Eighty-eight years ago, on February 21, 1925, The New Yorker, a weekly magazine mixing political and cultural reportage, humor and cartoons, poetry and fiction, and reviews and criticism, made its debut.
The new magazine was founded by Harold Ross, who had quit high school to become a reporter and edited Stars and Stripes during World War I, and his wife, Jane Grant, a New York Times reporter.
At first, The New Yorker focused on the cultural life of New York. Ross had declared in the prospectus: “It is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque." Instead, it was his attempt to create a "reflection in word and picture of metropolitan life, with gaiety, wit and satire."
But the publication soon had a wide readership outside the city, covering popular culture and other aspects of American life. In fact, Ross had created a sophisticated magazine that was different from its "corny" competitors, such as Life and Judge.
It featured modern fiction by including short stories and literary reviews, as well as journalism, with pieces on politics and social issues, and its popular cartoons were sprinkled throughout each issue. It also became well-known for its rigorous copyediting and fact checking.
Ross edited the magazine until he died in 1951, establishing it as a forum for serious literature and journalism. After World War II, John Hersey's 1946 essay Hiroshima filled an entire issue. And Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" drew more mail than any other short story in the magazine.
The New Yorker has attracted such talented writers, wits and thinkers as James Agee, Hannah Arendt, Rachel Carson, Pauline Kael, A. J. Liebling, Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy, Lewis Mumford, Dorothy Parker, and Edmund Wilson.
The magazine has also published short stories by the best authors of the 20th century, including Ann Beattie, John Cheever, Roald Dahl, Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabokov, John O'Hara, Philip Roth, J.D. Salinger, Irwin Shaw, James Thurber, John Updike, Eudora Welty and E.B. White.
The magazine was sold to Samuel I. Newhouse Jr. in 1985. Following Ross, its editors have been William Shawn from 1952-87, Robert Gottlieb from 1987-92, Tina Brown from 1992-98, and David Remnick, a former staff writer, since 1998.
The New Yorker has had many controversial covers over the years, including the one in 2008 that depicted President Barack Obama dressed as Osama Bin Laden and first lady Michelle Obama dressed in camouflage and holding an assault rifle.
Today, it is read nationwide every week by more than one million people, with 53 percent of its circulation in the top 10 metropolitan areas. In 2009, the average age of a reader was 47 and average income was $109,877. The illustration for the first issue—with dandy Eustace Tilley created by Rea Irvin—appears on the cover with every anniversary issue.