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Reader's Digest.                 more selected entries

The magazine was the brainchild of William Roy DeWitt Wallace (1889-1981) and his wife, Lila Acheson DeWitt Wallace (1887-1984). DeWitt Wallace had long held that much American journalism was too verbose and that too many interesting stories were escaping public attention because they appeared in small, specialized magazines. He believed there might be a market for a digest-sized magazine that both reprinted and condensed articles originally published elsewhere. After failing to interest any publisher, the couple decided to put out the magazine themselves and printed 5,000 copies from their Greenwich Village apartment. The first issue of Reader's Digest appeared in February 1922. The following fall the operation moved to Lila Wallace's hometown of Pleasantville (Westchester Co). In 1929 the magazine, which had been sold exclusively by mail, first appeared on newsstands, and circulation reached 62,000.

The magazine's circulation grew steadily, reaching 1,457,500 in 1935. In 1939 the Wallaces moved the business into new headquarters in Chappaqua (Westchester Co). During the 1940s and 1950s the company expanded circulation to Latin America and Europe and in 1950 launched the Reader's Digest Condensed Books division. The magazine began to include advertising only in 1955 and has never accepted ads for tobacco products; alcoholic beverage advertising was permitted as of 1979. In 1973 the Wallaces ended their management of the business. The company was publicly traded as of 1980. Subscriptions peaked at 17.5 million in 1985. The magazine underwent a stylistic makeover in 1998, adding more photographs and artwork and moving the table of contents off its traditional place on the front page. In 2002 the magazine had 12 million subscribers and the Reader's Digest Association had revenues of $2,400 million. There are approximately 1,000 workers at the global headquarters in Chappaqua.

Canning, Peter. American Dreamers: The Wallaces and "Reader's Digest": An Insider's Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996)

J. Justin Gustainis


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