The impressive 'Reader's Digest' complex in Chappaqua rivaled many college campuses.
The impressive 'Reader's Digest' complex in Chappaqua rivaled many college campuses.

There are some really, really good places to work. But not many that can top what one company offered year after year.

Imagine the pride of working at a publishing company whose product just about everybody knew, loved, and bought by the millions.

At this office, you worked only from 8:30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon because your boss wanted you to stay fresh and eager.  

You got four full weeks of vacation - twice the usual paid time away - and editors got a week of company-paid educational travel to anyplace they wanted to go in the country. You could get gasoline, your laundry cleaned, and your hair done right on the property.  Hallways were lined with original classic art, subsidized cafeteria prices were low, and management gave you a free turkey each Thanksgiving holiday.

Founders Wally and Lila Wallace in front of modern
Founders Wally and Lila Wallace in front of modernist painter Marc Chagall's 'Three Candles,' one of many original pieces of art that graced the hallways at Reader's Digest headquarters.

The company was Reader's Digest magazine, based in little Chappaqua, New York - the same town where former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have a home. It was founded by DeWitt and Lila Wallace, both 32-year-old children of preachers. At the time, most magazines featured fiction, but DeWitt, whom everyone called "Wally," and Lila wanted to offer serious non-fiction, condensed from other sources.

Year after year, beginning in 1922, the Digest was the bible of everyday American life, featuring short human-interest and success stories, advice columns, memorable quotations, and tasteful jokes. At its peak in the 1970s, Reader's Digest boasted a circulation of 17 million in the United States alone, and its international editions sold millions more copies in many languages.

'Reader's Digest' founders, Wally and Lila Wallace
'Reader's Digest' founders, Wally and Lila Wallace, knew they and their magazine had made it when they were featured on a Time cover in 1951.

But this decade, as more and more people turned toward television and then the Internet for information, the Digest began to hemorrhage money.  It has posted big losses every year since 2005. Last year, its new owners, who took over in a leveraged buyout, filed for bankruptcy in order to stay in business and restructure a debt of more than $2 billion. The company has announced it is leaving its campus of buildings for smaller quarters elsewhere.

But the New Castle Historical Society in Chappaqua prefers to remember the glory years.  It has mounted a nostalgic exhibit about those times that will run the rest of this year. It's called, "Reader's Digest: the Local Magazine that Conquered the World."