Scientific American

October 18th, 1879 issue of Scientific American

Scientific American is a popular monthly science magazine that has a long history spanning almost one hundred and seventy years. It is the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S. that forges a link between scientific research and an educated but non-specialist public.

The Scientific American was founded by painter and inventor Rufus M. Porter in 1845. It started as a four-page weekly paper that came out every Thursday. The first issue promised to be ‘elegant, and illustrative of New Inventions, Scientific Principles, and Curious Works…’ The Scientific American carried the subtitle ‘The Advocate of Industry, and Journal of Scientific, Mechanical and other improvements’. For many of its initial decades, the paper focused on reporting to the general public on patents from the U.S. Patent Office. It also reported on scientific inventions, advances in technology, scientific theories and even science humor. In 1948, Porter sold the publication to Orson Munn and it remained in the hands of Munn and Company till 1948.

The Scientific American expanded beyond an English readership as early as the late nineteenth century. From 1890 to 1905, the publication was also published in Spanish, as ‘La America Cientifica’ but later it was suspended. From 1902 to 1911, Scientific American supervised the compilation of the Encyclopedia Americana. After the Second World War the magazine started declining. In 1948, Gerard Piel, Dennis Flanagan and Donald Miller, who were planning to start a new popular science magazine, bought the assets of the century-old Scientific American. They completely revamped the magazine.

In 1950, the Scientific American got into a controversy with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission regarding the publication of an article by Hans Bethe that allegedly revealed classified information to the public about the hydrogen bomb. The AEC burned 3000 copies of the magazine sparking protests on book-burning in a ‘free society’. In 1968, the Scientific American launched an Italian edition ‘Le Scienze’, followed by Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese, Hungarian and Arabic editions in the 1970s and 80s, showing the growing global popularity of the magazine. During the 1980s and 90s, the publishing division, called the Scientific American Library produced a series of books on popular science.

In 1996, Scientific American launched its own website that has expanding over the years and features articles on a variety of topics like energy, health, oceanography, evolutionary biology, nanotechnology, nutrition, genetic engineering etc. The website also has interactive features, blogs, videos and podcasts catering to a wide range of science enthusiasts. From 1990 to 2005, Scientific American produced a TV program called the ‘Scientific American Frontiers’ on PBS.