Vintage JET Magazines

Vintage JET Magazines is the end result of a long obsession with collecting original JET Magazines. Every vintage issue of JET magazine holds a piece of Black American History and Black Excellence. 

This is a passion project for those who remember seeing issues of JET on their parents coffee tables. For those who learned about JET after publication had ended,. And for everyone in between. 

Even today, it is impossible not to be inspired by the stories of our community leaders, our cultural icons, and our heroes. Reading back issues of JET magazines is a history lesson and a nostalgic hug all at the same time. 

History Of JET Magazine

JET Magazine was an American weekly marketed toward African-American readers. The magazine was founded in 1951 by John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois. Initially billed as ‘The Weekly Negro News Magazine’, JET is notable for its role in chronicling the American Civil Rights movement during its earliest years, including coverage of the Emmett Till murder, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Johnson Publishing Company

John Harold Johnson was born in Arkansas City, Arkansas on January 19, 1918 to Gertrude and Leroy Johnson. John H. Johnson was a gifted student, however, higher education for Black students was not available in Arkansas City, so Johnson repeated the eight grade just so he could remain in school. With no other options to further his education, Johnson’s family moved to Chicago where he attended DuSable High School as an honor student, and he studied alongside classmates including Nat King Cole and Redd Foxx. Johnson became editor of the school paper and business manager of the yearbook, and those early experiences encouraged him to pursue a career as a journalist.

Upon graduating high school, Johnson received a scholarship to attend the the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Johnson also worked at the Supreme Life Insurance company to help fund his education. While working at Supreme, one of Johnson’s duties was to clip articles about Black culture and Black affairs from White publications. This inspired Johnson to start a monthly magazine that contained news and events directed specifically towards the Black population – something that had never been done before.

In November 1942, with a $500 loan obtained by mortgaging his mother’s furniture, Johnson launched Negro Digest. The first issue sold 3,000 copies, and within a year the monthly circulation was 50,000. Three years later on November 1, 1945, Johnson launched Ebony, and the first issue sold 25,000 copies at twenty-five cents per copy. Ebony became the #1 African American magazine in the world, and held onto that title every that is was published.

Continuing the magic of November, the Johnson Publishing Company released the first issue of JET magazine on November 1, 1951. Jet quickly became the the world’s largest and best selling African American news weekly magazine. Johnson said he gave the magazine its’ name because he wanted it to represent ‘Black and speed’. In the first issue of Jet magazine, Johnson wrote, “In the world today everything is moving along at a faster clip. There is more news and far less time to read it”. Jet magazine provided news coverage on happenings among Blacks all over the U.S.—in entertainment, politics, sports, social events as well as features on unusual personalities, places and events. Almost instantly, the popularity of Jet was through the roof, with an average circulation of 900,000. Many readers, including Redd Foxx, labeled the magazine as ‘The Negro Bible’.

The same year Jet was first published, is the same year Negro Digest went out of publication. In 1970, Negro Digest was reintroduced under the name Black World. The magazine survived another six years, before going out of print in 1976.

While running multiple magazines, Johnson expanded his empire from magazine publishing into book publishing, and owned Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest black-owned cosmetics company in the world, Supreme Beauty Products, and produced television specials. Johnson also later became chairman and CEO of Supreme Life Insurance, where he had begun his career.

In the early 2000s, the Johnson Publishing Company saw more competition and began to shift their publications from print to digital. In 2010, the company began selling off portions of its business holdings. In 2014, Jet ceased magazine publication and becoming solely a digital outlet. In 2016, after 71 years, Ebony was sold to a group of investors.

To help offset debt, the company auctioned off its massive photo archive which was purchased by a collective of foundations, including the National Museum of African American History And Culture. The final sale of the archives was $30 million, and the images will eventually be made available to the public in digital format.

John H. Johnson, widely regarded as the most influential African American publisher in American history, died in Chicago August 8, 2005 at the age of 87.

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