On this day in 1889, DeWitt Wallace is born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a minister and his wife.
After high school, Wallace worked in a bank and began keeping an index-card file of his favorite magazine articles. He later attended the University of California at Berkeley. While visiting friends in Oregon, he met his future wife, Lila Bell Acheson, also the child of a minister.
After condensing some government pamphlets into booklets, Wallace became convinced he could create a popular periodical by condensing other readings, but his plan was interrupted by World War I. He joined the Army and was wounded. While recovering, he began to explore his idea, assembling a sample issue and sending it to publishers, who consistently rejected the idea.
He proposed to Lila, and the pair married in 1922, in Pleasanton, New York, the future home of Reader’s Digest. They decided to start the magazine themselves. Working out of a basement in Manhattan, the couple published their first issue in February 1922, with an initial run of 1,500 copies.
By 1929, circulation had reached 200,000 and was growing. In 1933, the magazine began publishing original articles, and the following year began to condense books. The magazine continued growing rapidly and by the end of the 20th century had the largest circulation of any publication in the world, with more than 17 million readers in dozens of countries and some 20 languages. The Wallaces donated much of their resulting wealth to philanthropic causes. They also purchased an impressive art collection, which they hung in the offices of their employees in the Pleasanton headquarters.