The appearance of this issue marks the twentieth anniversary of AMERICAN HERITAGE magazine, an occasion which gives all of us who are connected with it a deep sense of satisfaction. What had been briefly a teacher’s guide issued by the American Association for State and Local History became a softcovered illustrated quarterly in 1949, with a modest but enthusiastic audience of professionals. In 1954 the American Heritage Publishing Company was organized to take over and convert the magazine to its present content and permanent hardcover format. The first of the new series came out in December, 1954: the cover, which showed a buffalo hunter, appears above. That issue was an instant sell-out, and AMERICAN HERITAGE began a climb in circulation and reputation that was spectacular in view either of its price (which, without advertising, had to be high) or its serious intellectual level. The company grew in the field and was soon publishing related books, textbooks, and reference works. The latest and largest of these is The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language , which came out a few months ago. A sister magazine, HORIZON , was created in 1958.
Growth is one measure of achievement, but not the only one. We are pleased that we still enjoy the sponsorship of two distinguished professional historical oganizations. One is the Society of American Historians, consisting of writers and professors of history, and the other is our original publisher, the American Association for State and Local History. To these two nonprofit groups we have over the last fifteen years contributed more than $750,000, which has been used for a multitude of useful historical projects.
What pleases us most of all, however, is that AMERICAN HERITAGE has been the leader in reawakening a public appreciation of the importance, indeed usefulness, of history, We have made enormous efforts to be accurate and to bring out the drama of the past in all its varied excitement, and we have been pioneers in unearthing its authentic pictorial riches.
There are, of course, always new rivers to cross and new subjects to be explored when one tries to bring the lessons of history to bear upon the problems of our anxious times. One of the most important of these today, perhaps the most important as we look to the future, is the preservation of our visibly endangered natural heritage—the ravaged land, the dying lakes and rivers, the polluted air. In many previous issues, we have studied this terrible plight of the present in the light of the past, but beginning with this number, we intend to cover it regularly. Consequently we are adding a new section on conservation, called the American Land. It is, we think, a very natural outgrowth of our interest in history, and one that we think our readers believe in.
What has conservation got to do with our American heritage? Perhaps we can state the problem most simply and powerfully with the pictures on the next eight pages, which one can look at while recalling ironically the words of “America the Beautiful.” Thereafter our noted contributor Wallace Stegner provides a thoughtful essay on the over-all menance; Charlton Ogburn, Jr., writes on the underlying population problem; and David McCullough, editor of the new conservation section, examines the strip mining that is now scarring Kentucky. Everyone who cares at all about his country is aware of the need to help save it; the press is full of the battles of the conservationists; what we can do here in AMERICAN HERITAGE is to bring to the subject the same perception and depth we have tried to give to history. And so we welcome the conservationists into our ranks for the next twenty years.