History of the Encyclopedia Britannica Part 2

About the major reference book the Encyclopedia Britannica, the book's sales, trivia and examples from the book.

The Story behind ENCYCLOPAEDIA


After nine years of planning and research followed by five years of writing and editing, Britannica 3 finally rolled off specially designed presses in 1974.

Robert Kirsch, reviewing Britannica 3 for The Los Angeles Times, called it "daring. . . a supple tool." T. D. Allman of the London Observer praised it as "the standard of a new age." The encyclopedia's new format has corrected the choppiness of the 14th edition, which had been updated on a piecemeal basis from 1929 through 1973. Bibliographies have been improved, and many contemporary personalities who had previously been ignored (e.g., Dave Brubeck, Pete Seeger, and the Beatles) are present in the new edition. As usual, the list of contributors--4,287 from 131 countries--is distinguished.

Size and Distribution of Sales: Although in the past Encyclopaedia Britannica appealed primarily to buyers in the U.S. and Great Britain, major Britannica sales offices now exist throughout Europe and in Australia, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, Japan, and Korea. Several hundred thousand sets of Britannica 3 have been printed since 1974, and a good number of these have been sold on the international market. Presently, the cost of a full set varies from $800 to $2,500 for a deluxe edition.

Examples of Typical Material:

From the Micropaedia--

Biddle, James (1783--1843), U.S. naval officer who in 1846 negotiated the first treaty between the U.S. and China.

--Japanese rejection of trade offer 10:78b.

Big apple, 1930s square-dance version of the jitterbug (q.v.), named for the Columbia, S.C., club where it originated. Assembled in a large circle, dancers did a basic shuffling step or other jitterbug step like the lindy hop. Directions such as "right foot forward" or "get your girl and take a twirl" were given by a caller, but more enterprising dancers, singly or in couples, frequently broke into brief improvisations.

--folk dance derivations 7:453f.

Bigo, ancient city site in western Uganda.

--construction features and significance 6:95h.

Unusual Facts about It: Encyclopaedia Britanica is the oldest continually published reference work in the English language.

In 1799 the British ambassador gave a set of the third edition of the Britannica to His Majesty Fath Ali, the shah of Persia. The shah was so impressed he added "and Most Formidable Lord and Master of the Encyclopaedia Britannica" to his title.

When Adm. Richard E. Byrd spent five months alone at the South Pole in 1934, he took along the Encyclopaedia Britannica for company.

The 30-volume Britannica 3 has 33,141 pages and 43 million words. The first printing of 100,000 copies contained 590,000 mi. of pages--enough to reach to the moon and back.

At a cost of $32 million--excluding the price of printing--Britannica 3 represents what is perhaps the largest private investment in publishing history.

Future Plans: Although no current plans are under way for a new edition, the Encyclopaedia Britannica will continue its policy of annual revisions. Computerization of the Micropaedia, where the most "perishable" facts are stored, will enable editors to update subsequent editions with speed and accuracy. Master planner Mortimer Adler believes the system will accommodate "all the expansions and alterations in human knowledge for at least 50 years."

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