The magazine's predecessor, first published in 1919 by the International Bible Students Association (an earlier name of Jehovah's Witnesses), was entitled The Golden Age. From 1937 it was called Consolation. In some countries it was also known as New World, for a while. In 1946 the magazine was released with the present name, Awake!.
In the past, Awake! and its companion The Watchtower were sold for a small charge, varying over time and from country to country. However, on January 17 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that sales of religious literature were subject to taxation, which would have required the Watchtower Society to pay tax on the price of the magazines. The Watchtower Society filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief arguing that the sale of religious literature should be exempt from taxation.
From March 1 1990, the journals were made available at no cost, on a freewill donation basis in the United States, with the stated purpose of simplifying their Bible educational work and distinguishing themselves from those who commercialize religion. The article "Use Our Literature Wisely" which appeared in the May 1990 Our Kingdom Ministry stated, that "there are growing pressures against all religious elements" and it went on to say that their main concern was to move ahead in the worldwide Kingdom preaching work, "without hindrance."
The sale of the literature in other countries was gradually eliminated; since early 2000 Awake! has been distributed free of charge worldwide, its printing being funded by voluntary donations from Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the public.
The purpose of the magazine has changed over time. In 1982 the aim of the magazine was listed as "this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new order before the generation that saw 1914 passes away". When their belief regarding the "generation" of 1914 was changed to a less literal sense, the aim of the magazine changed to "this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things