For decades Time was the biggest and most influential news magazine in the world. In a century of life, it has coined or popularised many neologisms, including ‘socialite’, ‘televangelist’, ‘pundit’, and ‘tycoon’. It was the brainchild of two Yale graduates in the 1920s, whose idea was to summarise the whole of the news, making it accessible and digestible for smart, busy people.

a new idea

Henry Luce and Briton Hadden founded the media company Time Inc. in 1922. They decided to publish a weekly magazine called Facts, but settled on Time instead. At first the men worked laboriously, going through piles of local papers and selecting what they saw as important news. The first issue of Time appeared on 3 March 1923. Thanks to a mailing campaign, it found a market among the rising number of US college graduates.


Time developed innovative approaches to news coverage, packaging the news in topical units and introducing a catchy narrative style. The iconic red-bordered cover was introduced in 1927, along with a special annual issue celebrating a “Man of the Year” (now, since 1999, “Person of the Year”). However, although it was well researched and fact checked, Time was accused of bias: Luce and Hadden were conservatives who opposed government interference in business; the magazine’s style reflected this with what a later critic called its “disrespect for authority and reverence for success”. 


By the 1930s, Time Inc. had a large news-gathering organisation of its own. To promote the magazine, a newsreel series called The March of Time was introduced on the radio and then also in movie theatres. Hugely popular, at its peak, during World War Two, it was seen by more than twenty million people a month in the US, and was also distributed internationally.

media empire

Time Inc.’s media empire expanded, too: in 1936, Luce bought Life, reinventing it as the first all-photographic US news magazine. A growing interest in fitness led to the launch of Sports Illustrated in 1954. Other magazines introduced included Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, Fortune, People, InStyle, Golf Magazine and Entertainment Weekly.


Time lost readers in the digital age, though, and some of the other magazines closed down. In 2018, Time Inc. was bought by the founder of big tech firm Salesforce. Time became a fortnightly print magazine in 2020, while its 24/7 digital news service became more prominent.


A special Time issue announcing Person of the Year has always courted controversy. The winner is selected “for influencing the year’s news most for better or for ill”, and previous choices have included Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill (twice), Osama bin Laden, Greta Thunberg and Vladimir Putin, as well as more generic or abstract notions, such as American Women, or The Computer (in 1982, to herald the dawn of the information age). 2022 Person of the Year combines the two: the winner is President Volodymyr Zelensky and the spirit of Ukraine. In 1999, another Time special issue was introduced called TIME100. This list of the 100 most influential people of the year includes artists, innovators, titans, leaders, icons and pioneers.