The First Magazines

According to an entry in Wikipedia, 'The Gentleman's Magazine', first published in England in 1731, is considered to have been the first general-interest magazine. This was a periodical with stories, poems and political commentary. However, another source gives the first English language magazine to have been 'Review' in 1704, published in London and written almost entirely by British novelist and journalist Daniel Defoe, famed of course for his novel Robinson Crusoe.
'Review' was a serious essay periodical and a forerunner to periodicals such as 'The Spectator'. Whether it should be classed as a magazine is open to question, but there seems sufficient evidence to suggest that in terms of content, if not presentation, 'Review' seems entitled to claim the honour of being the earliest magazine; which would in turn make Daniel Defoe the first magazine writer and publisher.

Magazines in Wales
In 1735 the first Welsh periodical, 'Tlysau yr hen oesoedd' (Gems of Past Ages), was published from the press of Lewis Morris in Holyhead, Anglesey.

Magazines in Scotland
The earliest Scottish magazine was 'The Scots Magazine', first published in February 1739 in Edinburgh. At the time of writing (2009) it is still published, making it arguably the magazine with the longest run. There have been a number of breaks in publication during that time however, the first being a lengthy one from 1826 until 1888.
The people of Scotland often obtained their first news of major events through 'The Scots Magazine', an example of this being the account of the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. It was thus without doubt influential in the lives of the Scots, but its influence declined during the early years of the 19th century, mostly thanks to a livelier editorial policy of newcomers to the scene, such as 'Blackwood's Magazine'.

Magazines in North America
The first american magazines appeared in the early 1740's. Benjamin Franklin published his 'General Magazine' in 1741, but the claim to being the very first american magazine went, perhaps fittingly, to 'American Magazine', published just three days before Franklin's.

Magazine Design evolution - words were not enough
The earliest magazines simply used their opening page as the cover, although with a form of introduction, often a title and table of contents rather than just a title. Others would employ more of a book-like cover, with a title and publication details. There would be none of the cover lines we now expect to see enticing us to delve deeper and buy.
Later, during the 1800's, came an alternative cover design that used an illustration to give the publication an appealing impression of quality and social standing, though again seldom conveying anything specific about the subject matter to be found inside.
In 1842, the 'Illustrated London News' began using woodcuts and engravings for the first time, inspiring a new breed of illustrated journals. The magazine, as we know it now, had arrived.