The Prince of Publishing: The Early Years of Henry R. Luce

“I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.”

Throughout his 40 year career, Henry R. Luce built one of the largest and most influential publishing houses in the world. Although many might not know him by name, it is estimated that today, one in every five Americans looks at a Luce periodical during a given week. Called “the giant of twentieth-century American journalism” by Current Biography, Luce revolutionized both an industry and a nation.

Henry Robinson Luce was born on April 3, 1898 in Tengchow, China. He was the first of four children born to Reverend Dr. Henry Winters Luce and Elizabeth Root Luce. His father was a poor but well-connected clergyman for the Presbyterian Church, while his mother worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association. Luce was a serious boy who spent his free time writing sermons. His first language was in fact Chinese.

When he was ten years old, Luce was sent to the British China Inland Mission Chefoo School, a boarding school on the Shandong coast of China. Independent from a young age, Luce traveled to Europe by himself at 14. At 15, Luce won a scholarship that would take him overseas to America.

Luce enrolled in the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. He excelled academically despite maintaining a busy extracurricular schedule. When Luce was not in school or waiting tables at a local restaurant, he kept himself busy as the editor-in-chief of Hotchkiss Literary Monthly, his school’s periodical.

It was while working at the newspaper that Luce would form one of the most important relationships of his life. The paper’s managing editor was the young Briton Hadden, with whom Luce quickly struck up an effective working relationship. “Somehow, despite the greatest differences in temperaments and even in interests, somehow we had to work together,” recalls Luce. “We were an organization. At the center of our lives — our job, our function — at that point everything we had belonged to each other.”

After graduation, both Hadden and Luce enrolled in Yale University, where Luce became a member of Skull and Bones. There, the two continued to work together at the Yale Daily News. They both also entered Yale’s Reserve Officers Training Corps, rising to the rank of second lieutenant. But it was the nights spent at Camp Jackson in South Carolina that would prove the most fruitful. It was there that the two young men spent their time discussing journalism into the wee hours of the night. Both saw a need for a new kind of newspaper, a paper that would help inform what they saw as a misinformed public.

In 1920, Luce received his degree and was voted “most brilliant” of his graduating class. He went off to Oxford University to study history, but did not last long there. After just one year, Luce dropped out of school and returned to Chicago to reunite with Hadden. Together, the two began to formulate plans to create their own weekly news magazine.

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