20 Extraordinary Facts About Reader’s Digest Canada
Everyone has a story about Reader’s Digest. Over the decades, our iconic magazine has touched the lived of so many—across Canada and around the globe. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Reader’s Digest Canada, we’re marking notable moments from our company’s rich legacy.
1921: The Reader’s Digest Origin Story
When DeWitt Wallace first proposed a magazine containing condensed, easy-to-read articles, his concept was rejected by publishers across America. Convinced that the idea had serious potential, Wallace went ahead and solicited 1,500 subscriptions. Soon after, the Reader’s Digest Association opened its first office in a New York City basement, and Wallace, alongside his Canadian-born wife, Lila Acheson Wallace, began assembling the first issue.
February 1922: The Birth of Reader’s Digest
The first issue of Reader’s Digest—featuring a simple white cover with an illustration of a woman writing on a scroll—is published in the United States with a print run of 5,000 copies. At the time, the magazine cost 25 cents and contained 31 condensed articles (one for each day of the month), including one story about Henry Ford and another about the art of conversation. It was the Wallaces’ mission to select articles of exceptional interest and value—ones that were “worthy of a permanent place in the storehouse of the mind.”
1928: The First Magazine in Braille
Reader’s Digest becomes the first magazine to be printed in Braille. For many years, it was the only ink-print publication that was also made accessible to people with visual impairments. This edition will draw more than 3,000 subscribers within a decade of its launch.
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1938: We Go Global
The first international edition of Reader’s Digest is published in England. Over the following years, the magazine would be printed in 16 languages and distributed in 163 countries.
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April 1945: The Investigation of German Concentration Camps
Stanley High, associate editor of Reader’s Digest, is among 17 editors and publishers selected by U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower to fly overseas and inspect German concentration camps.
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May 1945: The Nazis Are Condemned
After helping interview prisoners in concentration camps and studying documents regarding the German occupation of France, High is involved in creating a call to action for the U.S. to adopt an urgent policy on war criminals. A statement released on behalf of the reporters while they are still overseas claims that the Nazis were pursuing “calculated and organized brutality.” The statement reads, “We are more than ever convinced that there can be no peace on earth until the right of the earth’s peoples to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is recognized and protected under law.”
1948: The Start of Reader’s Digest Canada
One year after Sélection makes its first appearance on newsstands, Reader’s Digest begins publishing an English-language edition in Canada. The publication quickly builds a reputation as one of the country’s most read and most influential magazines.
December 1952: A Groundbreaking Investigation
While statistics about the health risks of smoking cigarettes started to surface as early as the mid-1940s, the majority of the public is kept in the dark until Reader’s Digest publishes the groundbreaking article “Cancer by the Carton.” The story summarized the latest science linking tobacco to lung cancer at a time when an estimated 54 per cent of Canadians smoke. Reader’s Digest is credited with contributing to the largest drop in cigarette consumption since the Depression.
1954: We Say No to Big Tobacco
The tobacco industry responds by introducing filter cigarettes, which they say will trap toxins before they can settle in the lungs. Full-page ads claiming that the research linking tobacco to cancer is inconclusive are placed in hundreds of newspapers. Reader’s Digest becomes one of the first magazines to deny ads from cigarette companies. The publication continues to report on the topic with the release of a July article titled “Facts About the Cigarette Scare” debunking the filter-cigarette myths.
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June and July 1959: D-Day is Revisited
Reader’s Digest publishes “The Longest Day,” a two-part excerpt of Cornelius Ryan’s book about the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Several years later, in 1962, it is adapted into a film. In addition to John Wayne, the cast features Sean Connery, Richard Burton and Ottawa native Paul Anka.
May and June 1974: The Roots of Roots
An excerpt of Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family appears in Reader’s Digest in two instalments. In 1977, the mini-series adaptation will draw a record-breaking audience of 130 million.
1976: A Foundation to Promote Canadian Journalism
Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada establishes a foundation to promote high-quality journalism. Since that time, the foundation has given away $3.6 million in grants.
Check out our profile of Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme!
September 1982: The Holy Book, Abridged
The Reader’s Digest Association publishes a condensed version of the Bible—40 per cent shorter than the 850,000-word revised standard version—after seven years of planning. The special edition is later presented to Pope John Paul II.
1987: AIDS Awareness Campaign Debuts
When the AIDS crisis starts making national headlines in the 1980s, Reader’s Digest responds by launching an advertising campaign to educate people on protecting themselves and their loved ones. The six-page magazine spread runs in 38 countries and 15 languages.
June 1995: Love Story Writ Large
The true story that inspires the romantic drama The Vow (2012), starring Canadian Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, appears in the pages of Reader’s Digest as “For Better, For Worse.” It was later republished as “An Affair to Remember.”
2001: We’re the Most Trusted!
In a Roper poll, Reader’s Digest Canada is named the country’s most trusted magazine brand—a status it has held almost every year since.
January 2008: We’re Named the Most Influential Magazine
An expert panel convened by Masthead, the periodical industry’s watchdog, names Reader’s Digest Canada the most influential magazine in the country’s publishing history.
These life lessons are as valuable today as when they first appeared in the pages of Reader’s Digest magazine.
September 2010: Healthcare Failings Revealed
“Map of Shame,” an investigative health feature in Reader’s Digest Canada, reveals a lack of standardization in cancer treatment across the country. The story exposes enormous discrepancies in drug access between provinces, amounting to a “postcode lottery.”
2017: It’s Our Birthday!
Reader’s Digest Canada turns 70 and thanks all of you! Here’s to enjoying our past, present and future—together!
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