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Halsey William Wilson was a frustrated college student.  There was no bookstore in town unless you counted the local pharmacy which had only a few shelves of books principally as an afterthought.  Thus it was that Wilson and his roommate, Henry Morris, at the University of Minnesota decided to open one with a $400 investment.  The year was 1889 and Wilson and Morris opened the only bookstore in town.  Students now had a place to go when looking for textbooks or school supplies and Wilson got so caught up in the business that he dropped out of college to run it.  Morris graduated and left Wilson to run the enterprise until 1898 when he finally sold his share of the company to him. 

Wilson changed the name of the business to the H. W. Wilson Company and that same year he established his Cumulative Book Index listing all English language books published that year.  It became an immediate success with librarians who encouraged him to continue publishing indexes.  The following year he tackled a United States Catalog listing of all English language books in print in the country.  Two years later he created the “Readers Guide to Periodical Literature” listing magazine articles.  Librarians loved it as it made their lives much easier when helping researchers and students.  They became Wilson’s trusted advisors and as the company grew, so did his dependence on the advice of librarians. 

Eventually he expanded the business to such a degree that he had to find larger and more convenient quarters.  He sold the bookstore in 1913 and moved his company, which now specialized in indexes, to White Plains, New York closer to the important publishing markets.  The business continued to grow and expand with further indexes.  Then in 1917 the company made a major move to the Highbridge section of the Bronx where they are still located.  They obtained a five-story building that adequately served the needs of the company, but not for long.

Just twelve years later, Wilson built another eight-story building next door to further accommodate the needs of his still-growing enterprise.  He placed a 30-foot lighthouse at the top of this edifice to let people know that his company could guide them safely through the sea of books and periodicals being published annually.  It became a well-known Bronx landmark to all those traveling along the Deegan Expressway near the Harlem River. 

The H. W. Wilson Company has since added additional adjacent buildings here in the Bronx and also has opened offices in Dublin.  It continues to grow and prosper much to the delight of librarians and researchers everywhere.  The next time you pass 950 University Avenue with the huge lighthouse on top, you’ll know why it’s there and why it’s so significant. 

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