The Lull In Traffic That Saved The New Yorker

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In the early 1925, when The New Yorker was just a few months old (its first issue was dated February 21,1925) its main financial backer, Raoul Fleischmann decided to shut it down. If readership is a measure of success, the magazine was a failure.

At 11:00 on a Friday morning, Fleischmann called an emergency meeting at The Princeton Club (then on East 39th Street & Park Ave.). Attending were Fleischmann, Harold Ross, who invented the magazine and was its editor, Ross’s financial advisor, Hawley Traux, and Ross’s publications advisor, John Hanrahan.  After deciding to suspend publication the four walked west a block and then north up Madison Avenue. I’ll let Mr. Fleischmann pick up the story as he remembered it [the full account can be found  in The New Yorker‘s Archives at The New York Public Library]:

 

It was at 42nd Street, during a traffic lull, that I heard Hanrahan say to Traux or Ross, behind me, “I can’t blame Raoul for a moment for refusing to go on, but it’s like killing something that’s alive.”

 

Fleischmann wrote further that “Hanrahan’s remark had got under his skin,” and so he decided “to carry on, lending money in return for stock.”  Within a year the magazine was not only surviving, but beginning to thrive, helped along by a wildly successful piece in the November 28, 1925 issue by Ellin MacKay, “Why We Go to Cabarets: A Post-Debutante Explains” and by the work of a young man whose cartoons were brand new to the publishing world: Peter Arno.

[photo: the intersection of Madison Avenue and 42nd Street just a few years before the serendipitous lull in traffic]

 

 

2 comments

  1. Supplementing this post is the August 1934 Fortune Magazine article on the New Yorker.

    It says that the decision to kill the magazine was made at the Princeton Club lunch , but no one remembered in time to tell the printer to “stop the presses”. This delay allowed Mr. Fleischmann the time to reconsider his plan.

  2. Good story.

    I learned about Mr Truax from the memorable obituary in the New Yorker of 4 December 1978. Strangely, it has stayed clearly in my memory for all these years, including the spelling of his name!

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