History of the Guinness Book of World Records Part 1

About the history of the Guinness Book of World Records including the story of its creation and founding.



History: The Guinness Book of World Records was born one bleak fall day in 1954 when Sir Hugh Beaver, while on a shooting expedition in Ireland, aimed at a small flock of golden plover and missed.

Sir Hugh, the managing director of Arthur Guinness, Son and Co., Ltd., had, of course, missed birds before, but it didn't happen often, and he was curious. Clearly the plover were considerably faster than the ducks and geese that he readily bagged. Perhaps, he mentioned to his companions over whiskey and soda that night, the plover was "the fastest game bird we've got." His companions countered with other birds, but the argument ended in frustration because there was nowhere to check. The most erudite encyclopedias, when consulted, proved to have no information on the flight speeds of game birds.

Back in London, Sir Hugh mulled over this deficiency; what modern Britain needed was a book that would tell people quickly and concisely just what was biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, shortest, longest, etc., about as many things as possible. If such a book did not already exist, one should waste no time creating it; what was more, once created, it could be distributed to the many British pubs where Guinness stout was sold and where it would be useful in settling all those arguments that are peculiar to pubs. But who could put together such a book, considering how difficult the information was to come by? Fortunately, a junior executive at the brewery knew just the man, or in this case, men--identical twins Norris and Ross McWhirter. Sons of a prominent newspaperman, the McWhirters were raised in a house full of periodicals, newspapers, and reference books. As children, they clipped articles of interest and developed such insatiable curiosity about facts and trivia that they compiled their own lists--on subjects like the deepest lakes and the highest mountains. Concerned about the number of discrepancies they found in their sources, the two boys decided that when they grew up they would establish an agency to correct those errors.

In 1951 they started such a business, setting out, in Norris McWhirter's words, "to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopedias, and advertisers." While building up their accounts, they both worked as sports journalists. One of the athletes they knew and covered was runner Christopher Chataway, the employee at Guinness who recommended them to Sir Hugh Beaver. After an interview in which the Guinness directors enjoyed testing the twins' knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agreed to start work on the book. The rest is publishing history. Some four months later the first slim green volume--198 pages long--was at the bookstalls, and in four more months it was England's No. 1 nonfiction best-seller. The whole country, it seemed, was eager to know and pass around such information as the land speed record for a rocket sled (632 mph) and the most prodigious feat of childbearing--an honor claimed by a 19th-century lady, Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev, who bore 69 children (16 sets of twins, 7 of triplets, and 4 of quadruplets).

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