Everybody knows about LIFE, the magazine of photojournalism that first appeared in 1936 and still is with us today in various printed forms. But LIFE was the name of the leading American humor magazine of the period 1883-1936, and LIFE (the humor magazine) was an important and influential magazine in its time. It hired the best and most famous illustrators of its day to create its covers.

The original LIFE, was put together by a group of young men who had met at Harvard. As David E. E. Sloane put it ["American Humor Magazines and Comic Periodicals," pp 141-2], "LIFE MAGAZINE was designed as an American PUNCH; more properly, it was an outgrowth of the HARVARD LAMPOON, which itself was a copy of PUNCH. LIFE stood as a challenge to the recently successful PUCK and JUDGE, both of which were full of color, 9" x12", and full of raucous humor. LIFE, on the other hand, was smaller (8 1/2" x 11"), black and white, and self-consciously genteel. It ultimately succeeded so well that it became the most influential cartoon and literary humor magazine of its time, and—a fact forgotten today—itself served as the model for another humor magazine, THE NEW YORKER." in fact, the later covers of LIFE (the humor magazine) resemble the first covers of THE NEW YORKER. The magazines even overlapped in time, publishing many of the same artists months or weeks apart.

The covers remained approximately the same size for the entire run of the magazine, but changed shape slightly at the beginning of the 1920's and at the end of January, 1931. Over time they went from straight black-and-white pen and ink drawings (usng the newly developed technology of photo-engraving) to two- and then full-color covers.

When the founders of TIME wanted to start a new magazine that would show America the world, they decided that the title had to be "Life." Someone was already using that title; so they bought it from them. LIFE, which hadn't been doing well during the Depression, was combined into JUDGE. And That was That.

We've got hundred of covers from all periods of this magazine's run. The covers from 1887 (the full year) are among the first work of Charles Dana Gibson, then only 19 and just starting out in his famous career. The color covers from the early years of the 20th century essentially defined popular taste in humor. Go check 'em out!

Pro forma historical summary from the BigList:

Published: 1883 - 1936
   John Ames Mitchell; Charles Dana Gibson
   1883 - 1892: Edward Sanford Martin
   1892 - ?: Thomas L. Masson
   1924 - 1928: Robert E. Sherwood
   1883 - 1931: weekly
   1931 - 1936: monthly

  • 30 August 2020: Updated for new display system software.
  • Update history: This page created 21 August 2007.