Liberty was a weekly, general-interest magazine, originally priced at five cents and subtitled, "A Weekly for Everybody." It was launched in 1924 by McCormick-Patterson, the publisher until 1931, when it was taken over by Bernarr Macfadden until 1942. At one time it was said to be "the second greatest magazine in America," ranking behind The Saturday Evening Post in circulation. It ceased publication in 1950 and was revived in 1971.
The editors included Fulton Oursler, in the Macfadden years, and Darrell Huff. The first editor was John Neville Wheeler. In 1913, sportswriter Wheeler formed his Wheeler Syndicate to distribute sports features to newspapers. In 1916, after the Wheeler Syndicate was purchased by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, Wheeler immediately founded the Bell Syndicate. In 1924, Wheeler became executive editor of Liberty and served in that capacity while continuing to run the Bell Syndicate.
Two prominent editors in the fiction department died a month apart in 1939. Elliot Balestier, Rudyard Kipling's brother-in-law, was an associate editor from the magazine's founding through his death on October 17, 1939. Oscar Graeve, former editor of The Delineator, died in the Liberty offices on November 20, 1939.
Liberty carried work by many of the most important and influential writers of the period. Unusual for a magazine of the era, they bought the rights to many of the printed works outright, and these remain in the hands of the Liberty Library Corporation.
The magazine serialized early novels by P. G. Wodehouse, and the other contributors included Achmed Abdullah, H. Bedford-Jones, Robert Benchley, Walter R. Brooks, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert W. Chambers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James F. Dwyer, Paul Ernst, Floyd Gibbons, Murray Leinster, Dr. Seuss, Rob Wagner and Sax Rohmer.
A memorable feature was the "reading time," provided on the first page of each article so readers could know how long it should take to read an article, such as "No More Glitter: A Searching Tale of Hollywood and a Woman's Heart," Reading Time: 18 minutes, 45 seconds." This was calculated by a member of the editorial staff who would carefully time himself while reading an article at his usual pace; then he would take that time and double it.
Columnist and writing instructor Roy Peter Clark calculated the reading time of an entire issue (February 10, 1940):
- I tested Liberty's calculation by timing my reading of two short pieces, a fictional story and an analysis of national politics. The first one promised me I could read it in 5 minutes, 25 seconds. (It took me 4 minutes and 40 seconds.) Reading Time for the next was 5 minutes and 35 seconds. (For me, 4 minutes, 50 seconds.) I'm not the fastest reader in the world, but I do have practice and education on my side, which leads me to the conclusion that the magazine got the average reading time about right. Now there is a difference between Clock Time and Experience Time. We say that "Time dragged," or that it "Flew by." Some stories read so well that they trap us in Story Time ("I couldn't put it down"). Others forces us to slog through dense verbiage, an experience where seconds can seem like minutes... In the 58 pages of Liberty magazine, there were 15 features marked by Approximate Reading Time. Rounded off to minutes, here they are in order: 21, 19, 14, 5, 17, 7, 4, 12, 5, 28, 7, 15, 8, 9, 7. I'll do the math: 178 minutes. That's two minutes shy of three hours. That doesn’t count the time it would take to read the ads, the movie reviews, and do the crossword puzzle. Liberty magazine existed in a world without television and the Internet. Time pressures on readers and potential readers change with the times.
Revival as "The Nostalgia Magazine"
Liberty was revived in 1971 as a quarterly nostalgia-oriented magazine published by the Liberty Library Corporation, a company formed by Robert Whiteman and Irving Green. Originally dedicated solely to reprinting material from the original magazine, the 1970s Liberty eventually settled into a "then and now" format, featuring thematically related newly-written articles alongside the vintage material. The new version ended with the autumn 1976 issue. Liberty Library Corporation now offers a similar online feature called "The Watchlist" which features early stories linked to current news headlines. A recent pairing, for example, was a 2009 headline about New York Yankee player salaries and a 1938 article by Joe DiMaggio titled "How Much Is a Ball Player Worth?"
The complete run of the 1970s version is available online via Google Book Search. Liberty Library Corporation, which still owns the rights to the Liberty archives, has stated that Google will also eventually digitize the 1,387 issues that comprised the original magazine's run.
In her working notes for The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand mentioned the character Peter Keating as "the kind of person who occasionally reads Liberty magazine", though this reference did not enter the final version of the book. As Rand depicted Keating as a despicable, shallow opportunist and hypocrite, this was no recommendation for the magazine.
In the Alvino Rey song, the female singer teasingly turns down her male caller with a songful of rejections: "I said no, no, no". The song's twist ending is that she is actually saying "no" to a Liberty subscription.
- Boston Herald, October 19, 1939.
- Richmond Times Dispatch, November 21, 1939.
- Rochelle, Ogden J. "How Busy Can Man Get?" Editor & Publisher, March 19, 1949.
- "Liberty Magazine". Retro Galaxy. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
- "Clark, Roy Peter. "An Idea Whose Time Has Come", Poynter Online, October 10, 2003". Poynter.org. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
- Shulberg, Budd. "The Watchlist". Libertymagazine.com. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
- Joe DiMaggio, "How Much Is a Ball Player Worth?"
- ''Liberty'' 1971-76. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2010-04-09.
- Journals of Ayn Rand, entry for February 12, 1936.