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The Reader’s Tale of the First Digest

The Reader’s Digest was founded in 1922 by husband wife duo Lila Acheson Wallace and DeWitt Wallace. During World War I, DeWitt Wallace, having enlisted in the U.S. Army, received shrapnel wounds in France during the Battle of Verdun. He spent four months in a French hospital, recovering from his injuries and passing the time by reading American magazines. According to one account, this was the period of inspiration for Wallace. He realized that some articles had far more enduring appeal than others had and that the impact of most articles could be improved by vigorously condensing them, focusing on essentials. The idea took shape in his mind: Reader’s Digest that offered “An Article a Day of Lasting Interest in Condensed, Permanent Booklet Form.”

The idea was finally given a body on 5 th February 1922 with the publication of the first issue. For this first issue all the selecting, condensing, editing, titling, copy reading, etc., was performed by DeWitt and his bride, Lila Acheson Wallace. They worked on the digest in their garden flat at MacDouglas and Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, New York City and they looked for material to be published at the New York Public Library, where they had access to all the publications they couldn’t buy. The copies were printed in Pittsburgh, where DeWitt Wallance had worked briefly for Westinghouse Electric while still putting the finishing touches on his new invention – a pocket- size publication, The Reader’s Digest that offered “ An Article a Day of Lasting Interest in Condensed, Permanent Booklet Form.”
Aided by a group of girl recruits paid by the hour, the young couple stuffed the magazine into envelopes in a one-room windowless basement storeroom below a prohibition speakeasy at No. I Minetta Lane, also in Greenwich Village. Total capital for the venture was Rs. 13, 140. The magazine took no advertisement and was sold only by subscription, but it had great popular appeal. The couple never had to go to the bank to finance their venture. Lila Wallance paid the rent for their flat out of her salary from the social-welfare work she managed somehow to do in addition to her editorial duties.
The Wallanc edited the Digest in New York for a year. Then they moved to a flat above a garage an attached stable on a hilltop estate in Pleasantville, 65 kilometers north of the city. The popularity and reach of the magazine grew beyond the dreams of its founders.
In 1922, the first issue had reached 5,000 subscribers and already in 1926, it had 50,000 readers 1926. This growth was exponential as in 1929 it reached 228,000 people.
The first international edition appeared in Britain in 1938.

The cover of the digest’s first issue published in February 1922 had announced:


The magazine, now published in more than 50 editions in 21 languages across more than 70 countries reaching almost 100 Million people, has since had the same central theme.


Read about Corporate Timeline and Milestones of The Reader’s Digest here
Read about 1972 Indian Edition of The Reader's Digest


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