Claim to fame: Built The Ladies’ Home Journal into one of the first, if not the very first, 1 million circ. magazines. Also founded the magazine that became Cosmopolitan. Was even a pioneering celebrity endorser (click on the circa 1902 typewriter ad at right).
Quote: "Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been in it" (quoting his grandmother).
On magazine editing: “A successful magazine is exactly like a successful store: It must keep its wares constantly fresh and varied to attract the eye and hold the patronage of its customers.”
Life in 500 words or less: Edward Bok’s story is the classic tale of a poor immigrant boy arriving on these shores (at age 6 , from the Netherlands) and through pluck, luck, and marrying the boss’s daughter becoming one of the most influential men of his age.
Bok may have found his story somewhat unbelievable himself, because when it came time to write his autobiography he did so in the third person, as if describing somebody else. That book, "The Americanization of Edward Bok" (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), won a Pulitzer Prize and reads engagingly to this day, once you get used to the weird third-person thing.
As a magazine editor, Bok’s inventions were many. In his autobiography he takes credit for the idea of jumping features to the back of the magazine, today a frowned-upon practice but one that allowed him to create desirable ad positions throughout the book.
More to his credit, perhaps, he used his post to fight numerous worthy battles, even at the risk of alienating readers and losing circulation. Of course, it may have helped that the magazine’s owner, Cyrus H.K. Curtis, was also his father-in-law.
For example, Bok’s LHJ led a crusade against quack patent medicines and expelled their ads, then a lucrative source of revenue, from its pages. He was the first editor of a major magazine to address the subject of venereal disease. When the demand for feathers in women’s hats resulted in the slaughter of countless mother birds and the starvation of their babies, he pressed for, and won, a federal law to stop the practice. Less admirably, he opposed extending the right to vote to women, although he gave people on both sides of the issue a chance to make their case in his magazine.
H.L. Mencken, an unlikely Bok booster if there ever was one, credited him and his magazine with almost single-handedly changing Americans’ taste in architecture and home decoration from “ugliness into dignity, simplicity, something not far from beauty.”
As a pioneer of service journalism, Bok took the concept to a level it had never seen before and has seldom seen since. He encouraged readers to send their questions on “all conceivable problems” to the magazine and employed 35 editors to answer them, immediately. Before long the magazine was fielding close to 1 million letters a year.
Bok intended to retire at age 50 and devote the rest of his life to good deeds. World War I intervened, however, and his departure from the Journal was delayed until 1919. He died in 1930 and is buried at the base of the 205-foot carillon tower at what’s now Historic Bok Sanctuary in Lake Wales, Florida.
For more: In addition to his initial autobiography, Bok wrote a second, "Twice Thirty," a decade letter and this time in the first person. Among his other books is "A Man from Maine" (Scribner’s, 1923), a biography of his father-in-law, Cyrus H.K. Curtis, founder of the Curtis Publishing Company, owner of The Ladies’ Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, The Country Gentleman, and other magazines. -- Greg Daugherty, 8/08