Magazines Were Boomers’ Windows on the World

It may be hard for today’s generation to believe that before the advent of the Internet, boomers got the bulk of their information about everything from pop culture to international affairs through newspapers and magazines. Newspapers were as necessary as the delivery from the milkman, but it was magazines that truly captured the hearts and minds of boomer families. Television programming began to cut into the circulation of magazines, but Mister Boomer is pretty sure if you ask any boomer, he or she will tell you that their family subscribed to several magazines that were promptly delivered to their mailbox.

There was a magazine for every possible constituency, gender and age. Many had already been active for decades, while others got their start in the Boomer Era. For boys, there was Boy’s Life, published by the Boy Scouts of America (since 1911). As they grew to be teens, they might share dad’s copy of Popular Mechanics (since 1902). Burgeoning car enthusiasts had Hot Rod, first published in 1948, making it a true boomer publication. Road & Track joined the fun in 1952, having been sporadically published between 1947 to ’49.

Young girls read Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine. Fashion tips could be procured from Seventeen as girls became teens.

The fathers of boomers had a series of magazines aimed solely at the male market. Among the most popular were Esquire (first published in 1933), the aforementioned Popular Mechanics and Playboy (first published in 1953). There were also a host of other men’s magazine that included racy photos of women (for the time). Some may have piqued the interest of boomer boys when they discovered where their fathers kept their archive (but not Mister B or Brother Boomer; their father did not subscribe to any of them). Many of the magazines, such as Esquire, featured fiction by some of the up-and-coming writers of the day, including Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, among others.

Boomer mothers had a treasure trove of magazines designed just for them. Centered around family life, child rearing, cooking and house organizing, these included McCall’s (1897-2000), Good Housekeeping (since 1891), Family Circle (since 1932), Better Homes & Gardens (1925) and Ladies’ Home Journal (1891).

Then there were the magazines shared by the whole family. These were either general interest, photo-heavy magazines like Life (1936-72), Look (1937-71) and National Geographic (1888), or news magazines like Time (1923), Newsweek (1933) and U.S. News & World Report (1933). Many families added Consumer Reports (1936), the first magazine to offer unbiased product testing, a handy resource in the age of boomer consumerism.

If there was a single magazine that bridged the gap among boomers of all ages, it would have to be Reader’s Digest (1920). Designed with 30 articles per issues, so people could read one a day, the magazine became the best-selling publication in the country for decades. Many boomers will recall their parents enjoying the columns, “Humor in Uniform” or “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Many boomers will also recall that their friends and relatives, if not their own parents, kept the current issue in the bathroom for “library” reading.

Mister Boomer’s family subscribed to many magazines through the years. Mister B’s mother was partial to Good Housekeeping and McCall’s while his father enjoyed Life and Look, as well as Reader’s Digest. Brother Boomer got a Newsweek subscription when he was in high school. Mister Boomer and his sister did not subscribe to monthly magazines, but bought them on occasion. Mister B paged through Life and Look, and often used the photos for art projects for school, but his favorite was Mad, which he purchased sporadically between 1962 and ’68. His sister liked the celebrity photos of the Beatles, Bobby Sherman and Richard Chamberlain that she could get in Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, when the mood struck her to purchase them.

How about you, boomers? What magazines did you and your family subscribe to?