The Fortune 500 cover legacy

The Fortune 500 cover legacy The 2010 edition of the Fortune 500 issue will hit newsstands later this week. We don't care whether Wal-mart is #1 again; what we want to know is what creative director John Korpics will do with his first cover of the Fortune 500, the magazine's most celebrated franchise.

First published in 1956, over the years the Fortune 500 has inspired some brilliant covers by legendary Fortune art directors such as Leo Lionni and Walter Allner. Here are 10 of our favorites.

(Above): July 1961. Art director: Leo Lionni; designer: Walter Allner. This cover is an actual chart of the Fortune 500 companies by revenues. Each division in the large circle is five companies. The small circle on top is the key. Dark red indicates companies that had over $5 billion in sales, yellow equals over $2 billion, etc. (Granular chart info courtesy of Linda Eckstein, former graphics editor of Fortune).

This post was written and produced by Linda Rubes, former associate art director of Fortune.


July 1964. Art director: Walter Allner; photograph: Arthur Seller.

For the July 1964 Fortune 500 cover, Allner arranged for windows on 20 floors of the Time & Life building in New York City to be lit up at night to spell out 500. The shoot was done in pre-Photoshop real time, photographed from a nearby hotel. For its 75th anniversary in 2005, Fortune replicated this event using a giant 75. (Source: The New York Times.)

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(Left): July 1956. Art director: Leo Lionni. Illustration above logo by Karel Kezer. The company names are superimposed on the 500. (Right): July 1963. Art director: Walter Allner. Design by Chermayoff & Geismar Associates.

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(Left): July 1965. Art director: Walter Allner; computer illustration by Walter Allner. (Right): June 1968. Art director: Walter Allner; illustration by Earl Reiback.

The 1965 Fortune 500 featured the first computer-designed illustration on the cover of a national magazine. Allner was fascinated by computers and a class he took at M.I.T. inspired the creation of this cover. The image was generated on a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-1 computer's oscilloscope and then photographed through filters to add color to the electron tube's glow.

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(Left): May 1970. Art director, Walter Allner; photograph: John Launois. (Right): May 1972. Art director: Walter Allner. Photograph: Robert Crandall.

From the original cover credits for the May 1970 issue: "The luminous '500' on Fortune's cover is from a photograph of the control and display unit of a Carousel IV inertial-navigation system aboard a London-bound Pam American Boeing 747--the machine of the year...When this photograph was made by John Lanois, the plane was 29,000 feet over the Atlantic." The May 1972 cover is, according to the original credits, "An assemblage of consumer products made by companies among the Fortune 500...All the items shown were collected by art director Walter Allner from his own home." LIke many of the Fortune 500 covers, this one was a gatefold that opened to reveal another page of products.

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(Left): May 1973. Art director: Walter Allner. (Right): May 1974. Art director: Ronald N. Campbell. Photograph: Herbert Migdoll. License plate fabricated by Nicholas Fasciano.

The May 1973 cover was a gatefold that featured as many signatures of Fortune 500 CEOs as the magazine's art staff could gather (229 companies are represented), made to look like an annual report folder. The 1974 cover was a photograph of a Fortune 500 vanity license plate placed on the back of a Pontiac Grand Prix (General Motors was once again the #1 company that year).

Special thanks to Bill Hooper, archivist at the Time Inc. archives, for research information.

To see every Fortune 500 cover from 1956-2009, visit here.

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  • Robert Newman

    Here's a link to the two Fortune covers that Nitsche did. Both are very cool.

  • Linda Rubes

    Hi Andrea,

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the post!

    Yes, Erik Nitsche did design at least two covers that I know of for Fortune, December 1936 and February 14, 1954.

    Looking forward to your Nitsche post!

  • Andrea Dunham

    sorry, spelled him wrong: Eric Nitsche.

  • Andrea Dunham

    These make me weak with joy. This first cover is in the vein of the gorgeous "Atoms for Peace" General Dynamics annual reports that Erik Nische did in the 50s. Bob, did he ever do a Fortune Cover? I'll be posting some of those GD reports and Decca records this week.

  • Josh Klenert

    I would say this year, no one is going to miss the "500." Some nice type by Daniel Pelavin....

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