Today in Literary History – February 16, 1741 – Benjamin Franklin publishes the first issue of The General Magazine

Benjamin Franklin printed the first issue of his periodical, The General Magazine, on February 16, 1741. He had hoped to be able to be the first to publish a monthly magazine in the American colonies.

He was in a race with another Philadelphia printer and publisher, Andrew Bradford, his great rival. Bradford beat him by three days with the publication of his The American Magazine on February 13, 1741.

England had its own general interest monthly magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine, which was founded in 1731. (This was the first use of the term magazine to mean a printed periodical. It was an allusion to magazine in the sense of a military storehouse, thus a “storehouse of information.”)

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Franklin already published a newspaper (as did Bradford, who beat him to that too) and the popular Poor Richard’s Almanack. He believed the Thirteen Colonies needed a magazine of news, opinions essays and analysis as well as poetry and extracts from new books.

He was in negotiations with a Philadelphia lawyer and essayist named John Webbe to be the proposed magazine’s editor. Franklin would put up the money and print 1000 copies a month of the 57-page publication.

As postmaster for Philadelphia Franklin would also handle the distribution. Webbe would be responsible for the editorial content and get a share of the profits.

Webbe wasn’t satisfied with his cut and he took Franklin’s ideas to Bradford (who had also been the Philadelphia postmaster before Franklin) expecting a larger monetary share. Franklin and Bradford traded insults in their newspapers and raced toward publication.

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Bradford and Franklin both managed to get their January issues out on time (apparently 18th century publications appeared the month after the month on the cover) but the rush to best the other proved costly.

Both men lost money on their ventures. Bradford’s American Magazine folded after three months, Franklin’s General Magazine after six.

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