Luce first met Briton Hadden at Hotchkiss while the latter was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and Luce worked as an assistant managing editor. The two continued to work together at Yale, where Hadden was chairman and Luce was managing editor of the Yale Daily News.
Luce recalled his relationship with Hadden: "Somehow, despite the greatest differences in temperaments and even in interests, somehow we had to work together. We were an organization. At the center of our lives — our job, our function — at that point everything we had belonged to each other."
After being voted "most brilliant" of his class at Yale, he parted ways with Hadden to embark on history studies at Oxford University for a year and worked as a cub reporter for the Chicago Daily News after his return. In December 1921, Luce joined Hadden at The Baltimore News.
Nightly discussions of the concept of a news magazine led the two, both age 23, to quit their jobs in 1922. Later that same year the two formed Time Inc. Having raised $86,000 of a $100,000 goal, the first issue of Time was published on March 3, 1923. Luce served as business manager while Hadden was editor-in-chief. Luce and Hadden annually alternated year-to-year the titles of president and secretary-treasurer. Upon Hadden's sudden death in 1929, Luce assumed Hadden's position.
Luce launched the business magazine Fortune in February 1930 and founded the pictorial Life magazine in 1936, and launched House & Home in 1952 and Sports Illustrated in 1954. He also produced The March of Time for radio and cinema. By the mid 1960s, Time Inc. was the largest and most prestigious magazine publisher in the world. (Dwight Macdonald, a somewhat reluctant employee at Fortune during the 1930s, referred to him as "Il Luce".)
During his life, Luce supported many programs like Save the Children Federation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and United Service to China, Inc.
Luce, who remained editor-in-chief of all his publications until 1964, was an influential member of the Republican Party. Holding anti-communist sentiments, he was an instrumental figure behind the so-called "China Lobby", and played a large role in steering American foreign policy and popular sentiment in favor of dictatorial Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Mei-ling (the Chiangs appeared in the cover of Time eleven times between 1927 and 1955.)
Once ambitious to become Secretary of State in a Republican administration, Luce penned a famous article in Life magazine in 1941, called "The American Century", which defined the role of American foreign policy for the remainder of the 20th century (and perhaps beyond).
Luce had two children — Peter Paul and Henry Luce III — with his first wife, Lila Hotz. He married his second wife, Clare Boothe Luce in 1935. He died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1967. At his death he was said to be worth $100 million in Time Inc. stock. Most of his fortune went to the Henry Luce Foundation. He is enterred at Mepkin Plantation in South Carolina.
Martin's claims are controversial. An article in the August 26, 1991 issue of TIME states that "Henry & Clare is rife with errors, undocumented innuendo, non sequiturs and contradictions. Martin shows little understanding of how the Luce organization worked; the portraits of his principals are caricature-crude, especially in the case of Clare. In biography even more than architecture, God is in the details. By that standard, Henry & Clare deserves the scathing verdict that Luce often penciled on drafts of unsatisfactory stories: 'Needs work'.