The American Mercury

The American Mercury was an American magazine published from 1924[1] to 1981. It was founded as the brainchild of H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan. The magazine featured writing by some of the most important writers in the United States through the 1920s and 1930s. After a change in ownership in the 1940s, the magazine attracted conservative writers. A second change in ownership a decade later turned the magazine into a virulently anti-Semitic publication. It was published monthly in New York City.[2] The magazine went out of business in 1981, having spent the last 25 years of its existence in decline and controversy.

The American Mercury
American Mercury with Al Hirschfeld's caricature of Ernest Hemingway, November 1950
FounderH. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan
Year founded1924
Final issue1981
CountryUnited States
Based inNew York City


H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan had previously edited The Smart Set literary magazine, when not producing their own books and, in Mencken's case, regular journalism for The Baltimore Sun. With their mutual book publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Sr., serving as the publisher, Mencken and Nathan created The American Mercury as "a serious review, the gaudiest and damnedest ever seen in the Republic", as Mencken explained the name (derived from a 19th-century publication) to his old friend and contributor, Theodore Dreiser:

What we need is something that looks highly respectable outwardly. The American Mercury is almost perfect for that purpose. What will go on inside the tent is another story. You will recall that the late P. T. Barnum got away with burlesque shows by calling them moral lectures.[3]

From 1924 through 1933, Mencken provided what he promised: elegantly irreverent observations of America, aimed at what he called "Americans realistically", those of sophisticated skepticism of enough that was popular and much that threatened to be.[4] (Nathan was forced to resign as his co-editor a year after the magazine started.) Simeon Strunsky in The New York Times observed that, "The dead hand of the yokelry on the instinct for beauty cannot be so heavy if the handsome green and black cover of The American Mercury exists." The quote was used on the subscription form for the magazine during its heyday.

The January 1924 issue sold more than 15,000 copies and by the end of the first year, the circulation was over 42,000. In early 1928 the circulation reached a height of over 84,000, but declined steadily after the stock market crash of 1929. The magazine published writing by Conrad Aiken, Sherwood Anderson, James Branch Cabell, W. J. Cash, Thomas Craven, Clarence Darrow, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Fante, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Halper, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Sinclair Lewis, George Schuyler, Meridel LeSueur, Edgar Lee Masters, Albert Jay Nock, Eugene O'Neill, Carl Sandburg, and William Saroyan. Nathan provided theater criticism, and Mencken wrote the "Editorial Notes" and "The Library", the last being book reviews and social critique, placed at the back of each volume. The magazine published other writers, from newspapermen and academics to convicts and taxi drivers, but its primary emphasis soon became non-fiction and usually satirical essays. Its "Americana" section—containing items clipped from newspapers and other magazines nationwide—became a much-imitated feature. Mencken spiced the package with aphorisms printed in the magazine's margins whenever space allowed.[5]


H. L. Mencken rarely flinched from controversy. He was in the thick of it after the Mercury's April 1926 issue published "Hatrack," a chapter from Herbert Asbury's Up From Methodism. The chapter described purportedly true events: a prostitute in Asbury's childhood in Farmington, Missouri, nicknamed Hatrack because of her angular physique, was a regular churchgoer who sought forgiveness. Shunned by the town's "good people," she returned to her sinful life.

The Rev. J. Frank Chase of the Watch and Ward Society, which monitored material sold in Boston, Mass., for obscenity, concluded that "Hatrack" was immoral and had a Harvard Square magazine peddler arrested for selling a copy of that American Mercury issue. That provoked Mencken to visit Boston and personally sell Chase a copy of the magazine, the better to be arrested for the cameras. Tried and acquitted, Mencken was praised for his courageous stance for freedom of the press; it cost him more than $20,000 in legal fees, lost revenue, and lost advertising.

Mencken sued Chase and won, a federal judge ruling the minister's organization committed an illegal restraint of trade. He held that prosecutors, not private activists, should censor literature, if anyone should. But following the trial, the Solicitor of the U.S. Post Office Department Donnelly ruled the April 1926 American Mercury was obscene under the federal Comstock Law, and barred that issue from delivery through the U.S. Post Office. Mencken challenged Donnelly, aroused by the prospect of a landmark free speech case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and legendary Judge Learned Hand. But, because the April 1926 Mercury had already been mailed, an injunction was no longer an appropriate remedy and the case was moot.

Mencken's departure

Mencken retired as editor of the magazine at the end of 1933.[6] His chosen successor was economist and literary critic Henry Hazlitt. Differences with the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, Sr., however, led Hazlitt to resign after four months. The American Mercury was next edited by Mencken's former assistant, Charles Angoff. At first, the magazine was considered to be moving to the Left.

In January 1935, The American Mercury was purchased from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., by Lawrence E. Spivak. The magazine's longtime business manager, Spivak announced that he would take an active role as publisher. Paul Palmer, former Sunday editor of the New York World, replaced Angoff as editor, and playwright Laurence Stallings was named literary editor.[6]

Radio and television

Spivak revived the Mercury for a brief but vigorous period — Mencken, Nathan, and Angoff contributed essays to the magazine again. Spivak created a company to publish the magazine, Mercury Publications. Soon the company began publishing other magazines, including Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (1941) and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1949.

In 1945 as editor, Lawrence Spivak created a radio program called American Mercury Presents "Meet the Press". It started on television on November 6, 1947, as Meet the Press.

In 1946 the Mercury merged with the democratic-socialist magazine Common Sense. By 1950, the Mercury was owned by Clendenin J. Ryan.[7] He changed the magazine's name to The New American Mercury. Ryan was the financial angel for Ulius Amoss, a former Office of Strategic Services agent who specialized in operating spy networks behind the Iron Curtain to destabilize Communist governments and the publisher of International Services of Information in Baltimore; his son Clendenin Jr. was a sponsor of William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Young Americans for Freedom. Ryan transformed The American Mercury in a conservative direction.

Huie's experiment

William Bradford Huie[Note 1]—whose work had appeared in the magazine before—had gleaned the beginning of a new, post-World War II American conservative intellectual movement. He sensed that Ryan had begun to guide The American Mercury toward that direction. He also introduced more mass-appeal writing, by figures such as Reverend Billy Graham and Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover. Huie seemed en route to producing a conservative magazine. William F. Buckley, Jr., whose God and Man at Yale was a best seller, worked for Huie's Mercury, as a young staffer. In 1955, Buckley founded the longer-living conservative National Review. Buckley would succeed at what Huie was unable to realize: a periodical that brought together the nascent but differing strands of this new conservative movement.

Antisemitic and racist takeover

Huie faced financial difficulties sustaining the Mercury in this new direction. In August 1952, he sold it to an occasional financial contributor, Russell Maguire, owner of the Thompson Submachine Gun Company. Rather than turn over editorial control to Maguire, Huie stepped down as editor after the January 1953 issue. He was replaced by John A. Clements, a former reporter for the New York Journal and Daily Mirror, then director of public relations for the Hearst Corporation. Within a short time, Maguire steered the magazine "toward the fever swamps of antisemitism", as National Review publisher William A. Rusher would describe it. The sale to Maguire spelled the end of The American Mercury as a mainstream magazine. It survived, steadily declining, for nearly 30 more years.

Maguire's anti-semitism led to controversy and the resignation of the magazine's top editors after he took control of the editorial process in 1955.[9] In 1956, George Lincoln Rockwell was hired as a writer, and later became the founder of the American Nazi Party.[10] In January 1959, Maguire published an American Mercury editorial supporting a theory that there was a Jewish conspiracy for world domination.[9]

Maguire did not remain long as the magazine's owner/publisher, but other owners continued that direction. Maguire sold the Mercury to the Defenders of the Christian Faith, Inc. (DCF), owned by Reverend Winrod and located in Wichita, Kansas, in 1961. Reverend Winrod, tried and convicted for violations of the Sedition Act of 1918, was known as "The Jayhawk Nazi" during World War II.

The DCF sold it in 1963 to the "Legion for the Survival of Freedom" of Jason Matthews; the LSF cut a deal in June 1966 with the (original) Washington Observer, finally merging with Western Destiny. Western Destiny was a Liberty Lobby publication owned by Willis Carto and Roger Pearson, a major recipient of Pioneer Fund grants in history. Pearson was a well known neo-Nazi and pro-Fascist who headed the World Anti-Communist League during its most blatantly pro-Fascist periods. Pearson was a close associate of Wickliffe Draper, founder of the Pioneer Fund. By then The American Mercury was a quarterly with a circulation of barely 7,000, and its editorial content was composed almost entirely of attacks upon Jews, African Americans, and other minorities.

A 1978 article praised Adolf Hitler as the "greatest Spenglerian". Another new ownership for the troubled magazine was announced in the autumn of 1979, and the spring 1980 issue celebrated Mencken's centennial, and lamented the passage of his era, "before the virus of social, racial, and sexual equality" grew in "fertile soil in the minds of most Americans". The last issue concluded with a plea for contributions to build a computer index — with information about the 15,000 most dangerous political activists, actual or alleged, in the United States.


A website called The American Mercury was created in 2010. It was criticized by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the Winter 2013 edition of their magazine Intelligence Report, which called it a "Leo Frank Propaganda Site" and described it as "a resurrected and deeply anti-Semitic online version of H. L. Mencken’s defunct magazine of the same name".[8] The Anti-Defamation League calls it "an extreme right-wing site with anti-Semitic content",[11] while The Forward referred to it as "H.L. Mencken’s historic magazine, resurrected online by neo-Nazis several years ago", which had "published several revisionist articles to coincide with this year’s anniversary".[12]


  1. ^ William Bradford Huie should not be confused with Bradford L. Huie, which is an apparent pseudonym of the author of a 2013 American Mercury article that has been widely distributed on white nationalist Internet forums.[8]


  1. ^ "Bichloride of Mercury". Time. 31 December 1923. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
  2. ^ "Newsstand: 1925: The American Mercury". Newsstand. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  3. ^ Teachout, Terry (2001). The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken. HarperCollins. p. 181.
  4. ^ "American Mercury | American periodical". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-06-01.
  5. ^ "American Mercury". Retrieved 2017-06-01.
  6. ^ a b "American Mercury Sold to L. E. Spivak". The New York Times. January 23, 1935. Retrieved 2017-08-02.
  7. ^ Mott 1968, p. 24
  8. ^ a b "Neo-Nazis Behind Leo Frank Propaganda Sites". Intelligence Report. Montgomery, AL: Southern Poverty Law Center. Winter 2013. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  9. ^ a b Judis, John B. (2001). William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives. Simon and Schuster. p. 173. ISBN 978-0743217972. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  10. ^ McMichael, Pate (2015). Klandestine: How a Klan Lawyer and a Checkbook Journalist Helped James Earl Ray Cover Up His Crime. Chicago Review Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-1613730737. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  11. ^ "100 Years Later, Anti-Semitism Around Leo Frank Case Abounds". Anti-Defamation League. August 23, 2013. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  12. ^ Berger, Paul (August 20, 2013). "Neo-Nazis Use Leo Frank Case for Anti-Semitic Propaganda Push". The Jewish Daily Forward. New York: The Forward Association, Inc. (published August 23, 2013). Retrieved December 28, 2014.

External links

Albert Jay Nock

Albert Jay Nock (October 13, 1870 – August 19, 1945) was an American libertarian author, editor first of The Freeman and then The Nation, educational theorist, Georgist, and social critic of the early and middle 20th century. He was an outspoken opponent of the New Deal, and served as a fundamental inspiration for the modern libertarian and conservative movements, cited as an influence by William F. Buckley Jr. He was one of the first Americans to self-identify as "libertarian". His best-known books are Memoirs of a Superfluous Man and Our Enemy, the State.

Charles Angoff

Charles Angoff (April 22, 1902 – May 3, 1979) was a managing editor of the American Mercury magazine as well as a professor of English of Fairleigh Dickinson University. H. L. Mencken called him "the best managing editor in America." He was also a prolific writer and editor.

Daniel Seligman

Daniel Seligman (September 25, 1924 – January 31, 2009) was an editor and columnist at Fortune magazine from 1950 to 1997. He also wrote for Forbes,

Commentary, The American Mercury, Commonweal, and The New Leader.

Dr. Fell, Detective, and Other Stories

Dr. Fell, Detective, and Other Stories, is a mystery short story collection written by John Dickson Carr and first published in the US by Lawrence E. Spivak (The American Mercury) in 1947.

Most of the stories feature his series detective Gideon Fell.

George Jean Nathan

George Jean Nathan (February 14, 1882 – April 8, 1958) was an American drama critic and magazine editor. He worked closely with H. L. Mencken, bringing the literary magazine The Smart Set to prominence as an editor, and co-founding and editing The American Mercury and The American Spectator.

H. L. Davis

Harold Lenoir Davis (October 18, 1894–October 31, 1960), also known as H. L. Davis, was an American novelist and poet. A native of Oregon, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Honey in the Horn, the only Pulitzer given to a native Oregonian. Later living in California and Texas, he also wrote short stories for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.

H. L. Mencken

Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements. His satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial", also gained him attention.

As a scholar, Mencken is known for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. As an admirer of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he was an outspoken opponent of religion, populism and representative democracy, the latter of which he viewed as systems in which inferior men dominated their superiors. Mencken was a supporter of scientific progress, and was critical of osteopathic and chiropractic medicine. He was also an ardent critic of economics.

Mencken opposed both American entry into World War I and World War II. His diary indicates that he was a racist and antisemite, who privately used coarse language and slurs to describe various ethnic and racial groups (though he believed it was in poor taste to use such slurs publicly). Mencken at times seemed to show a genuine enthusiasm for militarism, though never in its American form. "War is a good thing," he once wrote, "because it is honest, it admits the central fact of human nature ... A nation too long at peace becomes a sort of gigantic old maid."His longtime home in the Union Square neighborhood of West Baltimore was turned into a city museum, the H. L. Mencken House. His papers were distributed among various city and university libraries, with the largest collection held in the Mencken Room at the central branch of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Henry Hazlitt

Henry Stuart Hazlitt (; November 28, 1894 – July 9, 1993) was an American journalist who wrote about business and economics for such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The American Mercury, Newsweek, and The New York Times. He is widely cited in both libertarian and conservative circles.

Herbert Asbury

Herbert Asbury (September 1, 1889 – February 24, 1963) was an American journalist and writer best known for his books detailing crime during the 19th and early-20th centuries, such as Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld, The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld and The Gangs of New York.

The Gangs of New York was later adapted for film as Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002). However, the film adaptation of Gangs of New York was so loose that Gangs was nominated for "Best Original Screenplay" rather than as a screenplay adapted from another work.

Lawrence E. Spivak

Lawrence Edmund Spivak (June 11, 1900 – March 9, 1994) was an American publisher and journalist who was best known as the co-founder, producer and host of the prestigious public affairs program Meet the Press. He and journalist Martha Rountree founded the program as promotion for Spivak's magazine, The American Mercury, and it became the longest-running continuous network series in television history. During his 28 years as panelist and moderator of Meet the Press, Spivak was known for his pointed questioning of policy makers.

List of human spaceflights, 1961–1970

This is a detailed list of human spaceflights from 1961 to 1970, spanning the Soviet Vostok and Voskhod programs, the start of the Soviet Soyuz program, the American Mercury and Gemini programs, and the first lunar landings of the American Apollo program.

Red indicates fatalities.

Green indicates sub-orbital spaceflight (including flights that failed to attain intended orbit).

Grey indicates flights to the Moon.

The United States defines spaceflight as any flight reaching an altitude of 50 miles, while the FAI definition requires an altitude of 100 kilometers. During the 1960s, 13 manned flights of the U.S. North American X-15 rocket plane met the U.S. criteria, of which only two met the FAI's. This article's primary list includes only the latter two flights. A separate, secondary list gives the other eleven which flew between 50 miles and 100 kilometers.

Martha Rountree

Martha Rountree (October 23, 1911 – August 23, 1999) was an American pioneering broadcast journalist and entrepreneur. She was the creator and first moderator of a public-affairs program, first on radio as The American Mercury from June 24, 1945, and as Meet the Press on the NBC television network from November 6, 1947. She is the only female moderator in the seven-decade history of the show.

Mercury Publications

Mercury Publications (a.k.a. Mercury Press) was a magazine publishing company, owned and operated by Lawrence E. Spivak, which mainly published genre fiction in digest-sized formats. The focus of Spivak's line was on detective and mystery stories and novels, but it also included magazines about humor, fantasy, and true crime. The offices were located at 570 Lexington Avenue in New York, N.Y.

Spivak entered publishing in 1933 as the business manager of The American Mercury, and two years later, he became the magazine's publisher, expanding his operations in the late 1930s with additional titles. His subsidiary companies included Mystery House and Fantasy House. Two Mercury series were Mercury Library and Mercury Books.

Other Mercury imprints and titles included:

Bestseller Mystery Books (a.k.a. Bestseller Library)

Bestsellers magazine (beginning 1945), subtitled "Authorized Book Condensations"

The Book of Wit & Humor, edited by Louis Untermeyer and Charles Angoff

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, edited by Frederic Dannay

Jonathan Press Mystery Books

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, initially edited by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas

Mercury Mystery (a.k.a. Mercury Mystery Book Magazine and Mercury Mystery Magazine), edited by Joseph W. Ferman

True Crime Detective, edited by Edward D. Radin, and then by Boucher and McComasSpivak launched his Bestseller Library series in 1938, with a new title each month. In 1940, he split the Bestseller Library into Mercury Mysteries and Bestseller Mysteries. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine began in 1941, followed by the Jonathan Press Mysteries imprint in 1942. Mercury Mystery Book Magazine continued the long-run series of full-length and condensed mystery novels published in a digest-sized format, beginning with the title of Mercury Mystery in March 1940. Starting with #210, it ran for 23 issues before merging with Bestseller Mystery Magazine. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction began in 1949 under the title The Magazine of Fantasy. In the fall of 1950, Spivak sold The American Mercury to millionaire investment banker Clendenin J. Ryan, and his editor was William Bradford Huie.

Joseph W. Ferman was the business manager of Mercury Publications from 1940 to 1950. The Mercury art director from 1938 to 1958 was designer George Salter, who created about 750 covers for Mercury Publications during that time frame. After leaving the art director position, he continued to design covers for Mercury.

Robert E. Kuttner

Robert E. Kuttner (March 10, 1927 - February 19, 1987) was an American biologist and white supremacist.

That Evening Sun

"That Evening Sun" is a short story by the American author William Faulkner, published in 1931 on the collection These 13, which included Faulkner's most anthologized story, "A Rose for Emily". The story was originally published, in a slightly different form, as "That Evening Sun Go Down" in The American Mercury in March of the same year. "That Evening Sun" is a dark portrait of white Southerners' indifference to the crippling fears of one of their black employees, Nancy. The story is narrated by Quentin Compson, one of Faulkner's most memorable characters, and concerns the reactions of him and his two siblings, Caddy and Jason, to an adult world that they do not fully understand. The black washerwoman, Nancy Mannigoe, fears that her common-law husband Jesus is seeking to murder her because she is pregnant with a white man's child. The title is thought to be taken from the song Saint Louis Blues, originally composed by W.C. Handy, but popularized by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong in 1927. Faulkner first came across Handy's music when the latter played dances in Oxford, Mississippi. Though the song is never explicitly referenced in the text, Faulkner employs a number of blues tropes to structure the plot and develop racial stereotypes. Scholar Ken Bennett notes that "the image of the 'evening sun' is a common one in black religious music. For example, the spiritual 'It's Gettin' Late Over in the Evenin', the Sun Most Down,' based on Revelation 20, uses the image of the evening sun to suggest the coming of death and judgment."

Thomas Craven

Thomas Craven (January 6, 1888 – February 27, 1969) was an American author, critic and lecturer, who promoted the work of American Regionalist painters, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, among others. He was known for his caustic comments and being the “leading decrier of the School of Paris.”

Weird menace

Weird menace is the name given to a subgenre of horror fiction that was popular in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and early 1940s. The weird menace pulps, also known as shudder pulps, generally featured stories in which the hero was pitted against sadistic villains, with graphic scenes of torture and brutality.

In the early 1930s, detective pulps like Detective-Dragnet, All Detective, Dime Detective, and the short-lived Strange Detective Stories, began to favor detective stories with weird, eerie, or menacing elements. Eventually, the two distinct genre variations branched into separate magazines; the detective magazines returned to stories predominantly featuring detection or action; while the eerie mysteries found their own home in the weird menace titles. Some magazines, for instance Ten Detective Aces (the successor to Detective-Dragnet), continued to host both genre variations.

The first weird menace title was Dime Mystery, which started out as a straight crime fiction magazine but began to develop the new genre in 1933 under the influence of Grand Guignol theater. Popular Publications dominated the genre with Dime Mystery, Terror Tales, and Horror Stories. After Popular issued Thrilling Mysteries, Standard Magazines, publisher of the "Thrilling" line of pulps, claimed trademark infringement. Popular withdrew Thrilling Mysteries after one issue, and Standard issued their own weird menace pulp, Thrilling Mystery. In the late-1930s, the notorious Red Circle pulps, with Mystery Tales, expanded the genre to include increasingly graphic descriptions of torture.

This provoked a public outcry against such publications. For example, The American Mercury published a hostile account of the terror magazines in 1938:

This month, as every month, the 1,508,000 copies of terror magazines, known to the trade as the shudder group, will be sold throughout the nation... They will contain enough illustrated sex perversion to give Krafft-Ebing the unholy jitters.

A censorship backlash brought about the demise of the genre in the early 1940s.

William Bradford Huie

William Bradford "Bill" Huie (November 13, 1910 – November 20, 1986) was an American journalist and novelist. He wrote several books about controversial topics related to World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.

He was also known for the practice of checkbook journalism, paying subjects to gain interviews and articles about them. In January 1956 he published an interview in Look magazine in which the two white men who killed Emmett Till admitted their guilt and described their crime. They had been acquitted at trial several months previously by an all-white jury.

Huie had several of his books adapted as feature films during the 1960s and 1970s.

William Feather

William A. Feather (August 25, 1889 - January 7, 1981) was an American publisher and author, based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Born in Jamestown, New York, Feather relocated with his family to Cleveland in 1903. After earning a degree from Western Reserve University in 1910, he began working as a reporter for the Cleveland Press. In 1916, he established the William Feather Magazine. In addition to writing for and publishing that magazine, and writing for other magazines as H.L. Mencken's The American Mercury, he ran a successful printing business, and wrote several books.His large printing business, William Feather Printers produced catalogues, magazines, booklets, brochures and corporate annual reports. It moved from Cleveland to Oberlin, Ohio in 1982 after a labor dispute.

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