Atlantic Lore

Scandals, intriguing facts, greatest hits, and more.

Also see:

Atlantic Bloopers
As a general rule, the Atlantic tends to be prescient in its predictions. But from time to time, the magazine does get a few things amusingly wrong...

The Atlantic Hotlist
The's top 10 most popular articles ever.

Historic Facts About The Atlantic
Find out about past editors, bestselling cover stories, and more.

One Saturday afternoon in 1857, at a luncheon held at Boston's Parker House Hotel, an elite assemblage of America's brightest literary lights hatched the idea for a new publication—a magazine that would serve as a forum for the best being thought and written in the United States. The group, which included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, named their fledgling venture "The Atlantic Monthly." After obtaining the necessary financial backing and nominating the poet James Russell Lowell to serve as editor, their plans proceeded apace, and the inaugural issue of The Atlantic debuted in November 1857.

nov1857 coverThe new magazine hit the ground running. Within two years, the Atlantic's circulation had risen above 30,000. Readers around the country hung framed portraits of the Atlantic's founders in their parlors, and many had their growing collections of Atlantics bound into books for safekeeping.
Flashback: "Birthplace of a Magazine"
A look back at reflections on The Atlantic's early years in Boston.

Over the years, the magazine has helped launch the literary careers of such writers as Henry James, Nathanial Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, W.E.B. DuBois, Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Truman Capote, Robert Frost, James Dickey, Louise Erdrich, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tracy Kidder, James Fallows, and William Langewiesche, among many others. It has also published seminal essays by such figures as Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, James D. Watson, Rachel Carson, John Maynard Keynes, George Kennan, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Jane Addams, John Kenneth Galbraith, Reinhold Niebuhr, Robert Moses, Samantha Power, V. S. Naipaul, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Some interesting facts about the magazine:

* In 1869 The Atlantic published an article by Harriet Beecher Stowe, accusing the poet Lord Byron of carrying on an affair with his half sister. Though that issue of the Atlantic quickly sold out, many of the magazine's Victorian readers were so scandalized that for a time, circulation dropped by as much as 15,000.

* William Dean Howells, the Atlantic's most famous editor, was instrumental in launching the careers of such writers as Henry James and Mark Twain. Several of James's novels, including The Portrait of a Lady, began as Atlantic serials. Twain's Life on the Mississippi also began as an 1875 Atlantic serial. Howells went on to become a respected novelist in his own right.

"Recollections of an Atlantic Editorship" (November 1907)
By William Dean Howells

Flashbacks: "Howells Rediscovered"
A collection of articles by and about The Atlantic's third editor, William Dean Howells, celebrates his contributions to the magazine and American literature.

Flashback: "Henry James and The Atlantic Monthly"
Articles by and about Henry James.

Flashback: "Mark Twain in the Atlantic"
The story of Twain's association with the magazine, and a sampling of his writings.

* What most of us know as the popular musical and movie The King and I began as an 1870s memoir serialized in the Atlantic, titled "The English Governess at the Siamese Court" by Anna Leonowens.

* One year into the Civil War, the writer Julia Ward Howe visited a Union Army camp and was inspired to write a poem set to the rhythm of "John Brown's Body." The Atlantic paid her $4.00 for her submission, which was titled "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It was given the lead place in the February 1862 Atlantic and soon became a virtual war anthem for the Union army.

* In the late 1920s the Atlantic published several installments of what the editors had been told were recently discovered love letters from Ann Rutledge to Abraham Lincoln. Soon afterwards, historians came forward to point out obvious problems with the letters. In one letter, for example, Lincoln wrote that he was moving to Kansas, when in fact, at the time he was allegedly writing, Kansas didn't yet exist. It became embarrassingly apparent that the Atlantic had been duped.

Flashback: "An Atlantic Scandal"
A tale of one of the most notorious journalistic forgeries of the twentieth century.

* In 1933, an obscure young author named James Hilton managed to get his novella about an aging schoolmaster at a boarding school published in an evangelical newspaper called the British Weekly. When the piece came out, a friend of The Atlantic's then-editor, Ellery Sedgwick, happened to see it in galleys at the British Weekly's offices. He liked what he saw and cabled Sedgwick to tell him about it. Sedgwick soon met with Hilton and obtained permission to publish the story as the lead feature in the April 1934 Atlantic. It thereupon found widespread popularity, vaulting Hilton to the ranks of best-selling authors, and his story, Good-bye, Mr. Chips! to the status of a beloved classic. The actor Robert Donat later earned an Oscar for his portrayal of Mr. Chips in the 1939 film version.

* In 1941, The Atlantic Monthly became the first English-language magazine to publish the writings of Vladimir Nabokov, now perhaps best known for his controversial novel Lolita, which The Atlantic hailed in a 1958 review as "an assertion of the power of the comic spirit to wrest delight and truth from the most outlandish materials."

Vladimir Nabokov: The First Two Stories
"Vladimir was an Elegant," [Atlantic editor] Edward Weeks recalled, "in baggy flannels and a worn tweed jacket."

Cloud, Castle, Lake (June 1941)
A short story by Vladimir Nabokov.

The Aurelian (November 1941)
A short story by Vladimir Nabokov.

* Three years after a group of his poems had been rejected by The Atlantic, Robert Frost was invited by the editors to submit again. The magazine's publication in 1915 of the three (now-famous) poems he subsequently submitted—"The Road Not Taken," "Birches," and "The Sound of Trees"—forged a relationship between the magazine and the poet that lasted until his death, in 1963.

Robert Frost: The First Three Poems and One That Got Away
An Atlantic editor snubs a poet and lives to regret it

* In 1947, still struggling in obscurity as a mailroom clerk at The New Yorker, Truman Capote submitted a short story to the Atlantic. The story was accepted, but when he learned that publication would not be immediate, he sent an irritable follow-up letter, taking the editors to task for the delay. The story did finally appear in the August 1947 issue. The following year, his controversial novel Other Voices, Other Rooms was published to widespread acclaim, at last propelling the impatient young author to literary stardom.

* In the January 1948 Atlantic, the essayist and author E. B. White penned a piece titled "Death of a Pig," offering a sad account of an episode at his farm. Several years later, he went on to rework the story as the children's novel Charlotte's Web.

* In 1982, Harvard professor of government James Q. Wilson and Rutgers University professor of criminal justice George L. Kelling co-wrote an article on crime for The Atlantic titled "Broken Windows." The crime-prevention strategy that they advocated in the piece ended up being adopted by the New York City police department with such success that it went on to be used as a model throughout much of the country. The director of the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice later observed that Wilson and Kelling's article "has had a greater impact than any other article in serious policing."

* "Enclosed are Two Pieces on Algeria." With those words, typed on plain white bond, William Langewiesche, a pilot who had written for a smattering of aviation magazines, introduced himself to the editors of The Atlantic Monthly in 1991. Sensing potential, the editors commissioned him to write a piece on North Africa. Their gamble paid off; the piece became an Atlantic cover story, and ultimately a well-received book. Langeweische went on to write regularly for the magazine, earning multiple National Magazine Award nominations and a prize for excellence in reporting. In 2002, as the only American reporter granted full access to the World Trade Center clean-up effort, he wrote a gripping series for the Atlantic describing that historic event. The series, titled American Ground, became a bestselling book and was hailed in the press as "An amazing piece of journalism" and "One of the most compelling, dramatic, and uplifting pieces of writing you are likely ever to read."

* Last year, in the course of researching an article about a terrorist kidnapping incident in the Philippines, Mark Bowden—then one of only five correspondents for The Atlantic—traveled to the volcanic island of Jolo, one of the most remote places on earth. He got himself first to Manila, took a plane to Zamboanga City, and then called ahead to Jolo to let the Deputy commander of southern operations for the Philippine marine corps know that he would be arriving there by small plane. "Do you know Bob Kaplan?" the commander asked, referring to one of the Atlantic's other four correspondents. "Yes, why?" Bowden answered. "He's here right now," the commander replied. "What were the chances of two of us being in Jolo at the same time?!" Bowden later commented. "We had Southeast Asia covered!"