January 25, 2013
The answer to that equation today is obviously Comcast. But 100 years ago, in 1913, the answer was Curtis Publishing, whose weekly Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal magazines were the most popular and profitable publications of their time.
The creator of this media empire was Cyrus Curtis, born in Maine in 1850. Curtis moved to Boston in his teens and began his publishing career with a weekly called The People’s Ledger. In 1876, he moved to Philadelphia and founded the Curtis Publishing Company. He purchased the Saturday Evening Post in 1897 and turned it into the most popular weekly in the world. At one time, 40% of all the advertising dollars spent in the U.S. went to the Saturday Evening Post.
Curtis didn’t limit himself to magazines. Like Comcast, Curtis Publishing diversified, acquiring two of the City’s largest newspapers, the Public Ledger and the Inquirer, as well as the New York Evening Post. However, these ventures were not as successful and the weekly magazines remained the foundation of his publishing conglomerate.
Also like Comcast, Curtis built a signature headquarters building, the Curtis Center on Washington Square. The Curtis Center still stands and is an attractive office location in the historic Independence Hall area. Curtis also built a new Public Ledger building next door for his newspaper holdings and that building also is an active office building today.
Curtis, like Comcast, wanted his building’s lobby to be more than an entrance. He commissioned an original work of art, the “Dream Garden” by local artist Maxfield Parrish. The 15′ x 49′ mosaic contains over 100,000 glass tiles fabricated by the Tiffany Glass Works in New York. Like the digital wall at the Comcast Center, the Dream Garden attracts 1000’s of visitors every year.
Cyrus Curtis died in 1933 and his flagship publications went into decline in the 50’s and 60’s. The Saturday Evening Post ceased publication in 1969. An Indiana company purchased the name in 1970 and has published a monthly magazine under that name but it’s only a faint reminder of the days when Curtis Publishing ruled the media world .