60 Reader’s Digest Covers to Celebrate 100 Years
Since its very first issue in 1922, Reader's Digest has covered our changing world.
A century of Reader’s Digest covers
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But for many years, Reader’s Digest was an exception, often printing a full list of its contents on the cover for subscribers’ and newsstand browsers’ convenience. In honor of our 100th anniversary in 2022, we went through the magazine’s archives to collect these 60 memorable Reader’s Digest covers from the 20th and early 21st century. See how many you and your family can recognize.
For a sample of what was inside some of those issues, check out our other 100th anniversary articles, including the 100 funniest jokes from the last 100 years, the 100 funniest quotes from the past 100 years, 100 of the most uplifting quotes ever, and many more.
The first issue of Reader’s Digest appeared in February 1922. Newlyweds DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, the magazine’s cofounders, mailed it to subscribers from their makeshift headquarters, a small rented room in the basement of a Greenwich Village speakeasy. They had borrowed enough money to pay a printer to run off 5,000 copies.
By the end of the 1920s, circulation exceeded 100,000, and it would one day top 17 million in the United States alone.
Reader’s Digest has now outlived most of the publications whose 31 articles the Wallaces condensed for their debut issue. Some happy exceptions are The Atlantic, Good Housekeeping, Popular Science, and Scientific American, which live on in print and/or digital form.
Starting in 1922 and for decades thereafter, Reader’s Digest printed its table of contents on the front cover. To distinguish each new issue from the previous month’s, early covers came in a rainbow of different colors. That continued into the 1940s. The example above dates back to 1933, generally considered the worst year of the Great Depression. Ever optimistic, the magazine chose as its lead article a reprint from Collier’s magazine titled “Better Days Are Here.”
For its July 1942 issue, published seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, Reader’s Digest broke with tradition to put the American flag on its front cover. (In case readers wondered where the table of contents had gone, the magazine alerted them that they could find it on the back.) This cover was the magazine’s contribution to a nationwide patriotic effort called United We Stand, in which some 500 American magazines put the flag on their covers that month.
With the war still raging, Reader’s Digest rolled out the flag again in July 1943.
For its July 1944 cover, Reader’s Digest enlisted in the effort to sell war bonds.
In the prosperous post-World War II era, Reader’s Digest‘s cover illustrations offered their own idealized image of Americans at work and play. From today’s perspective, these illustrations, like those found in many other magazines of the time, took little notice of the country’s racial diversity.
The front and back covers of the October 1952 issue typify the kinds of scenes subscribers of the 1950s and early 1960s saw when the latest issue of the magazine arrived in their mailboxes: wholesome and all-American (the magazine’s spine, not seen here, connected the two images).
While much of this December 1952 issue contained light holiday fare, it also featured one of the magazine’s most influential anti-smoking articles, “Cancer by the Carton.” Its appearance in Reader’s Digest reportedly contributed to the largest decline in cigarette consumption since the Great Depression.
Best-selling author James A. Michener, a regular contributor to Reader’s Digest over several decades, gave readers an exclusive look at the war in Korea in this issue.
By early 1953, as this cover notes, Reader’s Digest had become the world’s largest-circulation magazine, selling more than 17.5 million copies each month through its U.S. and international editions.
Each issue of Reader’s Digest included a special book section. In October 1953, aviator Charles A. Lindbergh recounted his legendary New York to Paris flight in the Spirit of St. Louis.
For its January issues, Reader’s Digest often moved the table of contents to the back cover. In 1955, the year this issue appeared, the magazine started accepting advertising for the first time. The coveted back cover remained off-limits to advertisers, however—a tradition that would continue for several more decades.
Reader’s Digest‘s July covers have often reflected a patriotic theme. Here’s a look at the history of the 4th of July and why we celebrate it.
Reader’s Digest kept its readers current on the latest technology of the day. In this 1956 issue, the article “Elevators That Run by Themselves,” explained how computerized banks of elevators had eliminated the need for human operators.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking, brought his special brand of uplift to this and other issues of the magazine. Enjoy these good morning quotes to kick off a happy day.
Reader’s Digest covers didn’t only feature rural or suburban settings, as this rainy-day city scene shows.
Author James A. Michener made the case for Hawaii’s statehood in this 1958 issue. The following year, it became the nation’s 50th state. In the mood for a trip to the islands? Check out the things to know before you book that Hawaiian vacation.
Dogs had their day on this 1959 cover. While we’re on the subject, here are some things your dog wishes you knew.
The conservation of America’s natural resources and wilderness areas was another cause embraced by Reader’s Digest. William Hard’s “Save a Spot for Beauty,” which ran in this issue, argued for preserving Thoreau’s Walden Pond and other landmarks and protecting them from developers.
Come April each year, Reader’s Digest readers could often expect a subtle (or not-so-subtle) cover reference to April showers.
To accompany an article about home accidents, this issue contained a 28-page first-aid handbook that readers could pull out and save.
Although Reader’s Digest has rarely printed fiction, it made an exception in this issue for Ray Bradbury’s Civil War tale “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.”
Lady Liberty got her close-up on this July cover. Here are some Statue of Liberty facts you probably didn’t know.
In 1962, Reader’s Digest celebrated its 40th anniversary with this cover salute to the new Jet Age.
A few years after dogs had their day in the spotlight, cats became our cover stars. Speaking of which, here are some things your cat would love to tell you.
April continued to shower on this 1964 cover. Inside, the magazine revisited two of its longtime causes: the dangers of cigarettes and the prevention of car crashes. Check out our latest advice on scary driving situations and how to handle them.
The celebrated World War II general Douglas MacArthur contributed to this issue’s special book section.
A pair of terrified trick-or-treaters and an assortment of fanciful monsters marked Halloween 1965 and ushered in the November chill.
While many Americans remember the late 1960s and early 1970s as a turbulent era in the nation’s history, Reader’s Digest gave readers a break from the day’s headlines with soothing cover images that emphasized nature and patriotic themes.
Novelist John Steinbeck tried to make sense of the ’60s in his essay “What’s Happening to America?” It was published in this 1966 issue.
This 1969 cover offered a subtle commentary on the passing of the leisurely ocean liner era in favor of faster air travel.
By 1970, Reader’s Digest was selling more than 29 million copies around the world each month and publishing in 13 languages.
Then-president Richard Nixon led off this issue of the magazine with a call to arms against inflation. Can you guess who made our list of presidents with the highest IQ scores?
Dramatic first-person accounts became another Reader’s Digest trademark. This issue’s “Attacked by a Killer Shark!” by Rodney Fox was a classic example.
Cornelius Ryan’s classic World War II account, A Bridge Too Far, was this issue’s special book section. In 1959, Reader’s Digest had helped sponsor Ryan’s research for his celebrated chronicle of the D-Day invasion, The Longest Day, which later became a movie.
From the late 1970s into the 1990s, Reader’s Digest often treated its readers to works by some of the world’s great artists on its back covers, as the February 1984 issue, with a portion of a Claude Monet painting, shows. Perhaps not coincidentally, the magazine’s cofounder, Lila Acheson Wallace, was a major collector of fine art, and many of her pieces were displayed throughout the company’s Chappaqua, New York, headquarters. When a small portion of The Reader’s Digest Collection went up for auction in 1998, it sold for more than $86 million.
A detail from Pierre Auguste Renoir’s “The Luncheon of the Boating Party” graces the back cover of the magazine.
The 1986 cover of Reader’s Digest was all business in the front, but the back featured “Peachtree in Blossom” by Vincent van Gogh.
Readers were treated to a detail from “White Christmas” by Grandma Moses, the artist otherwise known as Anna Mary Robertson Moses.
Readers who flipped the cover on this issue of the magazine were surprised by “The Star Dancer on Stage” by Edgar Degas.
Pierre Auguste Renoir graced Reader’s Digest in 1988 with this detail from “A Girl With a Watering Can.”
“Beach Umbrella” by the contemporary artist David Hockney served as the magazine’s back cover in the summer of 1989.
The magazine once again turned to Vincent van Gogh, with his “House at Auvers” serving as the September 1991 back cover.
“Goldfish” by Henri Matisse was a back cover worthy of framing.
Johannes Vermeer’s “Young Girl With Pearl” earned the June 1996 cover slot. Another Vermeer painting earned the honor of being one of the most expensive things ever stolen.
Jackson Pollock’s “Echo: Number 25, 1951” gave readers a taste of modern art.
While Reader’s Digest has published countless articles by and about celebrities, starting with its very first issue, it rarely put them on the cover, as other major magazines did. In the 1990s, that began to change. Take, for instance, the February 1999 cover, which featured A-lister Robin Williams.
Singer and songwriter Jewel told her story in the September 1999 issue.
Actress Meryl Street revealed her acting secrets in November 1999.
Reader’s Digest marked the coming millennium with its December 1999 cover.
As Reader’s Digest entered the 21st century, the magazine continued to offer its readers timely advice on topics like staying healthy.
Managing money has also continued to be a popular topic. And Reader’s Digest is always there to offer up advice, like these ways you’re wasting money without knowing it.
The magazine that taught the world that laughter is the best medicine continued to promote the healing power of humor. Enjoy these funny one-liners that will get you laughing.
Inspiring real-life stories have also remained a staple of the magazine. Here’s a recent selection of our most inspirational stories.
In 2005, Reader’s Digest reached another rare magazine milestone, publishing its 1,000th issue. That’s a whole lot of magazines!
Smack dab in the middle of the Great Recession, the June 2008 issue aimed to help cash-strapped readers lower bills and get their finances in order.
The patriotic themes that Reader’s Digest often evoked on its covers during the war years took on a lighter tone in the 21st century, as this and the next two covers illustrate.
In a combined June and July issue, Reader’s Digest gave readers the scoop on “100 Things We Love About America.” Ice cream lovers will want to check out our list of the best ice cream shops in every state.
The following year, the magazine got frank with readers about the “Best of America,” featuring over 100 people, places, and things to love. Here’s our guide to the best hot dog in every state.
This 2012 cover promised Reader’s Digest readers the magazine’s “Funniest Issue Ever.” The baby seems to agree. Want more laughs? Try these short jokes on for size.