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For Curators

 By world circulation standards, DeWitt Wallace is the most successful editor in history.

—Time Magazine

Imitated often, never remotely equaled, it (Reader's Digest) is a phenomenon of our time, because Lila and DeWitt Wallace are phenomena.

— Herbert Mays,  McCall Corp.

The founding of Time and the establishment of the Reader's Digest are among the foremost publication events of this century.

— Christian Science Monitor

A Grand Success Print PDF

We’re happy to report that the Reader's Digest exhibit at the New Castle Historical Society, which closed January 8, 2011, was a grand success. "We had people coming to the last day!" says exhibit head Toni Hutin. "It was an outstanding exhibit and it brought many people to The Horace Greeley House."

"This was most visited exhibit we’ve had,” adds Betsy Towl, Executive Director of the NCHS. She recounted how dozens of groups and hundred of individuals, some visiting from other countries, made their way to the Greeley House to learn about and enjoy Dewitt and Lila Wallace’s legacy.

For all of you who visited, thank you!  And for those of you who didn't have a chance to see the exhibit, please click around this site. Take a special look at the Panels, which capture a great deal of the information presented at the exhibit. This site will live on as a virtual exhibit, so please feel free to leave your comments and reminiscences here.

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RDA Donates Sculpture to Library Print PDF

jencksDEC. 2010: A new sculpture graces the Chappaqua Library grounds. Reader's Digest Association donated "Our Family of Readers," by Penelope Jencks, in connection with the year-long exhibit on RD founders Dewitt and Lila Wallace at the New Castle Historical Society in Chappaqua. RDA commissioned the six-foot-tall bronze sculpture in the early 1990s, and it was installed on the front lawn of the HQ in 1993. It was moved to the library October 28, 2010. The plaque reads: "Dedicated to the millions of readers around the world who find information, enrichment, entertainmnent and inspiration in Reader's Digest."

Their Story Print PDF

In 1922 DeWitt and Lila Wallace, both 32, launched a new kind of magazine. Reader's Digest published nonfiction to inform readers, unusual in a magazine market that at the time carried mostly fiction to entertain them. It was smaller than most magazines—"pocket-sized," said the founders, to make it easy to take along. 

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About the Exhibit

The highlights of the show are the huge exhibit panels, each chockfull of photos, quotes and fascinating stories about the Wallaces and their "little magazine." The centerpiece of the exhibit is the 10-foot long Wallace Era Timeline panel, filled with photos and facts about the company's rapid and steady expansion, both in terms of products and countries. Other panels include:

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Their Beautiful Home Print

Included in the RD Exhibit is a wonderful full-color pictorial about the Wallaces' mansion, High Winds. Once called the "most expensive house in Westchester," exhibit photos show the French Norman–style castle, the mansion's 105-acre grounds, and the lavish interior, complete with world-famous paintings, by the likes of Monet, Chagall, and Renoir. The most precious pieces of this art collection were sold at Sotheby's for more than $96 million! Read on...

Fun Facts

DeWitt liked pranks. At Macalester College he supposedly helped put a cow in a third-floor dorm chapel. Many years later on his way to a Halloween party he sent word he’d been hurt in an auto accident then arrived wearing Mercurochrome-splashed bandages.

In the U.S., RD magazine didn’t accept advertising for 33 years.

In the 1930s, DeWitt bought a four-seater Fairchild monoplane. He used to scare Lila by buzzing High Winds. In 1940 he donated his plane to the Canadian gov't in support of the British war effort.

 

Shortly after RD’s launch, a leading American publisher said no such magazine could, even under optimum conditions, reach a circulation of more than 200,000.
DeWitt kept staff guessing on pay. One year Executive Editor Kenneth Payne got a salary of $34,400 and a bonus of $87,600. In a later year he got a salary of $84,500 but no bonus.
RD sent free subscriptions to prison inmates whose names were suggested by their wardens.
Lila was told there was no water on the high bluff overlooking the Hudson that she chose as the site for Boscobel, the 19th century architectural jewel she rescued. She was certain that persistence would solve the problem. In the third drilling they struck water--“the biggest well on the Hudson,” she called it.
After his sophomore year at Macalester College, DeWitt left for the University of California and signed up as a freshman again because “the first year is more fun.”
Eventually only the Bible exceeded the Digest’s readership. In 1982, RD published a condensed version of the Bible.

DeWitt always liked to stay active. At age 88, he joined a white water canoe trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers.

The first night DeWitt saw Lila after eight years he proposed to her; the second night she accepted.
In 1998, RD published “This Man Wants You Dead”—about Osama bin Laden.
DeWitt hired patrons of the speakeasy above their basement office in Greenwich Village to help him and Lila wrap and address the 5,000 copies of the first issue.
A careful survey of the market in South America indicated RD might achieve a circulation of 50,000 in two years; in fact, circulation reached one million in one year.

In May 1941 DeWitt took the $71,040 profit from a recently published RD anthology and divided it up among his 348 employees earning $250 a month or less.

During the Great Depression, RD circulation grew to two million-plus.
DeWitt did not go to church regularly, smoked, and liked to drink and sit up all night playing poker.

The French edition once called on Maurice Chevalier to translate a story by New York columnist Billy Rose, whose Broadwayese defeated their translators. For "It was a cinch bet" Chevalier came up with "C'etait du nougat" (It was candy). And "the iron-stomached citizens who survived Prohibition" became "the hard-cooked ones."

 

At age 87, DeWitt got his exercise using a sledge hammer to do road work on the couple's property at High Winds.
In 1944, RD established an office in Havana, and copies for Cuba and the Caribbean area were printed there.
The price of the Digest remained constant at the launch price of 25c per copy, $3 per year, for more than 30 years.
In 1936 when Fortune was preparing a story on RD, DeWitt asked the photographer not to come closer to him than the threshold of his office, insisting, “I’m not important.”
The most widely read article in RD magazine history was “—And Sudden Death” by J.C. Furnas, a grim account of what happens to the human body in an auto accident, published in 1935. Reprint requests continued for 20 years.