It's hard to overstate the impact Playboy has had on American culture. The magazine was a trailblazer, the first of its kind, and as such, it was instantly a lightning rod for controversy and, at the same time, exactly what a lot of people needed. 

Focusing on the whole Miss-July-bunny-costume aspect of Playboy would be too easy. In many ways, sex appeal was secondary. The centerfolds were a hook to get people reading about big ideas, and the magazine launched dozens of careers and introduced readers to some profound and amazing voices. Under Hugh Hefner's guidance, Playboy challenged a lot of stuffy, backward norms — it was woke before being woke was even a thing.

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1. Civil Rights

1. Civil Rights
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Hugh Hefner sure put his money where his mouth was when it came to civil rights. Playboy's first interview was with Miles Davis, interviewed by Alex Haley (who would go on to write Roots: The Saga of an American Family). It wasn't a softball interview, either, dealing largely with racial inequality. 

As a jazz fan, Hugh started the Playboy Jazz Festival to feature his favorite black musicians, and he donated the first day's receipts to the NAACP. When Playboy launched its entertainment club franchise, Hugh made sure both black and white guests and performers were welcome. If he found out any of the clubs were turning away black customers, he bought the franchising rights back. Remember, in these days even Sammy Davis Jr. had to enter through the back door before going onstage in Vegas. 

And when three young civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi in 1964, Hef put up a $25,000 reward that helped break the case. 

2. Free Speech

2. Free Speech
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Playboy wasn't the first magazine to publish photos of topless women, but it became enough of a success to paint a big target on itself. As early as 1954, Playboy was in court to fight obscenity charges — which it won — and Hef was always ready to publish writers that no other magazines would publish, as long as they were talented and had something to say. 

"The joke about Playboy is 'I get it for the articles.' But in fact the journalism in it was profound. ... [Hefner] was experimenting always with publishing controversial, cutting-edge stuff," Michael Hainey, an editor who has worked for Esquire and GQ, told NPR. 

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3. Sexuality

3. Sexuality
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Those centerfolds helped sell copies and get readers reading, but they served their own purpose as well: breaking down sexual taboos. Although the first Playboy model was none other than Marilyn Monroe, the photos that Hef purchased of her were initially taken five years before the magazine published them — before Monroe was a star. The big idea was to show that any normal, everyday woman could be a "sexual icon."

"The recognition ... that nice girls like sex, too," Hef told NPR. "Very revolutionary in the 1950s."