Henry Robinson Luce (1898-1967), American magazine editor and publisher, was the most powerful journalistic innovator of his generation because of his insatiable curiosity and consuming sense of moral purpose.
Born of American Presbyterian missionary parents at Tenchow, China, Henry Luce attended a British school from the age of 10 to 14 and then went to Hotchkiss Academy in the United States as a scholarship student. He entered Yale in 1916 and joined the Army in 1917. He graduated from Yale in 1920 summa cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He had formed a close friendship with Briton Hadden; editing the Yale Daily News, Hadden and Luce determined to found a weekly newsmagazine.
Luce studied for a year at Oxford University and then worked with Hadden on the Baltimore News. They left in 1922 to raise $86,000, with which they launched Time magazine in March 1923. By 1928 Time's profits came to $125,000. In 1929 Hadden died of a streptococcus infection. His obituary in Time concluded: "To Briton Hadden, success came steadily, satisfaction never."
Time was successful because its creators had captured the growing college-educated public with a frankly biased combination of news reporting, interpretation, and departmentalized coverage of a dozen other fields—all in a distinctive writing style, originated by Hadden, that featured brevity, brashness, and shock. Luce excelled as the editorial executive.
In February 1930 Luce's new project, Fortune, appeared, addressed to business executives. He encouraged talented writers to develop civilized expositions of America's business world. Archibald MacLeish, J. K. Galbraith, Dwight MacDonald, and Louis Kronenberger contributed to Fortune, while Fortune contributed to their own professional development. In 1932 Luce purchased Architectural Forum.
Few journalistic executives of Luce's generation could match his ability to organize and to gratify his curiosity and ambitions. None possessed the sense of moral purpose that sustained Luce in his Americanism, Republicanism, anti-communism, and anti-McCarthyism. In 1935 Luce divorced his first wife to marry the brilliant, talented Clare Boothe Brokaw. It was said they planned Life magazine on their honeymoon. Luce bought the name and subscription list of the humorous weekly Life and transformed it into a fresh and stunning experiment in photographic journalism. Life took only 2 years to reach a circulation of over 2 million.
Luce had pioneered new techniques of team journalism—in Time, the reporter-researcher-writer team; in Life, the photographer-writer team. In 1954 he launched Sports Illustrated. Retiring as editor in chief of all Time, Inc. publications in 1964, Luce remained the company's principal owner.
By the time of Luce's death, Life had a circulation of 750 million and Time a circulation of 350 million. Life had more than twice the advertising revenue of any American magazine; Time ranked second.
Further Reading on Henry Robinson Luce
Background on Luce is in Robert T. Elson, Time, Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise, 1923-1941 (1968); John Kobler, Luce: His Time, Life and Fortune (1968); and John K. Jessup, ed., The Ideas of Henry Luce (1969). See also Noel F. Busch, Briton Hadden: A Biography (1949), and T. S. Matthews, Name and Address: An Autobiography (1960).