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Sports Illustrated Founder: How a Passion for Sports and Journalism Led to the Creation of an Iconic Magazine

by Editorial Staff 01 May 2023

Sports Illustrated is one of the most well-known sports magazines in the world. Since its inception in 1954, it has covered all aspects of sports, from game recaps to athlete profiles, and everything in between. But do you know the man behind the magazine? The founder of Sports Illustrated, Henry Luce, was a visionary who combined his love of sports and journalism to create a publication that would change the way we view sports forever.

Early Life and Career

Henry Luce was born in 1898 in Tengchow, China, to American missionary parents. He grew up in China and the United States, attending Yale University, where he studied history and journalism. After graduation, Luce landed a job at the Baltimore News, where he worked as a reporter.

In 1923, Luce and a friend, Briton Hadden, decided to launch their own magazine. They wanted to create a publication that would cover the news of the day in a new and innovative way. The magazine they created was Time, and it was an instant success. Time became known for its concise and informative articles, and its unique format of short, newsy pieces.

The Birth of Sports Illustrated

In the early 1950s, Luce began to think about launching a new magazine, one that would cover sports in the same way that Time covered news. He saw a need for a sports publication that would go beyond game recaps and scores, and would delve into the personalities and stories behind the games.

Luce assembled a team of talented writers and editors, and together they began to plan the new magazine. They decided to call it Sports Illustrated, and they set about creating a publication that would be both informative and entertaining.

Sports Illustrated launched in August 1954, and it was an instant success. The magazine's first cover featured Milwaukee Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews, and the issue included articles on everything from the upcoming college football season to the state of boxing in America.

The Golden Age of Sports Journalism

Under Luce's leadership, Sports Illustrated became the gold standard of sports journalism. The magazine covered all aspects of sports, from the professional leagues to the Olympics to high school sports. It featured in-depth profiles of athletes and coaches, as well as investigative pieces on the issues facing sports at the time.

One of Sports Illustrated's most famous pieces of journalism was a profile of boxer Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay. The article, written by Mark Kram, was published in 1966, and it helped to cement Ali's status as a cultural icon. It was just one example of the type of groundbreaking sports journalism that Sports Illustrated was known for.

Luce also recognized the importance of photography in sports journalism. He hired some of the best photographers of the day, including Walter Iooss Jr. and Neil Leifer, and their work graced the pages of Sports Illustrated. The magazine's annual swimsuit issue, which debuted in 1964, became an iconic feature of American culture.

The Legacy of Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated remained under Luce's control until his death in 1967. His widow, Clare Boothe Luce, took over as publisher, and the magazine continued to thrive under her leadership. It remained at the forefront of sports journalism for decades, and it influenced generations of writers and editors.

In recent years, Sports Illustrated has faced challenges as the media landscape has shifted. But the magazine remains a beloved and respected institution, and its influence on sports journalism is undeniable.

In Conclusion

Henry Luce was a true pioneer in the world of journalism, and his vision for Sports Illustrated changed the way we view sports. He saw the potential for sports journalism to be more than just game recaps and scores, and he created a publication that went beyond the box scores to tell the stories behind the games.

Luce's impact on sports journalism can still be felt today. His dedication to in-depth reporting and storytelling paved the way for other sports publications to follow suit, and his use of photography helped to elevate the art of sports photography.

The legacy of Sports Illustrated is a testament to Luce's vision and his commitment to excellence in journalism. The magazine remains a symbol of the best in sports reporting, and its influence on the industry cannot be overstated.

Henry Luce's passion for sports and journalism led to the creation of a magazine that would become an icon in the world of sports journalism. His dedication to quality and his vision for the future of sports reporting continue to inspire generations of journalists and sports fans alike. 

Hey there! I'm Chuck, the Editor-in-Chief at Local Threads. We’re on a mission to showcase founders of start-ups and help them shine and tell the world about themselves, their products, and their vision in life. We see value in the stories of big brands and their founders as well. Their success can be a source of inspiration for start-ups.

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