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Highlights magazine celebrates 75 years — here's the story behind the brand

The long-lived children's magazine is a family business.
/ Source: TODAY

Highlights magazines are a childhood staple for many — and this year, "Highlights for Children" is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The magazine, which can be found in waiting rooms and doctor's offices around the world, is known for its bright colors and hidden picture searches.

To honor the landmark milestone, "Highlights" created a special version of their iconic hidden picture searches, starring the 3rd hour of TODAY co-hosts and Dylan Dreyer sat down with Pat Mikelson and Kent Johnson, two leaders of the company who also happen to be descendants of the magazine's founders.

Mikelson told Dylan that the magazine's creators, child psychologist Garry Cleveland Myers and educator Caroline Clark Myers, always dreamed of creating something "very, very special to help children grow."

"Highlights" created a special hidden picture search featuring the co-hosts of the 3rd hour of TODAY.
"Highlights" created a special hidden picture search featuring the co-hosts of the 3rd hour of TODAY. Courtesy Highlights Magazine

Founded in 1946 in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, the Myers — Mikelson's grandparents — started selling the magazine door to door, garnering thousands of subscribers in just a few months. However, the cost of printing the publication led to its near-collapse in 1950.

"They very quickly found out that creating a magazine could be very expensive," Mikelson said. "They really needed to find other ways to get that magazine into children's hands. They almost went bankrupt."

Mikelson's parents then joined the company, suggesting new methods to keep the publication afloat.

"My parents began to experiment with direct marketing through the mails and through putting it in doctor's offices," Mikelson said. "Those are the things that really made Highlights grow."

The new strategy was a success, and for a decade, the publication grew. However, in December 1960, tragedy struck when Mikelson's parents died in a plane crash over New York City.

"How do you move on from that, not just as a company but as a family?" Dylan asked.

"Any family that has experienced that kind of tragedy will tell you, you just do," Mikelson responded. "We can continue on with this dream."

Since then, the company has continued to thrive, distributing over 1.3 billion editions and expanding to multiple platforms to reach more than 10 million young readers in 40 countries. Johnson, the company's chief executive officer and the founder's great-grandson, said that the secret to their success is always centering the perspective of the children read the magazine.

"I think the secret is to always look at the world through the kids' eyes," Johnson said.

Did you find all of the hidden pictures?
Did you find all of the hidden pictures? Courtesy Highlights Magazine

The magazine invites young readers to send letters to the publication, and Mikelson confirmed that those letters actually find their way to employees.

"From the very beginning, every child's letter has been read," Mikelson said. "That's over 2.5 million."

The magazine also focuses on sharing diverse stories, making sure that all children and families feel represented in each issue's colorful pages.

"We put love into every page, to have the greatest possible impact on the kid that's going to receive that magazine," Johnson said. "The secret is, it's really hard work of people who are professionally dedicated to this idea of helping children become their best selves. ... It's through story that we build empathy for others around us."