Cosmopolitan magazine is one of the oldest magazines in the United States. It was first published in 1886 by Schicht & Field as a family magazine called The Cosmopolitan; this version of the magazine proved to be popular and reached a circulation of 25,000 by 1888.
In 1889, John Brisbane and E.D. Walker took over the magazine after Schlicht & Field went out of business. The pair then transformed The Cosmopolitan magazine into a literary magazine, which became a success. By 1892 the magazine had a circulation of about 75,000.
In 1905 William Randolph Hearst bought the magazine for $400,000 and brought in journalist Charles Edward Russell, who contributed a series of investigative articles. Other contributors included now renowned authors Sinclair Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair.
With a circulation of 1,700,000 in the 1930s, Cosmopolitan magazine had an advertising income of $5,000,000. In the 1940s it emphasized fiction and was subtitled “The Four-Book Magazine;” the first section had one novelette, six or eight short stories, two serials, six to eight articles and eight or nine special features, while the other three sections featured two novels and a digest of current non-fiction books. During World War II, sales peaked at $2,000,000.
In the 1950s the magazine cut back on fiction and circulation dropped to slightly more than a million in 1955. At this time magazines had to compete with and thus were overshadowed by the rise of paperbacks and television.
Cosmopolitan magazine’s circulation continued to decline for another decade until Helen Gurley Brown became chief editor in 1965 and remodeled the magazine as New Cosmopolitan magazine, which was renamed Cosmopolitan magazine in 1967. At this time, Cosmopolitan became a women’s magazine, focusing on young women and published articles that openly talked about relationships and sexual issues-a groundbreaking move.
Soon after Helen Gurley Brown’s arrival Cosmopolitan became the must-read for young single woman. According to Cosmo’s company history on the magazine’s website, Cosmo also began to serve as “an agent for social change, encouraging women everywhere to go after what they want whether it be in the boardroom or the bedroom.”
In 1999, Laurie Ouellette, PhD, wrote an article called “Inventing the Cosmo Girl,” which examined the cultural impact of the magazine in the ’60s and ’70s. “What made it so desirable is that it outlined an American dream for single, working women,” Laurie Ouellette said. “It provided them with a vision and detailed advice on how to live a better life – on their own terms.”
In more recent years, with the mass production of niche magazines like Lucky, InStyle and Marie Claire, to name a few more recently published magazines, Cosmopolitan’s cultural impact is less profound. Still, the magazine remains extremely popular; its content usually consists of articles like: “Cosmo’s Guide to Red Hot Sex,” “Cosmo Confessions: Hundreds of Absolutely Shameful, Scandalous and Sexy Real-Life Tales!” and “Turn on Your Man.”
Cosmopolitan has had some missteps. In a 1988 issue, Cosmopolitan ran a feature maintaining women had a low-risk of contracting the HIV virus, after research indicated otherwise. More recently, because its cover stories and headlines have become sexually explicit, Kroger, one of the U.S.’s largest grocery chains, currently covers up Cosmopolitan at checkout stands because of customer complaints.
Still, Cosmopolitan magazine has a place in modern popular culture, including being referenced in many movies like “Legally Blonde” and television shows like “The O.C,” “Will and Grace” and “Third Watch.”
Today, Cosmopolitan is published in 58 international editions in 34 languages and is distributed in more than 100 countries.
For more on Cosmopolitan magazine, visit http://www.magazines.com/product/cosmopolitan
Jessica Vandelay is a freelance writer in New York City.