Scientific American is an American popular science magazine. It has a long history of presenting scientific information on a monthly basis to the general educated public, with careful attention to the clarity of its text and the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics. Many famous scientists, including Albert Einstein, have contributed articles in the past 168 years. It is the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States.
Scientific American was founded by inventor and publisher Rufus M. Porter in 1845 as a four page weekly newspaper. Throughout its early years, much emphasis was placed on reports of what was going on at the U.S. Patent Office. It also reported on a broad range of inventions including perpetual motion machines, an 1860 device for buoying vessels by Abraham Lincoln, and the universal joint which now can be found in nearly every automobile manufactured. Current issues include a “this date in history” section, featuring excerpts from articles originally published 50, 100, and 150 years earlier. Topics include humorous incidents, wrong-headed theories, and noteworthy advances in the history of science and technology.
Porter sold the publication to Alfred Ely Beach and Orson Desaix Mun I a mere ten months after founding it. Until 1948, it remained owned by Munn & Company. Under Orson Desaix Munn III, grandson of Orson I, it had evolved into something of a “workbench” publication, similar to the twentieth century incarnation of Popular Science.
In the years after World War II, the magazine fell into decline. In 1948, three partners who were planning on starting a new popular science magazine, to be called The Sciences, purchased the assets of the old Scientific American instead 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.—essentially created a new magazine. 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 Holtzbrink group of Germany, which has owned it since.
In the fall of 2008, Scientific American was put under the control of Nature Publishing Group, a division of Holtzbrinck.
Today, Scientific American publishes 18 foreign-language editions around the globe: Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian (discontinued after 15 issues), Polish, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish.
From 1902 to 1911, Scientific American supervised the publication of the Encyclopedia Americana, which during some of that period was known as The Americana.