This profile considers the Cowles family and Cowles media group.
It covers -
Cowles Media Company was a Minneapolis-based newspaper, magazine, book and information services company that dated from 1935. It was acquired by McClatchy in 1998 for US$1.4 billion.
Operating units at that time included the daily Star Tribune in Minneapolis and St Paul, Cowles Enthusiast Media (publishers of special interest consumer magazines such as American History, Country Journal and related products, subsequently acquired by Primedia), Cowles Business Media (publisher of magazines such as Catalog Age and Directory World, online research products and conferences for the media/marketing services industries) and Cowles Creative Publishing, a publisher of series in the DIY and recreation sectors.
It had formerly encompassed television stations, Look magazine (the main US competitor to Life), Flair and Quick magazines, a controlling stake in Harpers magazine and a range of newspapers in Florida and across the northern US.
Founding father Gardner Cowles I, a small-town Iowa banker, acquired the Des Moines morning Register & Leader and went on to buy other mid-west newspapers in competition with figures such as Oscar Stauffer and Arthur Capper. He achieved prominence as a Progressive and representative of Iowa interests.
In 1935 the Cowles family bought the Minneapolis Daily Star, going on to acquire the Journal and Tribune in that city, along with other newspapers and radio interests. In 1937 Gardner Cowles II - aka Mike Cowles - launched Look magazine in competition with Time's Life and other photojournalism magazines.
His wife Fleur, briefly an appointee of Harry Truman, served as as Associate Editor of Look and the family's Quick magazine before founding Flair - an upmarket glossy that folded in 1951 but attracts ongoing attention as a model for the Newhouse's Vanity Fair. Her interest in surrealism was reflected in organisation of and participation in exhibitions, along with authorship of a (to us overly respectful) biography of Salvador Dali. Unkind observers sometimes compared her with Clare Booth Luce, another magnate's wife with aspirations to art and a liking for the spotlight.
Her husband, apart from expanding his newspaper interests, had meanwhile extended into land development - notably in Florida, echoing the combination of development and promotion apparent in the activities of the Forbes family.
Energy seems to have waned from the late 1960s, with parts of the group being progressively sold off or shut down. The New York Times acquired the group's Family Circle and Look magazines, regional newspapers and other interests for US$67 million in 1971. The Des Moines Register and titles in Independence, Indianola and Jackson were sold to Gannett in 1985.
The Washington Post acquired 28% of Cowles in that year. During the following decade Cowles acquired a range of specialist magazines (such as Cable World) and information services, before it was bought by McClatchy in 1998 for US$1.4 billion.
For a study of the group see A History of Cowles Media Company (Creative Publishing 1998) by James Alcott.
Gardner Cowles I features in Covering Iowa: The History of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company 1849-1985 (Ames: Iowa State Uni Press 2000) by William Friedricks and Harvey Ingham & Gardner Cowles, Sr: Things Don't Just Happen (Ames: Iowa State Uni Press 1977) by George Mills.
His son Gardner 'Mike' Jr was responsible for Mike Looks Back: The Memoirs of Gardner Cowles, Founder of LOOK Magazine (New York: Scribners 1985).
The landmark Cowles First Amendment case is examined in The Taming of the Press: Cohen v Cowles Media Company (New York: Praeger 1999) by Elliot Rothenberg.
Involvement with Harpers is discussed in An American Album: One Hundred & Fifty Years of Harper's Magazine (Franklin Square Press 2000) edited by Lewis Lapham & Ellen Rosenbush.
This chronology is indicative only. Context is provided by the broader communications and media timeline.
1868 Minneapolis Tribune, predecessor of Star Tribune, launched in Minneapolis
1878 Minneapolis Journal launched
1903 banker Gardner Cowles Sr buys Des Moines morning Register & Leader
1908 buys Des Moines evening Tribune
1915 Des Moines Register & Leader becomes Register
1926 Buffalo Courier and Buffalo Express merge as Courier-Express
1931 Cowles family buys W9CNF Cedar Rapids (founded 1922)
1934 buys WMT Cedar Rapids (founded 1922
1935 buys Minneapolis Daily Star
1937 Gardner Cowles launches Look magazine
1938 Cowles Broadcasting Co buys radio WNAX Yankton
1939 Cowles family buys Minneapolis Journal
1941 Cowles family buys Minneapolis Tribune
1946 sells New York station WHOM to Generoso Pope
1950 Fleur Cowles founds Flair magazine
1951 Flair closes
1958 radio WNAX Yankton sold to Peoples Broadcasting Corp
1971 NY Times buys Cowles Communications (inc Family Circle and Look magazines, Cambridge Book Company, Memphis tv station and regional newspapers) for US$67m
1977 Cowles buys Buffalo Courier-Express
1982 Des Moines Tribune ceases
1982 Buffalo Courier-Express ceases
1982 merger of Minneapolis Tribune, Journal and Star as the Star Tribune
1985 Cowles Media sells Des Moines Register and papers in Independence, Indianola and Jackson to Gannett
1985 Washington Post buys 28% of Cowles
1994 Cowles buys Cable World and Cable Avails
1995 Cowles buys Simba Business Information
1998 McClatchy buys Star Tribune and other Cowles Media assets from Cowles family for US$1.4bn
1999 McClatchy sells Cowles Media's magazine and book publishing interests (25 enthusiast titles, 11 technical/trade titles and 15 trade shows) to Primedia and others for US$208m