The Foundation was established by Halsey W. Wilson, Founder of the H. W. Wilson Company, in 1952 to support the needs of company employees and retirees. Requests for funding were reviewed by the Board of Directors. By 1957, the Foundation directed its funding efforts to support libraries, library associations, historical societies, cultural programs and educational institutions and other non-profit organizations Major donors to the Foundation included Mr. and Mrs. H.W. Wilson, and the H.W. Wilson Company. The H.W. Wilson Foundation is a private, independent foundation incorporated in New York in 1952.
The seeds of The H.W. Wilson Company were sown in Minneapolis in the 1880’s when Halsey William Wilson was working his way through the University of Minnesota. In 1889 he and roommate Henry S. Morris, invested $400 to create Morris and Wilson, a small book selling business conducted from their dormitory room. Wilson was so preoccupied with the venture that his graduation became permanently postponed. When Morris graduated, he sold his share of the business to Wilson.
In an effort to stock available titles, Wilson had to endure tedious searches through publishers’ catalogs several times a year. In this, Wilson saw an opportunity to publish a catalogue of new books, known as Cumulative Book Index (CBI), that would remain current throughout the year. He did this by combining new entries with old type merged in a single alphabet in monthly issues. To save the cost of resetting type, Wilson stored the old type and combined it with the new entries. At the time it was a revolutionary idea. CBI expanded and the Wilson Company hired its first editor, Marion E. Potter, who served the company for 55 years.
In 1901 Wilson turned his attention to magazines. Wilson designed an index that grouped articles by subject. He decided to charge subscribers, mostly libraries, for this service based on the use each would get from the index. This was the creation of the service basis method of charge and first of a long line of periodical indexes, Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature.
1911 was a watershed year for Wilson and his business. By now, he concluded that Minneapolis was not the ideal base for his company. Most of the subscribers were in the eastern part of the country and mail delays were affecting the timeliness of his publications. The solution was to move to White Plains, New York. The Wilson Company grew as libraries demanded more and more specialized indexes.
By 1917 the company had again outgrown its quarters, resulting in Wilson’s purchase of a five story building on the banks of the Harlem River in the Bronx. In 1993 the company expanded its editorial operations to Dublin, Ireland and eventually would publish a variety of reference materials in print and electronic formats for libraries throughout the world.
In 2011 The H.W. Wilson Company merged with EBSCO Publishing. The H.W. Wilson Foundation, created by Halsey Wilson in 1952, continues to operate as an independent entity.