About Harper’s Magazine
Harper’s Magazine, the oldest general-interest monthly in America, explores the issues that drive our national conversation, through long-form narrative journalism and essays, and such celebrated features as the iconic Harper’s Index. With its emphasis on fine writing and original thought Harper’s provides readers with a unique perspective on politics, society, the environment, and culture. The essays, fiction, and reporting in the magazine’s pages come from promising new voices, as well as some of the most distinguished names in American letters, among them Annie Dillard, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Mary Gaitskill, David Foster Wallace, and Tom Wolfe.
Harper’s Magazine made its debut in June 1850, the brainchild of the prominent New York book-publishing firm Harper & Brothers. The initial press run of 7,500 copies sold out immediately, and within six months circulation had reached 50,000.
Although the earliest issues consisted largely of material that had already been published in England, the magazine soon began to print the work of American artists and writers—among them Horatio Alger, Stephen A. Douglas, Theodore Dreiser, Horace Greeley, Winslow Homer, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Jack London, John Muir, Frederic Remington, Booth Tarkington, and Mark Twain. Several departments served to note regularly important events of the day, such as the publication of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick, the laying of the first trans-Atlantic cable, the latest discoveries from Thomas Edison’s workshop, and the progress of the crusade for women’s rights.
In more recent years, the magazine published Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill long before either man became a political leader. Theodore Roosevelt wrote for Harper’s, as did Henry L. Stimson when he defended the bombing of Hiroshima. In the 1970s, Harper’s Magazine broke Seymour Hersh’s account of the My Lai massacre and devoted a full issue to Norman Mailer’s “The Prisoner of Sex.”
Over the years, the magazine’s format has been revamped, its general appearance has evolved considerably, and ownership has changed hands. In 1962, Harper & Brothers merged with Row, Peterson, & Company to become Harper & Row (now HarperCollins). Some years later the magazine became a separate corporation and a division of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company. In 1980, when the parent company announced that Harper’s Magazine would cease publication, John R. (Rick) MacArthur and his father, Roderick, urged the boards of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Atlantic Richfield Company to make a grant of assets and funds to form the Harper’s Magazine Foundation. The Foundation is today an entirely independent organization—unaffiliated with other philanthropies, and solely dedicated to promoting Harper’s Magazine as an independent voice in American culture.
In 1984, Harper’s Magazine was completely redesigned by editor Lewis H. Lapham and MacArthur, who had become publisher of Harper’s and president of the Foundation. Recognizing the time constraints of the modern reader, the revived magazine introduced such original journalistic forms as the Harper’s Index, Readings, and the Annotation to complement its acclaimed fiction, essays, and reporting. Over the years Harper’s has received twenty-two National Magazine Awards, among many other journalistic and literary honors.
The year 2000 marked the sesquicentennial of Harper’s Magazine and, to celebrate, the magazine introduced several new editorial inventions and restorations: Archive and the Weekly Review. It has also published An American Album: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Harper’s Magazine, a cloth-bound, 712-page illustrated anthology—with an introduction by Lewis H. Lapham and a foreword by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.—that offers a unique perspective on American life, distilled from the pages of the nation’s oldest continuously published monthly magazine.
Read Harper’s Magazine publisher John R. MacArthur on why Harpers.org has a paywall.