines in the world: Cosmopolitan.

James Landers, an associate professor of Journalism and Technical Communication at CSU, discusses that history –– from the magazine’s creation in 1886 to the present –– in depth in his new book, “The Improbable First Century of Cosmopolitan Magazine.” The book was released on Nov. 1.

Jennifer Gravely, University of Missouri Press publicity manager, said Landers’ book can be purchased in major bookstores, on and on the University of Missouri Press website.

Magazine history is Landers’ specialty.

“Magazines have been important in American history, especially in times of crisis,” he said.

Magazines became popular in America in the 1890s because they were more affordable than newspapers and implemented photos and national brand advertising, Landers said. As he researched different magazines from the same time period, he said he came across fascinating developments of Cosmopolitan.

Cosmo began as a family literary magazine that consisted of children’s stories, works of fiction and homemaking tips. The introduction of illustrations and advertising introduced in 1889 rescued the magazine from bankruptcy.

William Randolph Hearst bought the production in 1905 and transformed it into a muckraking magazine, focusing on issues such as child labor and corruption in the U.S. Senate and Wall Street, Landers said.

In the 1920s, the content switched back to fiction, featuring works done by prevalent writers of the time like Mark Twain and sold more than 1 million copies nationwide, Landers said.

The content was altered during the 1960s to serve young women because no magazine catered to that particular audience at the time. Landers said they targeted women with careers, maybe with husbands, but no children.

Landers said Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmo’s editor in chief at the time, was criticized and made fun of by the public for her bold move. But women
loved the transition.

“Critics can make fun of you, but you can still be popular,” he said.

The magazine is now more risque and reaches more than 90 countries. The language is now more explicit, straightforward and vulgar to adapt with modern times, Landers said.

“They always knew what to do and when to do it,” he said. “Cosmo always succeeded.”

Unlike other magazines that have died, Cosmo’s editors were aware of changes in society and knew what their magazine needed to be to attract readers and reflect the times, Landers said.

“Cosmopolitan will be safe for quite a while,” he said.

Staff writer Courtney Riley can be reached at

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