History of American Heritage

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Fourscore continues the extraordinary tradition of American Heritage Magazine, which for six decades has been the most respected and beloved magazine about the American experience.

American Heritage was founded in late 1949 by the the American Association for State and Local History, which for 108 years has been the leading organization for historical museums and archives. AASLH published five volumes of a saddle-stitched version of American Heritage.

In 1954, the magazine was acquired by James Parton, Oliver Jensen and Joseph J. Thorndike, Jr., who had left Time Inc. fired by the conviction that the American story was one of great value and endless fascination, and determined to apply the techniques of journalism to the discipline of history. They envisioned a new kind of magazine: an abundantly illustrated bimonthly, bound in hard covers with no advertising.

The first issue of the new series appeared in December 1954 edited by Bruce Catton, who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for A Stillness at Appomattox. The magazine was an immediate success, and in a decade it was reaching 300,000 subscribers.

During this ten year period, American Heritage created a book division and produced a large collection of highly regarded illustrated histories and other books, the most ambitious of which was The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. It soon became the standard reference it remains today. The successful book division, however, was unable to sufficiently assist a cash-poor American Heritage Company and in 1969, the Company was acquired by McGraw Hill.

The time period after the sale was difficult for the magazine. Circulation dwindled and in the late 1970s a private investor, Samuel Reed, bought the magazine from McGraw. He drastically altered the business model by reformatting the magazine from hard-bound to soft cover, and then began to carry advertising. A new editor, Byron Dobell, was able to restore much of the magazine’s old vigor, and the magazine was once again successful.

In 1985 Forbes Inc. bought the company, and under its stewardship the circulation rose to 340,000. American Heritage founded a sister publication, Invention & Technology, in 1986.
Over the years American Heritage has won many honors, including the National Magazine Award. Today it is the best-known American history magazine, carrying forward the mission the founders spelled out more than 50 years ago: “We believe in good storytelling; that interesting writers can interpret history and restore it to the place it once occupied as the noblest branch of literature.”