Thursday, January 2, 2020

How Crossword Puzzles Started a Publishing Giant

Blogger: Amber Schamel

Simon and Schuster has become a name well-known to readers across the globe as one of the largest publishing companies. But the story of their beginning and rise to literary giant is an interesting one. Beginning nearly 100 years ago on January 2, 1924, this is how they were first founded in New York City. 

It all started with Richard Simon's aunt, who loved crossword puzzles. Well...technically it started with two guys by the name of Dick Simon and Max Schuster, so let's talk about them first.
Max Schuster & Richard Simon
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Max Schuster was born in Austria-Hungary on March 2, 1897. His parents were both American citizens of Jewish descent, so they brought him back to America when he was only six weeks old. Max's father ran a stationary and cigar store in Washington Heights, so that is where he had his beginning. Perhaps it was growing up with the scent of paper and cigars, but Max took an interest in writing and at age 16 entered the Pulitzer Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. Max's first job was working for the New York Evening World as a copy boy in 1913. During WWI, he served as Chief of Publicity for the Bureau of War Risk Insurance at the Treasury, basically writing pamphlets to sell war bonds. 

Richard (Dick) Simon was born March 6, 1899, also to a Jewish family in New York. His father was a wealthy feather and silk manufacturer, and part of the Ethical Culture movement, so Dick was sent to Ethical Cultural School growing up. Interestingly, Dick also attended Columbia University, although probably a couple years after Max. Dick served during WWI, and after returning to the states followed his interest and talent in Piano music and became a piano salesman. 

Despite their parallels in life, Dick and Max did not meet until after WWI when Dick was a piano salesman, and Max was editing a trade magazine. They became friends, and it was after this time that crossword puzzles come into play. (Pun intended.)

So, back to Dick's aunt. Crossword puzzles were gaining popularity at the time, and his aunt greatly enjoyed solving the puzzles contained in the newspaper, New York Evening World. Eager for more puzzles to solve, she asked her nephew if there had been a book published that compiled the puzzles. Dick consulted his friend Max Schuster, who had worked for the New York Evening World, and they discovered that no such book had been published. They both saw opportunity and decided to take it.
1924 Edition

 Dick and Max invested $3,000 each and set up an office in Manhattan with two desks facing each other. The first step was to hire someone to compile The First Cross Word Puzzle Book, which they did. The first print run was 3,600 copies, printed under the more generic name of Plaza Publishing in case the venture failed. They advertised the book in newspapers next to the crossword puzzles. They didn't have to wait long to see if the book would succeed. Within three months, the book had sold over 100,000 copies! Less than one year later, over one million copies had been sold, and the book had made appearances on the Publisher's Weekly bestseller lists. 

The rest is literary history. Simon and Schuster launched a company that has become an icon in the publishing world, and the company has a history of seizing opportunities, and growing with the times, the same principles that formed the company in 1924 with a book of crossword puzzles.

Happy 96th anniversary, Simon & Schuster!


Amber Schamel is the author of Solve by Christmas, and the two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction. She writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. Her passions for travel, history, books and her Savior results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".  She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado as a very happy newlywed. Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Very interesting! Thanks for the post, and Happy New Year!

  2. Interesting! I like puzzle books, but I lean more toward word searches than crosswords.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Vickie! My great grandma used to swear by word searches. She said they kept her mind sharp. She was sharp as a tack until she died at 93.