Peter Fenelon Collier founded the periodical, Collier's Once a Week in April 1888. It was advertised as a magazine of "fiction, fact, sensation, wit, humour, news". By 1892 it had a circulation of over 250,000 and was one of largest selling magazines in the United States.
In 1895 its name was changed to Collier's Weekly: An Illustrated Journal. The magazine now concentrating on news and became a leading exponent of the half-tone news picture. To fully exploit this new technology, Peter Collier recruited James H. Hare, one of the pioneers of photo-journalism.
Norman Hapgood became editor of Collier's Weekly in 1903. He developed a reputation of employing the country's leading writers. In May, 1906, he commissioned Jack London to report on the San Francisco earthquake. As well as London's account there were sixteen pages of pictures. Under Hapgood's guidance, Collier's Weekly became involved in what became known as muckraking journalism. The most important of these writers who contributed to the journal during this period included Ida Tarbell, C. P. Connolly, John Reed, Samuel Hopkins Adams and Ray Stannard Baker.
Campaigns instigated by Norman Hapgood involved the direct election of senators, reform of the child labour laws, slum clearance and votes for women. In April 1905, an article by Upton Sinclair, Is Chicago Meat Clean, helped to persuade the Senate to pass the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906).
In October, 1905, Samuel Hopkins Adams began a series of eleven articles The Great American Fraud in Collier's Weekly. Adams analyzed the contents of some of the country's most popular medicines. He argued that many of the companies producing these medicines were making false claims about their products. Adams went on to point out that is some cases, these medicines were actually damaging the health of those people using them.
The passing of the the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906) helped to establish Collier's Weekly as an agency of social reform. When attempts by various companies to sue Peter Collier ended in failure, other magazines became involved in what Theodore Roosevelt unkindly described as muckraking journalism.
Peter Fenelon Collier died on 24th April, 1909 and his son, Robert Joseph Collier, took over Collier's Weekly. When Norman Hapgood left for Harper's Weekly in 1912. Robert became the new editor. Circulation continued to grow and by 1917 circulation had reached a million. During this period Collier's began to employ top illustrators such as Will Bradley, Maxfield Parrish, Sam Berman and Joseph Leyendecker.
Robert Joseph Collier died on 9th November, 1918. In his will he left the magazine to three of his friends, Samuel Orace Dunn, Harry Payne Whitney and Francis P. Garvan. By the late 1920s Collier's began to concentrate on the serialization of novels. Produced in about ten parts, the magazine ran two novels at a time. Non-fiction was also serialized, including an account of the First World War by Winston Churchill. In the 1930s Churchill was a regular contributor to Collier's but this came to an end in 1938 when he became a minister in the British government.
During the Second World War the circulation of Collier's had reached 2,500,000. One of the reasons for the magazine's increased popularity was the art work of Arthur Szyk. The magazine also employed the services of outstanding writers such as Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway.
Circulation of Collier's began to fall after the war and in August 1953 it changed from a weekly to a fortnightly magazine. Collier's continued to lose money and in January, 1957, the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company decided to close the magazine down.
Seventy-five million dollars a year is a moderate estimate of the volume of business done by pseudo-medical preparations which "eradicated" asthma with sugar and water, "soothed" babies with concealed and deadly opiates, "relieved" headaches through the agency of dangerous, heart-impairing, coal-tar drugs, "dispelled" catarrh by cocaine mixtures, enticing to a habit worse than death's very self, and "cured" tuberculosis, cancer, and Bright's disease with disguised and flavoured whiskies and gins.
At the very outset Collier's adopted a liberal editorial policy, but it was not until 1905 that it began to publish muckraking articles. By 1909 it had a circulation of half a million copies a week, and by 1912 it passed the million mark. Although chiefly devoted to fiction, the magazine published fearless editorials, articles, and cartoons, and in the latter half of the muckraking decade it assumed the position of leadership which McClure's had held for the first four or five years.
At the height of his powers as editor of Collier's weekly during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt and President Taft, Norman Hapgood exercised great public influence. A man of real ability and the finest character, without selfish ambitions, he soon found himself with a tremendous following.