It all started with a bad day hunting.
On November 10, 1951 Sir Hugh Beaver went bird hunting with friends. Sir Hugh was avid hunter and a fine shot, but that day ended with an empty game bag. He said the reason was that the golden plovers were the fastest game birds in Europe. His companions disputed the fact.
The good-natured argument continued as they walked back to Castlebridge House, where the hunters went in search of a reference book to support or refute Sir Hugh’s claim. They couldn’t find one.
Use your own problems for inspiration
At the time, Sir Hugh Beaver was the managing director of Guinness Breweries. He must have connected the argument with his friends to the thousands of such arguments in pubs around the world. He saw an opportunity.
He conceived of a book that could be distributed free to pubs to help adjudicate factual disputes. It would also promote Guinness.
Norris and Ross McWhirter, who ran a fact finding agency, were commissioned to produce the first Guinness Book of Records. They produced the first almanac-like book in August 1954. A thousand copies were printed and given away as advertising.
The book was a hit. People asked where they could buy one. So Guinness formed a company to produce the book. The first edition was published on August 27, 1955. There were 198 pages.
By Christmas, it was at the top of the British best-seller lists. The book went through three editions in the next year. A US edition sold 70,000 copies in its first year. In the sixty years since that first for-sale edition, the book has sold 134 million copies in 100 countries and 21 languages. It is the world’s most published copyrighted book.
Develop the franchise
The book’s success would have been enough for some, but Guinness has found ways to develop the franchise and promote both the book and the company. The book has grown fatter with the years as more and more categories were added.
There have also been spinoff television shows and books. In 2005, the company officially designated November 9 as International Guinness World Records Day. The following year 100,000 people participated by attempting to set or break a record of some kind.
You can learn a lot from the story of the Guinness Book of Records, but it’s only part of the story of the company. If you like beer or business or both (that would be me), you’ll probably enjoy Guinness: The 250 Year Quest for the Perfect Pint by Bill Yenne.