09 May 2013

Remembering the Police Gazette, America’s First Men’s Magazine

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Yale eventually built the residential college I much later lived in at the Berkeley Oval where these guys used to play football.

Before radio and television came along, weekly serial publications were a vital source of entertainment and information.

Founded in 1845, it was not until 1877 under new management that The Police Gazette found its winning formula.

The Art of Manliness explains:

[New Editor-and-Publisher Richard K. Fox] reduced subscription rates for saloon keepers, barbers, and hotel managers — business owners that happened to cater to the Police Gazette’s target audience of young, single, urban men. Second, Fox further increased the number of illustrations and effectively created the men’s magazine tradition of featuring sexy layouts of women by introducing his “Footlight Favorites” — engravings of buxom burlesque dancers and soubrettes who showed an occasional bare arm or ankle (*wolf whistle* *cat call* *drooling*). Third, noticing America’s increasing interest in sports, Fox had the vision to create America’s first journalistic sports department in 1879 and wrote full-page stories about boxing, football, and baseball. Fourth, to provide stories for his magazine and to curry favor with his readers, Fox began sponsoring boxing prize fights. Finally, ever the marketing and branding master, Fox began printing the Police Gazette on distinctive pink paper that became a trademark for the magazine. Fox framed all these new additions and features with a cheeky irony and humor that made the magazine an easy and entertaining read.

Fox’s changes to the magazine paid off big time. In just a few short years he tripled the circulation from what it was under Matsell and ad revenue was on par with some of the largest and most popular magazines of the time. Alternatively referred to as the “bachelor bible” and the “barber shop bible,” circulation reached 150,000 a week, with special issues snatched up by more than 400,000; and these numbers really understate the magazine’s reach, as one copy of the Gazette might be read by a hundred men at a saloon or barber shop. The magazine was so firmly established as a fixture in the latter that a common joke sprung up that went like this: “Did you read The National Police Gazette?” “No, I shave myself.” (yuk, yuk, yuk.)

All this makes me feel like the Ancient Mariner. The Police Gazette was actually still a barbershop staple during my boyhood in 1950s Pennsylvania. I was already an avid reader, but the Gazette just wasn’t for me. I found it boring, old-fashioned, and slightly unsavory. I preferred Field & Stream.

Footlight Fairies were a lot tamer than Playboy Playmates.

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Maggie's Farm

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