Samuel McClure

Samuel McClure

Samuel McClure was born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1857. He emigrated to America in 1866 and after working his way through Knox College he moved to New York City, where he became a journalist.

McClure established McClure's Magazine, an American literary and political magazine, in June 1893. Selling at the low price of 15 cents, this illustrated magazine published the work of leading popular writers such as Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle. He also promoted the work of educationalist, Maria Montessori.

In 1902 the magazine began to specialize in what became known as muckraking journalism. On the advice of Norman Hapgood, McClure recruited Lincoln Steffens as editor of the magazine. In his autobiography, Steffens described McClure as: "Blond, smiling, enthusiastic, unreliable, he was the receiver of the ideas of his day. He was a flower that did not sit and wait for the bees to come and take his honey and leave their seeds. He flew forth to find and rob the bees."

Writers who worked for the magazine during this period included Ida Tarbell (History of the Standard Oil Company, November, 1902 - October, 1904; John D. Rockefeller: A Character Sketch, July, 1905); Lincoln Steffens (Enemies of the Republic, March, 1904; Rhode Island: A State for Sale, February, 1905; New Jersey: A Traitor State, April, 1905; Ohio: A Tale of Two Cities, July, 1905) and Ray Stannard Baker (What the United States Steel Corporation Really Is?, November, 1901; The Right to Work, January, 1903; Reign of Lawlessness, May, 1904, What is Lynching; January, 1905; Railroads on Trial, January, 1906, How Railroads Make Public Opinion, March, 1906). Other writers who worked for the magazine included Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Willa Cather and Burton J. Hendrick.

Sales of the magazine declined in the 1920s and the last issue appeared in March 1929.

Samuel McClure died in 1949.

Primary Sources

(1) Samuel McClure, McClure's Magazine (January, 1903)

How many of those who have read through this number of the magazine noticed that it contains three articles on one subject? We did not plan it so; it is a coincidence that the January McClure's is such an arraignment of American character as should make every one of us stop and think. How many noticed that?

The leading article, "The Shame of Minneapolis," might have been called "The American Contempt of Law." That title could well have served for the current chapter of Miss Tarbell's History of Standard Oil. And it would have fitted perfectly Mr. Baker's "The Right to Work." All together, these articles come pretty near showing how universal is this dangerous trait of ours.

Miss Tarbell has our capitalists conspiring among themselves, deliberately, shrewdly, upon legal advice, to break the law so far as it restrained them, and to misuse it to restrain others who were in their way. Mr. Baker shows labor, the ancient enemy of capital, and the chief complainant of the trusts' unlawful acts, itself committing and excusing crimes. And in "The Shame of Minneapolis" we see the administration o£ a city employing criminals to commit crimes for the profit of the elected officials, while the citizens - Americans of good stock and more than average culture, and honest, healthy Scandinavians - stood by complacent and not alarmed.

Capitalists, workingmen, politicians, citizens - all breaking the law, or letting it be broken. Who is left to uphold it? The lawyers? Some of the best lawyers in this country are hired, not to go into court to defend cases, but to advise corporations and business firms how they can get around the law without too great a risk of punishment. The judges? Too many of them so respect the laws that for some "error" or quibble they restore to office and liberty men convicted on evidence overwhelmingly convincing to common sense. The churches? We know of one, an ancient and wealthy establishment, which had to be compelled by a Tammany hold-over health officer to put its tenements in sanitary condition. The colleges? They do not understand.

There is no one left; none but all of us. Capital is learning (with indignation at labor's unlawful acts) that its rival's contempt of law is a menace to property. Labor has shrieked the belief that the illegal power of capital is a menace to the worker. These two are drawing together. Last November when a strike was threatened by the yard-men on all the railroads centering in Chicago, the men got together and settled by raising wages, and raising freight rates too. They made the public pay. We all are doing our worst and making the public pay. The public is the people. We forget that we all are the people; that while each of us in his group can shove off on the rest the bill of today, the debt is only postponed; the rest are passing it on back to us. We have to pay in the end, every one of us. And in the end the sum total of the debt will be our liberty.

(2) Lincoln Steffens, Autobiography (1931)

One day toward the end of my newspaper service, John S. Phillips, an associate editor of McClure's Magazine, called on me in the city room of the Commercial Advertiser. He took me out to lunch, and gradually, cautiously - characteristically - he revealed his purpose: to find a managing editor for the magazine. John Finley held the post at the moment, but he was about to be called elsewhere to more academic work, and S. S. McClure, Phillips, and the other editors wanted a trained young newspaper editor to manage the editorial office and carry on the policy of the magazine. August F. Jaccacci, the art editor of McClure's, had been watching the Commercial Advertiser grow; he had asked our dramatic editor Norman Hapgood who it was that had made that paper, and evidently Hapgood had given me the credit, or part of it. Anyway they had decided to ask me to come over and help make McClure's what they meant it to be. Phillips was sounding me to see if he thought I could do it. My recollection is that I was not eager; I liked the Commercial, disliked the idea of leaving my staff and all the fun we were having. And I was tired out. I think that Phillips went back and reported that I was not enthusiastic. But they had no one else in sight, and I discovered that my newspaper chief was nonresistant; he rather encouraged me to go. It was then that I learned that my employers thought that I was "all in," exhausted, "used up." Phillips came back another day, and I was more willing to listen to him.

"What will be your policy on the magazine?" he asked.

"Put news into it," I answered. I had been "thinking it over," and it had occurred to me that there were some news stories which ran so long and meant so much that the newspaper readers lost track of them. A weekly might comment upon such stories, but a monthly could come along, tell the whole, completed story all over again, and bring out the meaning of it all with comment.

Phillips seemed to see that and to approve. He took me up to his office. S. S. McClure was absent, but John Finley was there, and Jaccacci and Albert C. Boyden. Jaccacci probed me hard, took me to his home, talked with and drew me out. That was his way. He could not be a friend; he had to be a lover, and he worked wonders with the artists who illustrated for him. No employer of employees he, but a fellow worker, an intimate friend; he was what was called an inspiration. He was really an editor, only he did not edit copy; he edited the men, and his influence was all the more powerful because it was so personal. His department was art, but writing-everything was art to him, and he made love to and won and got results from the writers as well as the illustrators.

It was Jaccacci who clinched my contract. He saw that I was indeed tired by my newspaper work and backed my insistence that I have the summer for a rest...

On the magazine there was no staff for me to direct. Miss Ida M. Tarbell and Ray Stannard Baker were regularly employed as writers, but they had already been assigned to subjects. Miss Tarbell was writing The History of Standard Oil, and Baker was doing semi-scientific articles and a series on Germany. S. S. McClure, the editor, was directing their work. For me were left only the authors, who, for the most part, did not come to the office but sent in their manuscripts; and other contributors, like explorers, who had to be seen and persuaded to write for us. A fair field for work, and pleasant, but that was pretty well covered by McClure himself, and by the other editors. I did some of that, but I did not do it well. I was too much on the side of the writer; preferred what an author wanted to do to what we wanted him to do; paid him his price instead of ours...

One day Hopper came up to my desk, laid down a new story, and said he wished he could get better pay for his fiction. I read into his manuscript, saw that it was one of his best pieces of work, and handed it back to him. "Send it somewhere else," I said. "It will be taken. That will show us that you are appreciated and you can raise your price on us."

When this story appeared, "S.S.," as we called McClure, raised a rumpus. He could raise a rumpus. He clamored for Hopper, jumped on him for daring to send his stuff out when he was on our salary list, and Hopper wilted and told him he had acted on my advice.

"Steffens told me to offer it outside."

McClure left Hopper, came running in to me, and he raised a rumpus for me. I was turning authors away, sending good stories to other editors - why, why, why? I told him: to force us by competition to pay our authors more, and to meet his look of astonishment, I reminded him that he had bidden me remember that we lived on the authors, that we must treat them well, and that meant, I reasoned, that we must remember that they had to live on us. He looked around to see that no one was listening; then he bent down and, like a conspirator, whispered: "That's right. Raise their pay, but don't tell anybody else what you are doing. And" - this he spoke aloud and erect - "don't ever send away another such good tale as this of Hopper's."

That was Sam McClure, the wild editor of McClure's Magazine. Blond, smiling, enthusiastic, unreliable, he was the receiver of the ideas of his day. He was a flower that did not sit and wait for the bees to come and take his honey and leave their seeds. He flew forth to find and rob the bees. He was rarely in the office. "I can't sit still," he shouted. "That's your job. I don't see how you can do it." One reason he could not stay in the office was that we checked him. That, too, was my job, the job of all of us, to hold down S.S. But his nerves drove him, too; his curiosity, his love of being in it, his need to wonder and to be wondered about. He followed the news, especially big, personal news. If a new author rose on the horizon, or an explorer started for it, or a statesman blew in over it, S.S. went forth to meet him and "get him into McClure's." To Africa he traveled, to Europe often, to the west, south, east, and the north of the United States to see things and men, to listen and to talk. Field work was his work. Ideas were his meat, and he never knew where he got them. He told an explorer once what the explorer had seen in the Antarctic; he picked out a few suggestive remarks from the dull man's short account and, taking the story away from him, described the man's own trip to him so vividly that S.S. was fascinated. He wired us that he had ordered, not an article, but a series. We all hated serial articles; they tied us up, and S.S. knew that. W, hen he came home he would not stay; he ran right off to Europe. We didn't know why till the explorer himself came in and handed me his hopeless serial.

"Mr. McClure ordered this," he said confidently, and he named the high price he had been promised.

"Mr. McClure did not order these articles," I answered. "fie ordered his own vision of your experience. You have written what you saw; you should have written what McClure saw in the Antarctic."

Realizing that S.S. had gone abroad to get out of the mess he had left us, we had an editorial council. We simply could not use this stuff; couldn't even get it re-written for the author who knew or told mainly that he "rose at 5:55 a.m. and marched four hours."

I solved that problem. The man happened to be going to Europe. I gave him the address of Mr. McClure, and that was the last we heard of that explorer. S.S. either put him off or settled with him out of his own pocket.