In all our years of covering science, no issue has invited controversy like evolution, and that includes the debate on climate change and whether we'll ever own flying cars. As a magazine that had been Team Darwin since its founding in 1872, (just 13 years after Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species), we made it a point to publish periodic in-depth features defending evolution as a credible explanation for the origin of life.
We begin in 1923, when Dr. E.E. Free published his serial "The Story of Man and His World," which was essentially a primer on evolutionary processes. In his essay on our "monkey ancestry," Free discussed how human and primates descended from a common ape-like ancestor before branching into our respective species. According to Free's studies, mankind descended from lemur-monkeys that migrated to Asia from Central America. Over millions of years, he eventually moved down from the trees and onto the ground, where he learned to handle tools.
Free's ideas took a turn for the outrageous six years later, when he proposed that "cosmic rays" (or high-energy photons) accelerated evolution while passing through Earth's atmosphere. Although this idea was less popular than his other contributions to our magazine, which meticulously examined the physical traits humans share with other animals, Free's ideas nonetheless reflected the public's thirst for answers on how life began.
From then on, much of our coverage on evolution has dealt with historical milestones: the Scopes Monkey Trial, the discovery of "Mrs. Ples," the resurgence of the coelacanth, and the Piltdown hoax, all received ample (and exuberant) coverage on our pages. We even published a story on how instructors quietly circumvented anti-evolution laws to educate students Darwin's ideas.
Have we tickled your history bone yet? You can read that story and more in our gallery on how evolutionary theory progressed during the first half of the 20th century.