The son of a cobbler, Cave was born in Newton near Rugby, Warwickshire and attended the grammar school there. Cave was made to leave after it was said he stole from the headmaster. He worked at a number of different jobs, such as selling timber, writing and printing. He came up with the idea of a periodical that would cover every subject the educated public was interested in, from commerce to poetry. He tried to get some London printers and booksellers to take up the idea. When no one showed any interest, Cave took on the job by himself. The Gentleman's Magazine was started in 1731 and soon became the most important and most copied periodical of its time. It also made Cave very rich.
Cave was a smart businessman. He gave all his energy to the magazine, and hardly ever left its offices at St John's Gate, Clerkenwell. He made use of a lot of writers, the most famous was Samuel Johnson, who was always thankful to Cave for having given him his main job for many years. Cave himself often sent in items to the Magazine under the pen name of Sylvanus Urban.
He also got permission from Lewis Paul for 250 spindles for his patent roller-spinning machine, an early model of the water frame. In 1742 he bought Marvels Mill at Northampton and made this into a cotton mill. This was probably the first water-powered spinning mill in the world. This should have made a lot of money, but it did not. It closed about 1761.
- Online page images of Gentlemen's Magazine the first twenty volumes, from v1 1731 through v20 1750
- Daily Life in Georgian England as Reported in the Gentleman's Magazine