Scientific American is one of the oldest and most serious popular-science magazines. Founded by Rufus Porter , Scientific American has been published monthly since August 28, 1845.
Among science periodicals, Scientific American (informally abbreviated to "SciAm") is the most widely read, bringing authoritatively written articles about highly new and innovative research to the amateur and layman audience. Whilst a well-respected magazine, it is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal in the sense of Nature or Communications of the ACM; rather, it is a forum where scientific discoveries are explained to a wider audience—often including scientists working in unrelated fields.
Throughout its early years Scientific American put much emphasis on reports of what was going on at the US patent office. It reported on a broad range of inventions that includes perpetual motion machines, a 1849 device for buoying vessels by one Abraham Lincoln, and the universal joint which now finds place in nearly every automobile manufactured. Any issue from the 19th century gives a fascinating insight into the progress of the industrial revolution in that time. Current issues feature a "this date in history" section, featuring an article originally published 50, 100, and 150 years ago—where often-humorous, un-scientific, or otherwise noteworthy gems of science history are featured.
Porter sold the magazine in 1846 to Alfred Ely Beach and Orson Desaix Munn, and until 1948 it remained owned by Munn & Company. Under the second Orson D. Munn, grandson of the first, it had evolved into something of a "workbench" magazine, similar to the 20th century incarnation of Popular Science. On purchasing control from Munn, publisher Gerard Piel, editor Dennis Flanagan , and general manager Donald H. Miller created substantially the Scientific American we know today. Flanagan and Miller had retired by 1984 when Gerard Piel's son Jonathan became president and editor;circulation had grown fifteenfold since 1948. In 1986 it was sold to the Holtzbrinck group of Germany, who have owned it since. Gerard Piel died in September 2004 and Dennis Flanagan in January 2005.
It originally styled itself "The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise" and "Journal of Mechanical and other Improvements". On the front page of the first issue was the engraving of "Improved Rail-Road Cars". The commentary under the illustration gives the flavour of its style at the time:
- "There is, perhaps no mechanical subject, in which improvement has advanced so rapidly, within the last ten years, as that of railroad passenger cars. Let any person contrast the awkward and uncouth cars of '35 with the superbly splendid long cars now running on several of the eastern roads, and he will find it difficult to convey to a third party, a correct idea of the vast extent of improvement. Some of the most elegant cars of this class, and which are of a capacity to accommodate from sixty to eighty passengers, and run with a steadiness hardly equalled by a steamboat in still water, are manufactured by Davenport & Bridges, at their establishment in Cambridgeport, Mass. The manufacturers have recently introduced a variety of excellent improvements in the construction of trucks, springs, and connections, which are calculated to avoid atmospheric resistance, secure safety and convenience, and contribute ease and comfort to passengers, while flying at the rate of 30 or 40 miles per hour."
Also in the first issue is commentary on Signor Muzio Muzzi 's proposed device for aerial navigation.
Scientific American published an encyclopedia called The Americana in the early 1900s.
Notable achievements and features have included:
Scientific American also produces a TV program on the PBS channel called Scientific American Frontiers.
Online edition of Scientific American with partially free access to the current issue.
Online archive (not free) of the issues from 1993 to the present.
Online archive of Scientific American between 1846 and 1869.