History of the Guinness Book of World Records Part 3

About the history of the Guinness Book of World Records including the story of its creation and founding, how it operates now.



McWhirter also devises the rules under which the publication operates. This became necessary when people started committing any number of crazy acts for the sole purpose of "getting into Guinness." Such activity, commonly known as "Guinnessport," is regularly indulged in both by individuals and groups who organize a kind of Guinness Olympics to establish new fields of endeavor and to set new records in old fields. But McWhirter believes there are limits. "One has to continually preserve the purity of records," he says. "To qualify, something has to be universally competitive, peculiar, or unique." To that end he rules out mere stunts like goldfish swallowing; dangerous activities such as Volkswagen packing or locking oneself into a room with poisonous snakes; alcoholic drinking contests; and sexual feats (the section on "swinging" pertains to playground equipment). He also cautions Guinness hopefuls against gargantuan eating contests, although he does list consumption records for certain foods, including prunes, baked beans (eaten one by one with a cocktail stick), and eels. Eating a bicycle, which M. Lotito did in the form of tires and metal filings in 1977, is duly recorded but with the accompanying notation that "no further entries in this category will be accepted."

The American arm of Guinness Superlatives is run by David Boehm, who not only publishes the American hardcover and paperback editions but also--with his staff of three--answers some 10,000 letters a year; produces a television show, The Guinness Game; stocks seven Guinness museums around the world; and presides over the mass challenge events in the U.S.

A new edition of Guinness appears each year, almost a quarter of it revised and updated from the previous edition. So far there appears to be no decline in the popularity of Guinnessport. As Allen Guttmann, an American Studies professor at Amherst, puts it, holding a record is a "uniquely modern form of immortality."

Size and Distribution of Sales: Although only a few people actually compete for records, a large public avidly reads, absorbs, and delights in quoting those records. With an average sale of 3 million copies a year, Guinness has (as of 1981) sold a total of 40 million copies in 23 languages, thus setting its own record as the world's fastest-selling book.

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