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Scientific American is a popular-science magazine, published (first weekly and later monthly) since August 28, 1845, making it the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. It brings articles about new and innovative research to the amateur and lay audience.

Scientific American (informally abbreviated to "SciAm") roughly has a monthly circulation of 555,000 US and 90,000 international as of December 2005.[1] Though a well-respected magazine, it is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal in the sense of Nature; rather, it is a forum where scientific theories and discoveries are explained to a wider audience. In the past this target audience was other scientists in unrelated fields, but it is now educated general readers interested in science issues. The magazine American Scientist covers similar ground but at a level more suitable for the professional science audience, similar to the older style of Scientific American.


The magazine was founded by Rufus Porter as a single-page newsletter, and throughout its early years Scientific American put much emphasis on reports of what was going on at the US patent office. It reported on a broad range of inventions that includes perpetual motion machines, an 1849 device for buoying vessels by Abraham Lincoln, and the universal joint which now finds place in nearly every automobile manufactured. Current issues feature a "this date in history" section, featuring an article originally published 50, 100, and 150 years ago—where often-humorous, un-scientific, or otherwise noteworthy gems of science history are featured.

Porter sold the newsletter in 1846 to Alfred Ely Beach and Orson Desaix Munn, and until 1948 it remained owned by Munn & Company. Under the second Orson D. Munn, grandson of the first, it had evolved into something of a "workbench" publication, similar to the 20th century incarnation of Popular Science. In the years after World War II, the magazine was dying. Three partners who were planning on starting a new popular science magazine, to be called The Sciences, instead purchased the assets of the old Scientific American and put its name on the designs they had created for their new magazine. Thus the partners -- publisher Gerard Piel, editor Dennis Flanagan, and general manager Donald H. Miller, Jr. -- created essentially a new magazine, the Scientific American magazine of the second half of the twentieth century. Miller retired in 1979, Flanagan and Piel in 1984, when Gerard Piel's son Jonathan became president and editor; circulation had grown fifteen-fold since 1948. In 1986 it was sold to the Holtzbrinck group of Germany, who have owned it since. Donald Miller died in December, 1998,[2] Gerard Piel in September 2004 and Dennis Flanagan in January 2005. John Rennie is the current editor-in-chief.

First issue[]


Cover of Scientific American September 1848 issue.

It originally styled itself "The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise" and "Journal of Mechanical and other Improvements". On the front page of the first issue was the engraving of "Improved Rail-Road Cars". The masthead had a commentary as follows:

Scientific American published every Thursday morning at No. 11 Spruce Street, New York, No. 16 State Street, Boston, and No. 2l Arcade Philadelphia, (The principal office being in New York) bt Rufus Porter. Each number will be furnished with from two to five original Engravings, many of them elegant, and illustrative of New Inventions, Scientific Principles, and Curious Works; and will contain, in addition to the most interesting news of passing events, general notices of progress of Mechanical and other Scientific Improvements; American and Foreign. Improvements and Inventions; Catalogues of American Patents; Scientific Essays, illustrative of the principles of the sciences of Mechanics, Chemistry, and Architecture: useful information and instruction in various Arts and Trades; Curious Philosophical Experiments; Miscellaneous Intelligence, Music and Poetry. This paper is especially entitled to the patronage of Mechanics and Manufactures, being the only paper in America, devoted to the interest of those classes; but is particularly useful to farmers, as it will not only appraise them of improvements in agriculture implements, But instruct them in various mechanical trades, and guard them against impositions As a family newspaper, it will convey more useful intelligence to children and young people, than five times its cost in school instruction. Another important argument in favor of this paper, is that it will be worth two (dollars at the end of the year when the volume is complete, (Old volumes of the New York Mechanic, being now worth double the original cost, in cash.) Terms: The "Scientific American" will be furnished to subscribers at $2.00 per annum, - one dollar in advance, and the balance in six months. Five copies will be sent to one address six months for four dollars in advance. Any person procuring two or more subscribers, will be entitled to a commission of 25 cents each.

The commentary under the illustration gives the flavour of its style at the time:

There is, perhaps no mechanical subject, in which improvement has advanced so rapidly, within the last ten years, as that of railroad passenger cars. Let any person contrast the awkward and uncouth cars of '35 with the superbly splendid long cars now running on several of the eastern roads, and he will find it difficult to convey to a third party, a correct idea of the vast extent of improvement. Some of the most elegant cars of this class, and which are of a capacity to accommodate from sixty to eighty passengers, and run with a steadiness hardly equalled by a steamboat in still water, are manufactured by Davenport & Bridges, at their establishment in Cambridgeport, Mass. The manufacturers have recently introduced a variety of excellent improvements in the construction of trucks, springs, and connections, which are calculated to avoid atmospheric resistance, secure safety and convenience, and contribute ease and comfort to passengers, while flying at the rate of 30 or 40 miles per hour."

Also in the first issue is commentary on Signor Muzio Muzzi's proposed device for aerial navigation.

Special issues[]

  • Scientific American Special Issue on Communications, Computers, and Networks - September 1991

Scientific American 50 award[]

The Scientific American 50 award was started in 2002 to recognise contributions to science and technology during the magazine's previous year. The magazine's 50 awards cover many categories including agriculture, communications, defence, environment, and medical diagnostics. The complete list of each year's winners appear in the December issue of the magazine, as well as on the magazine's web site.


Sci Am 100

Scientific American logo, 1870

Sci Am 50

Scientific American, 1920

Scientific American published an encyclopedia called The Americana in the early 1900s.

Notable achievements and features have included:

  • Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games column
  • The Amateur Scientist column

Scientific American also produces a TV program on the PBS channel called Scientific American Frontiers.

See also[]


  1. Print Media Kit circulation statistics. URL accessed on 2006-04-29.
  2. (December 27 1998). Paid Notice: Deaths - MILLER, DONALD H.. New York Times.
  • Lewenstein, Bruce V. 1989. Magazine Publishing and Popular Science After World War II. American Journalism 6 (4):218-234.

External links[]

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