Guinness World Records
An argument in an Irish pub inspired this famous product.
The year was 1951. During a shooting party near the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland, a hunter, Hugh Beaver, got into an argument:
Which was the fastest game bird in Europe, the Grouse, or the Koshin Golden Plover?
Despite a heated argument and an exhausting search through a reference library, Hugh couldn’t find the answer.
That’s when Hugh — Sir Hugh Beaver — managing director of the Guinness Brewery, decided that what the world needed was a book to settle arguments in bars and taverns around the world. And with that, the Guinness Book of World Records (originally titled “The Guinness Book of Records”) was born.
Beaver took his idea to two brothers Ross and Norris McWhirter, who ran a London fact- checking agency for journalists. During an interview Beaver grilled the two, peppering them with questions to test their knowledge of unusual facts. They passed with flying colors, and Beaver hired them to compile his book. It debuted in 1954.
At first the Guinness Book of Records was just a marketing giveaway — 1,000 copies were printed and given to customers. But a year later, in 1955, the first commercial copy, a 197-page book, topped British Christmas Gift Lists. A year later it was introduced in America, where it sold 70,000 copies. From then on, until 1995, Guinness and the McWhirters updated the book annually, with the brewery setting up a separate company to publish it.
The McWhirters did more than just write the book, they were hands-on compilers who traveled to more than 90 countries to visit world record nominees — including the driest place on earth (a Chilean desert with no recorded rain for 400 years), the world’s oldest man (then living in the Japanese Islands), and the woman who’d lost the most weight (749 pounds!).
The product remained in Guinness hands until Diageo PLC bought the brewery in 2001. A series of owners followed, and the franchise is now controlled by The Jim Pattison Group, parent company of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
These days, the record book is published in 30 languages. In fact, it’s the best-selling copyrighted book series of all time. But today, the company known as Guinness World Records is much more than books – it’s a multi-platform business, with web sites, TV series and museum attractions, in addition to the printed page.
And it no longer relies on outside fact checkers. Today it employs official record adjudicators who travel the world, witnessing events and certifying when records are set or broken.
And all this, because a businessman man got into an argument in a bar
Sir Hugh Beaver exemplifies one of our Business Axioms For Entrepreneurs: Open your eyes to new trends.
He figured he wasn’t the only one who needed a reference book to settle a bar argument. So he invented The Guinness Book of World’s Records.
Now why didn’t I think of that?