The first issue of The New Yorker was published on February 21st in 1925. The magazine was founded by Harold Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, who was a reporter for The New York Times; Ross remained editor-in-chief until his death in 1951.
The magazine was styled as a showcase for wit, gossip, and culture; its target readership was the New York sophisticate. As Ross famously said, “[I]t is not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.”
The problem was that the magazine lacked a clear vision at first. In the second issue, editors published an apology for the first: “There didn’t seem to be much indication of purpose and we felt sort of naked in our apparent aimlessness,” they said.
Circulation had dropped to 12,000 by fall, but then it started to turn around; its recovery was helped along when Ross hired E.B. White as a staff writer in 1926, and brought James Thurber on board the following year.
Gradually, the magazine stopped dropping names and began building a reputation as the home of outstanding contemporary poetry, short fiction, and essays.
The first cover featured a top-hatted Victorian dandy peering down his long, patrician nose at a pink butterfly. Based on an illustration in theEncyclopedia Britannica, he was drawn by Rea Irvin, the magazine’s first art director and the designer of its distinctive typeface.
The dandy eventually came to be known as Eustace Tilley. It’s since become a New Yorker tradition that Tilley appears on the cover of every anniversary edition. He’s appeared as a punk rocker, a woman, an African-American, a dog, and a butterfly scrutinizing a man.