On this day in 1925 The New Yorker first appeared, and every year the magazine’s editors mark the august anniversary by reiterating in appropriate fashion the picture of dandy Eustace Tilley, who graced the first cover. Though he became an institution, Tilley started as a joke, a man self-evidently out of tune with The New Yorker, with America, and indeed with 1925.

If the city’s new voice had a real face it was this one: the tough but humorous map belonging to Harold Ross, the New Yorker‘s first editor. He came from Colorado and worked as a reporter and photographer in San Francisco and Atlanta. He spent time also in Panama and, maybe most important, edited the Army’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Which is by way of saying, he knew the West, the South, the new cities, the new army and the new colonies—the ingredients that, when added to an acquaintance with the capital of capital, New York City, would give you an excellent working understanding of modern America.

Fortune gave this account of his virtues:

There are two things that measure Ross’s genius. One was the fact that he never deluded himself on how little he knew—and he learns some things rapidly; the other was his sublime dissatisfaction with everything and everyone as he battered his way to what he was after but did not know how to ask for. He is not a large man, but he is a furious and a mad one. Men left The New Yorker for sanitariums, they had fits on the floor, they wept, they offered to punch his nose (he is terrified of physical violence). But he kept on hiring and firing blindly. By hit or miss he found the individuals who could articulate his ideas—and who could stand the pace of his temperament.

One of the men he might have driven crazy was his big backer, yeast magnate Raoul Fleischmann. But Fleischmann stuck out the flat first years and became a successful publisher by 1927. And the talent accreted with agreeable speed around Ross; within a couple years of starting he had Katharine Angell, James Thurber, and E. B. White. He liked lean, clear writing and disliked dirty jokes. Infamous cover aside, he created an institution that belonged not just to the metropolis but to the nation and indeed the world.