The Story Behind TIME’s Centennial Cover

4 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:
D.W. Pine is the Creative Director at TIME.

For the TIME cover marking our 100th birthday, we reached back through a century of covers for inspiration. The 144 images that appear in the resulting grid were selected from the more than 5,000 issues we’ve put out over the last 100 years—zoomed in to offer a new perspective on the iconic images.

The commemorative cover image features at least one cover from each of the last 100 years. It includes every U.S. President since TIME’s founding—18 of them, starting with Warren G. Harding on the second issue of TIME in 1923. Richard Nixon, who holds the record for the most TIME covers (55), appears four times.

It draws on the work of artists and photographers from Andy Warhol to Jacob Lawrence, Jodi Bieber to Al Hirschfeld, Marisol Escobar to JR, Roy Lichtenstein to Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, as well as that of artist Tim O’Brien, who has produced the most covers of any artist in the past 30 years. There are 28 covers combined by the artistic trio called the “ABCs”—no surprise since Boris Artzybasheff, Ernest Hamlin Baker, and Boris Chaliapin together produced more than 900 covers from the 1940s to the 1970s. It also reveals how artists and photographers used nearly every medium to bring the covers to life: charcoal portraits and gouache, black-and-white portrait photography and watercolors, silk-screen printing and 360-degree photography. Three of the covers rely on bold typography—including the iconic “Is God Dead?” cover from April 8, 1966. That last one was the first cover featuring no image, and is considered one of TIME’s most memorable. As for the provocative headline, religion editor John Elson wrote, “It is a question that tantalizes both believers, who perhaps secretly fear that he is, and atheists, who possibly suspect the answer is no.”

TIME 100 Birthday Covers

Buy a print of the TIME 100th Anniversary Centennial cover here

There are two commemorative covers, marking the deaths of Steve Jobs (2011) and Kobe Bryant (2020), and a handful of breaking-news events, from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 to the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. On that morning, photographer Lyle Owerko was in his Tribeca apartment when he heard a sound that, he later said, defied description. Recalled Owerko, “there is no way I can describe what it sounded like.” It was the sound of an American airlines plane hitting the neighboring World Trade Center tower. In that tragic moment, Owerko shot two frames with his camera. Owerko walked up Broadway toward a nearby lab to process his images, and remembers the owner telling him: “You have the cover of TIME magazine.”

Read more: The Story Behind TIME’s Original 9/11 Cover

There’s also joy in the mix, from Big Bird introducing our readers to Sesame Street in 1970, to Julia Louis-Dreyfus grabbing the “T” off the logo on a March 11, 2019, cover; from a college-football cover detailing the 1933 season to one featuring a green-eyed feline peering out from under the cover line “Cats: Love ‘Em, Hate ‘Em” (Dec. 7, 1981). At the time, an informal poll of staffers who worked on the story revealed a roughly even split between cat defenders and detractors.

The cover features writers (J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O’Neill), musicians (Aretha Franklin, Adele, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Michael Jackson), architects (Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller), athletes (Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali), and icons (Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin). There are scientists, thinkers, and explorers (Albert Einstein, John Glenn, Jacques Cousteau).

While this image represents less than 3% of all the TIME covers published, each part of it serves as a reminder of some of the most influential moments of the past 100 years.

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