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2/16/09

Everybody's Magazine and Its Times

Everybody's Magazine and Its Times.

In a world where the next eye-candy bauble is only a mouse-click away, this magazine gives us pause to think about a time when people in their busy lives actually set aside leisure time to read.

I found an October 1912 copy of Everybody's Magazine in an antique shop and was struck by both similarities and huge differences between that time and this. The differences are reminiscent of the contrasts Peter Laslett made to far earlier times in The World We Have Lost. We are sleepwalkers unaware and indifferent to vast social changes that have gradually, almost imperceptibly, happened to generations. For now, though, an essay at comparison demands more space than I want to allow. For the moment I am content to present some pages and comment on them.

After the cover, I have provided pages of advertisements. The ads are introduced at the opening pages and at the end. None interrupt articles or stories; the idea must have been that an advertiser feared annoying the reader with an intrusion of his product into reading material, and possibly alienating the reader from the product.

Above is the cover. No pictures. Only words. The idea then was that the buyer need not be "grabbed" by an alluring babe or flashy celeb. People expected to find descriptive words not catchy graphics. Apparently Thomas W. Lawson wrote a sensational series a few years before--called "Frenzied Finance." In this issue's "The Remedy" Lawson argues that the stock market is merely a legalized casino and should be abolished. He writes it with a tone of high dudgeon. As people would say today, it is a kind of "I am fed up and am not going to take it anymore." His view of financial markets was widely shared by his readers. As I read it I was reminded of current popular disgust with Wall Street and high finance.

The first series, "Frenzied Finance," appeared intermittently and lasted from July 1904 to February 1908. To promote it, Lawson spent $250,000 of his own money, a hunk of change back then. The money helped. Sales reached 750,000 by 1908.

This ad for a Savage automatic pistol appears rather strange today. No weapons are now advertised in popular magazines. The population then was to a greater extent rural, and elsewhere shotguns and rifles are advertised. Clearly, fear of crime is not new. This ad is pitched to the lady of the house. Notice that she neither wounds nor kills the burglar, which would not be ladylike. She "tips" him.

Notice the nicely dressed women getting out of the Baker Electric car below. Then as now: You too can buy social status if you just purchase our vehicle. So they want you to believe. The illustration shows that ladies can stand up in it before exiting, so they won't harm their lovely hats. No man is shown. The point is that a woman can drive herself and her friends to a place where a dog can romp. In an era before women had the right to vote, this is a tactical point for Baker Electrics. It speaks to feminine freedom.

Some things don't change. One is Campbell Soup. The art work for the children is different, but the design is basically the same, and kids are still used to promote the product.

He didn't buy the suit off the rack. His tailor made it. The product is not the suit, but the serge material that he chose. The tailor would make the man's suit from the serge manufactured by OswegoAmerican Woolen Company.

Des Moines, Iowa, was an up-and-coming town back then. Go West, young man, until you reach Des Moines. That didn't stop others from reaching the Pacific. In the classifieds, Los Angeles is advertised as the "fastest growing city in the West." You could buy a farm in L.A. with "rich loam soil, ideal for vegetables [and] fruit." Or you could plant peach and walnut trees. The reader is reminded that the property will "increase in value" as the "Panama Canal opens next year." By the 1960s Burt Bacarach would describe the area differently with his lyrics, "L.A. is a great big freeway."

This fellow below looks rather dapper in his cap, suit coat, and tie. No biker jeans and leather jacket for him. The Harley was a young gentleman's way to get around. The manufacturer pushed comfort, not power, not speed, not macho. Harley-Davidson then competed with other American manufacturers, among them Indian and Excelsior-Henderson. 1912 was the year Harley introduced chain drives. Before, they had used belts. A 1912 Harley was recently auctioned at $100,000.

Everybody's Magazine was founded in 1899. This was the era of muckraking, of deep investigative journalism that came about because of great social evils and atrocious robber barons. The editor, John O'Hara Cosgrave, intended the magazine to have popular appeal, but to include hard-hitting journalism while entertaining readers with many short stories. (With no TV or radio, people read.) Upton Sinclair was featured in it as well as Frank Norris--both muckrakers determined to reveal the evil side of an America that many feared was being taken over by Fat Cats.

Before 1917, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton, wrote in Everybody's Magazine for a series titled "America's Neutrality as England Sees It." In 1917 neutrality was over, and the public was roused by a popular song, "Over There," with its patriotic "We won't be back till it's over over there." Young men were encouraged to enlist with another song, "Johnny Get Your Gun." The United States was in the war a little more than a year. Since 1914, Europe had lost an entire generation of young men to trench warfare and machine guns.

After The War to End All Wars was over, so was Everybody's Magazine. Not suddenly, but gradually. The Jazz Age had begun, prosperity had come, and Americans wanted to enjoy themselves in speakeasies or make a wad in the stock market that Thomas Lawson had denounced in his articles on "Frenzied Finance" and "The Remedy." In December 1926, the magazine owners ended its charged political articles, and focused on entertaining short stories. It didn't work. Everybody's Magazine sold its last copy in March 1929.

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