Prior to the development of the Armed Services Editions, there were wartime book campaigns that served as predecessors. Just a few weeks after the U.S. entry into World War I, the American Library Association established the War Services Committee. Led by Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam, the committee collected millions of dollars in donations, as well as ten million books and periodicals. With the help of the Carnegie Corporation, camp libraries were set up to provide books to soldiers abroad and at home.
The Victory Book Campaign, sponsored by the USO, Red Cross, and the American Library Association, was established in 1942 to provide “entertaining and instructive reading” for those serving in the armed forces. While the donations were plentiful, the campaign was not very successful as most of the used books donated by civilians were unsuitable and difficult to pack and ship. There was an additional campaign to encourage the public to buy new books and mail them for distribution in the camps, but this method was not efficient.
The other factor which helped to launch the success of the Armed Services Editions were books that had been cheaply produced on a mass scale previously. While there had been dime and railway novels produced from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, Allen Lane introduced the popular Penguin paperbacks in England in the 1930s and Pocket Books in the United States appeared shortly after. ASEs were not the first paperbacks, but they certainly contributed to a new era in publishing in the 1940s and 50s.