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  • "Making the Magazine":Visuality, Managerial Capitalism, and the Mass Production of Periodicals, 1865-1890
  • Vanessa Meikle Schulman (bio)

After fifteen years of publication, Harper's New Monthly Magazine opened the doors to visitors at its building in downtown New York. The editors proposed to demonstrate "the entire series of operations through which each of these Numbers has passed until it comes in its perfect shape before the reader."1 However, it was not through an actual visit to the facility that the Harper's subscriber would catch a glimpse of "making the magazine" in action. Rather, the steps were laid out in a lengthy article by editor-in-chief Alfred H. Guernsey, filled with illustrations of each stage of the process and culminating in a dramatic cut-away view of the factory that laid each segment open to the eye of the observer. Not only did Guernsey's article and the accompanying illustrations demonstrate for the viewer the complex process of putting together issues of both Harper's Monthly and Harper's Weekly, they also framed the periodical itself as one of many mass-produced commodities that were treated in similar visual fashion in illustrations between 1865 and 1890.

Illustrations of this period demonstrate a consistent interest in exploring the processes required to bring a commodity to the market and a desire to explicate through visual means the connectedness and inter-reliance of each phase of manufacture. During this twenty-five year period, dozens of images take the viewer inside the factory to observe the making of everyday consumer goods such as clothing, shoes, nails, matches, sewing machines, and canned goods.2 These images suggest interest in the minute details of manufactures of all kinds and an editorial presumption that viewers wished to have these processes explained to them using a combination of narrative and imagery. Artists developed a variety of visual techniques, including methods of framing and composition, which helped viewers gain certain kinds of knowledge about the production of the commodities they purchased every day. Visual attention to the sequential and interdependent nature of proto-assembly line and mass production techniques arose simultaneous to the emergence of a managerial class. [End Page 1]

Representations of the printing industry ran parallel to those of other commodities, such as foodstuffs, home goods, and machinery, creating a clear correspondence between the manufacturing structures of the popular press and those of other mass-production industries. This article explores how four popular magazines—Harper's Weekly, Harper's Monthly, Scientific American, and Scribner's Monthly—used this new visual language to posit their products as important commodities in the modern world of industrial managerial capitalism. While American periodicals were experimenting with the best way to represent burgeoning U.S. industries, they were self-consciously inserting themselves into the conversation. The self-representation of major publishing houses framed magazine printing as a process of mass production and publishers as industrial magnates who used recent technological developments to bring their customers a superior product. Far from presenting themselves as cultural institutions immune to the machinations of corporate capitalism, these businesses demonstrated that they were bastions of efficiency and managerial organization.

These four periodicals in particular have an explicit focus on the importance of both industrial production and the printing industry in the United States. While other illustrated magazines with large circulation figures, such as the influential Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, also documented American life in minute detail, they less actively promoted American industry and less critically evaluated their own role in the national economy of emergent mass production. The four periodicals discussed here demonstrated a consistent interest in exploring the important contributions that magazine publishing made in the corporate sphere. While Scientific American may seem an anomaly—serving a technical readership and with much lower circulation figures—beginning in the 1870s, it expanded beyond technical writing and into more accessible general interest topics. As a group, these four magazines represent a diverse readership, from the well-educated community of Scientific American readers and genteel Scribner's subscribers to the more varied readership of Harper's Weekly, suggesting that a broad cross-section of the population was being exposed to images of industrial production and...


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pp. 1-28
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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