Little Bits of History

Sports Illustrated

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 16, 2014
First Sports Illustrated

First Sports Illustrated

August 16, 1954: The first issue of Sports Illustrated is published. There had been two other publications with the name prior to the magazine that is currently published. In 1936, Stuart Scheftel had a monthly magazine by the same name which was targeted to the sportsman. It focused on golf, tennis, and skiing with articles on the “major sports” which at the time was baseball, basketball, and boxing. It went out of print two years later and the name was sold to Dell Publications. In 1949, Dell put out a Sports Illustrated magazine which was also a monthly edition which covered the “major sports” listed above. It lasted for six issues. There were some other successful monthly magazines but the market could not support one more. They did not cover current events because publications schedules did not accommodate such things.

Henry Luce, the Time patriarch, felt that his company might be able to make a go of the idea. At the time, serious journalism did not think highly of sports rags and there was not much hope that a weekly issue could even be filled, especially during the winter. There were those in the company who tried to bury the idea, but Luce who was not a sports fan himself, felt the idea had merit and pushed to make it happen. Many inside Time-Life made great fun of the notion and called the new magazine many unflattering things such as Muscle, Jockstrap, and Sweat Socks. The magazine was not immediately successful.

Advertisers believed that the magazine would cater to upscale sports but yachting, polo, and safari ads were not speaking to the actual readers of the issues. For more than a decade, the magazine continued to lose money. But in the 1960s Andre Laguerre was brought on board and with his innovations, the magazine began to make money. He more than doubled the circulation with his redesigned format, the unprecedented use of full-color photos from the week’s sporting events, and the long in-depth story at the end of each issue which he called the “bonus piece.” It was Sports Illustrated that helped fuel a newfound interest in professional football.

Today, the weekly magazine has a circulation of over 3 million with 23 million adults reading Sports Illustrated each week. Although most of the readers are men, there is a sizable number of women readers as well. The swimsuit issue has been published each year since 1964 and has created an industry around the single issue which includes TV shows, videos, and calendars. It was the first magazine with a circulation over one million to win the National Magazine Award for General Excellence twice. Today we are used to the color photos, the scouting reports, and the in-depth articles. All these and more were innovations brought about by this now quite profitable magazine.

It’s become another dimension to who I am. I don’t think Sports Illustrated is going to be wanting me. But who cares? I’m at a different place in my life. – Cindy Crawford

Even if I did have, you know, a Sports Illustrated body, I’d still wear elegant clothes. = Adele

Life magazine ran a page featuring me and three other girls that was clearly the precursor of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. – Esther Williams

At home I have a copy of the April 21, 1986, issue of Sports Illustrated. I’m on the cover with the blurb, ‘Can Lou Do It?’ I’d just arrived at Notre Dame, and with spring football underway, I was the focal point of that week’s coverage. – Lou Holtz

Also on this day: Ray Chapman – In 1920, a baseball player is struck in the head with a baseball, the only death from the game.
Not Waterloo – In 1918, the Peterloo Massacre took place.
High Flyer – In 1960, Excelsior II was tested.
Dole Air Race – In 1927, the Dole Air Race began.


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