Smithsonian is the official journal published by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The first issue was published in 1970. It is edited by Carey Winfrey.
The history of Smithsonian began when Edward K. Thompson, the retired editor of the weekly Life, was recruited by the then Secretary of the Smithsonian, S. Dillon Ripley, to produce a magazine "about things in which the Smithsonian [Institution] is interested, might be interested or ought to be interested."
Thompson would later recall that his philosophy for the new magazine was that it "would stir curiosity in already receptive minds. It would deal with history as it is relevant to the present. It would present art, since true art is never dated, in the richest possible reproduction. It would peer into the future via coverage of social progress and of science and technology. Technical matters would be digested and made intelligible by skilled writers who would stimulate readers to reach upward while not turning them off with jargon. We would find the best writers and the best photographers—not unlike the best of the old Life." The first issue debuted in April 1970, reaching 160,000 readers with a cover story about amorous elephants in Sri Lanka.
The magazine's early history, however, was plagued by instability and embarrassing gaffes, including the addressing of a letter to NBC News as "Dear Mr. News," an incident which caused then-anchor John Chancellor to bring the fledgling magazine to somewhat less than flattering national attention.
In 1973, the magazine turned a profit for the first time. By 1974, circulation had nearly quadrupled, to 635,000, and it reached the one million milestone in 1975—one of the most successful launches of its time. In 1980, Thompson was replaced by Don Moser, who had also worked at Life, and circulation reached upwards of two million. He was replaced, in turn, by Carey Winfrey upon his retirement in 2001.
Smithsonian has one staff writer, Abigail Tucker, but relies mostly on freelance contributions. Notable past and current contributors to Smithsonian have included:
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