Trivia 001: The Oldest Publication in America

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first of my (hopefully) weekly trivia newsletters! These will be short descriptions of fun bits of trivia I have come across. I was inspired to do this after finding out that Ken Jennings (yes, the Jeopardy champion) used to run a trivia newsletter. Some of these may be things you know, hopefully many are things you don’t know. Either way, I hope that you enjoy learning these facts as much as I do.

And so, without further ado, here is this week’s trivia:

On August 26, 1845, the very first issue of Scientific American was published. This small newsletter was only four pages long and pronounced it would be published “every Thursday morning” in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The first issue contained articles about traincars, newly issued patents and inventions, new discoveries about zinc and silk, an explanation of thunder, and many other tidbits. It claimed to be “The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements.

Its creator, Rufus Porter, only ran it for ten months before selling it to Orson Desaix Munn and Alfred Ely Beach for $800 ($23,000 in today’s money). In 1948, it was greatly redesigned, becoming the longer publication we are familiar with now. Now published by Springer-Nature, it holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously published magazine in America. To put this in perspective, Scientific American is two years older than the first US-issued postage stamp. While it only had 4,000 subscribers in 1846, it now has over 500,000 subscribers worldwide.

Scientific American has stood at the forefront of discovery many times. It published photographs of the Wright brother’s experimental gliders two years before their successful flight at Kitty Hawk. Robert Goddard contributed an article about the potential of rockets in exploring interplanetary space in 1921. And in 1954, it ran an article about “Computers in Business”.

While these have at times appeared alongside articles on perpetual motion machines and the like, it is difficult to overlook the importance of this long-running publication. Scientific American even has a 2.5km wide asteroid named after it – 14145 Sciam.

Is it presumptuous of me to compare my fledgling newsletter to a giant like Scientific American? No, probably not. I’m sure that my newsletter will last just as long. After all, I’ve got a pretty long backlog of fun trivia to send out.

If you know anyone who would like to receive these, please have them send an email to [email protected]. Will I regret running this out of my personal email? We shall see.



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