The Guinness Book of World Records features people who do incredible things. In middle school you can remember sifting through the books marveling at people with the most tattoos or the longest nails, or people who put the greatest number of corgis in one room. But before all of the publicity stunts and the records with little historical significance the Guinness Book of World Records stood for a living documentation of the incredible nature of man.
On this day in History the first edition of the Guinness Book of Records was published in Great Britain. Today it’s known as the Guinness World Records book and it comes out as an annual publication that features a wide and often questionable range of feats. The feats are related to many different kinds of things and even feature some animals. To date, the book and its editions have sold nearly 140 million copies and has been translated into more than 24 languages. It’s the top-selling copyrighted book title in all of history.
The record book came into existence because Sir Hugh Beaver of Britain, the managing director of the Guinness Brewery was on a hunting trip in Ireland. The Brewery was founded in Dublin in 1759. Hugh Beaver couldn’t shoot the golden plover, a creature that was notoriously fast. This sparked a debate between Hugh and his hunting party. When they were unable to locate a record of how fast certain species were, they got the idea to determine a system of World Records, so people could have facts like these in their back pocket as a form of common knowledge. They believed that the drunken public of Britain would love to read a book like this during their pub crawls, and he was right. The record book served as a fun way to settle some common disagreements people tend to have.
Hugh hired Norris and Ross McWhirter. The twin brother team founded a London-based agency that served to provide facts and statistics to newspapers and advertisers. They were sort of the AP of the past. The book was intended to be given away as a promotion for Guinness for free in pubs. It was a great way to promote the Guinness brand; however, it turned out to be so popular the company was forced to sell individual copies outside of the promotion. Word of this magical book flew across the pond and an American edition debuted in 1956. This edition was a huge it and was soon followed by editions many other countries. The McWhirter brothers traveled the globe to research and verify records and today a board of directors is in place to certify records in the same way today.
So a book that was originally used to settle a squabble between buddies is now a testament to the incredible will of humans, animals and the earth itself. Statistics are one thing, but history is another and that’s why the Guinness Book of World Records is still a huge success today.