On this day in 1955, the first edition of “The Guinness Book of Records” is published in Great Britain; it quickly proves to be a hit. Now known as the “Guinness World Records” book, the annual publication features a wide range of feats related to humans and animals. To date, the book has sold more than 130 million copies, been translated into more than two dozen languages and is the top-selling copyrighted title in history.
The inspiration for the record book can be traced to November 1951, when Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of the Guinness Brewery (founded in Dublin in 1759), was on a hunting trip in Ireland. After failing to shoot a golden plover, Beaver and the members of his hunting party debated whether the creature was Europe’s fastest game bird but were unable to locate a book with the answer.
Thinking that patrons of Britain’s pubs would enjoy a record book which could be used to settle friendly disagreements, Beaver decided to have one produced. He hired twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter, the founders of a London-based agency that provided facts and statistics to newspapers and advertisers. The book was intended to be given away for free in pubs to promote the Guinness brand; however, it turned out to be so popular the company started selling it that fall and it became a best-seller. An American edition debuted in 1956 and was soon followed by editions in a number of other countries. The McWhirters traveled the globe to research and verify records. Ross McWhirter was involved in compiling the book until his death in 1975 at the hands of Irish Republican Army gunmen; his brother Norris continued to serve as the book’s editor until 1986.
Today, the thousands of official Guinness records include the oldest person ever (Jeanne Louise Calment of France, who died in 1997 at 122 years and 164 days old); the tallest dog ever (a now-deceased Great Dane from Michigan named Zeus, who in 2011 measured 44 inches from foot to withers); and the largest underwater human pyramid (62 people in 2013 in Thailand). Ashrita Furman of New York holds more records than anyone else on the planet. His numerous accomplishments include the longest continuous distance somersaulted (12 miles 390 yards), most apples cut in midair with a samurai sword in 1 minute (29) and fastest mile with a milk bottle balanced on his head (7 minutes 47 seconds).