The National Police Gazette
was probably the most successful of the men's magazines
of the nineteeth century
United States. It was founded in 1845
George Wilkes and lawyer
Enoch Camp as a sort of true crime
/America's Most Wanted periodical
; it told the stories of crime
with information about the alleged offender
s such as names, alias
es, and physical descriptions. Series such as "Lives of the Felon
s" were common, and Wilkes even had an influence on the outcome of a large robbery
of gemstones from the U.S. Patent Office
by printing his suspicions on who had done it and what their plans were. It also spawned one of the earlier anti-abortion
campaigns in the U.S, against a former midwife
in New York
called Madame Restell, leading to a crowd of 700 protesters in front of Restell's house one day in February 1846
. The magazine also included stolen property
notices and advertisements for such things as patent medicines
, and sporting goods
. The owners claimed a circulation
of 40,000 by 1850
Camp retired in the early 1850s, and a few years later in 1856 Wilkes bought a sports magazine, Spirit of the Times, and sold The National Police Gazette to George Washington Matsell, a former New York City police chief. Under Matsell's direction, the magazine expanded -- the stories got racier and illustrations were added, drawings of female crime victims with their clothes disheveled and skirts perhaps revealing legs up to the knee (pretty much softcore pornography at the time). Matsell sold out to his engravers in 1866, and the magazine went into a slump for a decade.
In 1877, Richard Kyle Fox became publisher of the magazine after a few years selling ads and then becoming the business manager. He came up with the idea of selling cheap subscriptions to saloon keepers, barbers, hotel managers, and other places where multiple readers would encounter the magazine. He also made the Gazette stand out from its competing scandal sheets by printing it on pink paper. The illustrations started to include pictures of female burlesque and vaudeville performers in revealing poses, instead of just pictures to accompany stories. In 1879, the magazine had the U.S.'s first full sports journalism department, and started to cover prize fighting/boxing, a sport still illegal in some states, and later other sports. The International Boxing Hall of Fame says Fox did more to popularize boxing than anyone else in the nineteenth century.
The Gazette's success under Fox was huge. By 1885, its advertising rates were the same as such popular magazines as Ladies Home Journal, and Fox claimed each weekly issue was read by a million readers. Subscriptions were about a sixth of that number, but it doesn't seem too unlikely that each issue going to a barbershop or saloon was read by a large number of people. Fox tried to start other magazines, but none came close to matching the Gazette's success. But the Gazette had made Fox a millionaire. Thomas Edison was a regular reader, and later James Joyce made reference to the magazine in Ulysses.
Fox's personality always influenced what was printed. John L. Sullivan, one of the champion boxers of the 1880s, seems to have clashed with Fox, who always supported Sullivan's opponents and even published his own consolation telegram to Paddy Ryan, the heavyweight champion Sullivan defeated in 1881. Perhaps this built up interest in the same way the competition between modern wrestlers interests their fans. Fox also offered his own contests with cash prizes for the winners of bicycling races, wrestling matches, and of course prize fights.
The biggest number of readers seem to have been working-class men -- Howard Chudacoff notes the frequency of articles on middle- or upper-class men harrassing or attacking women, and the women fighting back and beating up the aggressors. Chudacoff says this humiliation of higher-status men particularly appealed to working-class readers. Other articles aimed at specific audiences were columns on well-known barbers and barkeepers (who all happened to be subscribers to the magazine) and by the early 1900s, half-tone photographs that could be framed and hung on the wall of these establishments. The ads were often aimed at bachelors, with "marriage agencies" and risque photographs being sold in the back pages. Chudacoff also points out that the crime stories often had people of other races attacking white victims (particularly women) but the sports coverage was more colorblind and gave equal respect to black and white athletes. Fox's 1902 "physical culture" contest specifically stated "No Color Line in Contest: All Athletes of Whatever Race or Occupation, Free to Enter the Lists for Diamond Medal."
By the 1920s, though, saloons were closed by Prohibition and barbershops were becoming more unisex as flappers came in to get their hair bobbed -- not a place where such a male-oriented magazine was so welcome. Fox died in 1922; his organization kept on for another decade before selling the magazine. Many other girlie mags, sports, and tabloids had sprouted as competition to the Gazette's success. By the 1950s, glossier periodicals such as Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Playboy had stolen even more of its audience. The magazine was still published throughout much of the twentieth century, with headlines such as "Exposed -- The Dope Racket That Killed Marilyn Monroe!" (1962) and "UFOs: A Message from Our Past?" (1975).
There now seem to be two publications using the name of National Police Gazette. One is a website at http://www.policegazette.us/ and gives the "proprietor"'s name as William A. Mays and a mailing address in Binghamton, New York. The site is described as "an homage to the National Police Gazette in its coverage of current events, as well as an archive of historical materials from the original publication."
As to the other one with the name, a reader who says he has subscribed since 1975 e-mailed me a PDF of the 40-page June 2010 issue (volume 165, issue 6); it lists the publisher as Alexander Barrera, who says on page 3 that "I acquired principal ownership in 2006, but family members had been involved in the Police Gazette since the early 1970s and owned it outright since 1977. During these years, they maintained publication for a limited readership of mostly newspaper history buffs," but that he wanted to bring the Gazette to a larger audience. (Another email from someone who says they represent the William Mays version disputes this ownership and says 'we are currently the plaintiff in a case against "Barrera" at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in which we will show that Barrera is committing a fraud against the Trademark Office over the Police Gazette trademark.')
Barrera's Gazette looks more like an intentionally retro-styled print magazine, rather than an exclusively online publication, containing both current entertainment and historical articles, and it uses the same International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) as the Library of Congress and other library websites have listed for older issues of the Gazette in their collections. Its mailing address is in Grand Terrace, California.
Chudacoff, Howard P. The Age of the Bachelor: Creating An American Subulture. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999.
National Police Gazette, June 2010, vol. 165, no. 6.