The Art Of Covering Business Henry Luce wanted FORTUNE to be more than a great business magazine. He wanted it to be beautiful.
By Daniel Okrent; Theodore Spencer

(FORTUNE Magazine) – There had never been a magazine like it.

From the very first issue--actually, from the moment the notion popped into Henry Luce's head--FORTUNE was going to be different. And in February 1929, when Luce submitted the idea for his new magazine to the Time Inc. board of directors, he quoted Leonardo da Vinci. "The eye," he wrote, "giveth to man a more perfect knowledge than doth the ear. That which is seen is more authentic than that which is heard."

"Consequently," Luce added, "the new magazine will be as beautiful a magazine as exists in the United States. If possible, the undisputed most beautiful."

And so it would.

The designer recruited for the project, Thomas Maitland Cleland, was one of America's foremost authorities on both type and design. While drinking with managing editor Parker Lloyd-Smith one night at Bruno's, a speakeasy on East 12th Street, Cleland sketched on the tablecloth his vision of the first cover, right down to the serifs on the logotype. The illustration was remarkably close to the cover that would appear on the inaugural issue in February 1930 (seen here). What the fragment of linen doesn't show is that Cleland drew it upside down--so that Lloyd-Smith, sitting across the table, wouldn't have to turn his head or rise from his chair to appreciate it.

It was Luce's good fortune that Cleland had absolutely no interest in staying on to be art director of the magazine once he had completed the design template for the first issue. That task fell to his protegee Eleanor Treacy, the woman who comprised the magazine's entire art staff for much of the first two years. As it turned out, she was an art director of genius.

What ran on FORTUNE's cover during Treacy's nine-year tenure was several galleries' worth of terrific representational art, as often as not unrelated to the issue's contents. Treacy's faith in talent was catholic: She could get fine work from the famous (Diego Rivera, A.M. Cassandre), or she could discover and nurture the unknown, like Antonio Petruccelli, a designer of pajamas who would become one of the magazine's most prolific cover contributors.

Treacy's successor was Francis Brennan, who moved the magazine in a somewhat modernist direction. He encouraged a more documentary style, commissioned the magazine's first cover photograph, and worked with the editors to begin to tie cover subjects to a story--often the most important story--featured inside.

The magazine changed completely after World War II. There was still handsome art on the cover, but FORTUNE had to jettison the formula that had shaped its beginning: the one of sheer, indulgent luxury.