Guinness Book of World Records Born (1951)

So, here’s a question for you:  What world-renowned book began as an argument among hunting friends over the fastest game bird in Great Britain?  Yes, indeed, it was the Guinness Book of World Records.  And here’s how it happened.

On November 10, 1951, a group of friends were out hunting for birds in County Wexford, in the southeastern corner of Ireland.  The shooting was good, but the hunters had missed on several shots at the Golden Plover, a common gamebird throughout Europe and western Asia.  It is relatively small, weighing about half a pound, with brown plumage on the back and sides and a white streak running from the top of its head, down the neck and across the breast and belly.

That evening, some of the party claimed that they had missed their shots because the Golden Plover flew so fast, the fastest gamebird in Europe, they claimed.  An argument began, with others claiming that, no, the Grouse was the fastest bird.  But with no authoritative source available to consult, the argument remained unresolved.  One member of the hunting party thought that a reference book ought to be available to answer such questions and that it might be popular in Great Britain’s 80,000+ pubs.

That farsighted individual was Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of the Guinness Breweries.  Beaver was a visionary with a history of making things happen.  A civil engineer by training, he led the assembly of the famous Mulberry Harbor as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  He also worked actively on air pollution issues in England, chairing the Committee on Air Pollution that led to the first comprehensive British Clean Air Act of 1956.

A few years after the Golden Plover-Grouse argument, in 1954, Beaver decided it was time to act on the idea for a fact book.  To produce a book of world records, he engaged a pair of twin geniuses, Norris and Ross McWhirter, who ran a company to provide authoritative data to the London newspaper industry.  They set to work gathering the data, by sending hundreds of letters “to astrophysicists, physiologists, zoologists, meteorologists, vulcanologists, botanists, ornithologists, microlepidopterists, concologists, virologists, economists, numismatists, criminologists, etimologists, incunabulists, campinologists, gemmologists, metrologists, pryphologists, toxicologists, spelæologists, malocologists, herpetologists, hagiologists, horologists, mycologists, and gerontologists.” Working flat-out, they compiled all the information that flowed in and completed the first 198-page version by the fall of 1955.

The first edition of The Guinness Book of Records was an immediate success, selling out 100,000 copies by Christmas.  After 63 years of publication, it is the world’s best-selling copyrighted book.  The first edition contained about 4,000 entries; the current database of records contains over 47,000.

Interestingly, for 35 years, the book failed to answer the question that started it all—which is the fastest gamebird in Europe?  The Guinness answer appeared in the 36th edition, published in 1989:  “Britain’s fastest game bird is the Red Grouse (Lagopus l. scoticus) which, in still air, has recorded burst speeds up to … 58-63 mph over very short distances. Air speeds up to … 70 mph have been claimed for the Golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) when flushed, but it is extremely doubtful whether this rapid-flying bird can exceed … 50-55 mph – even in an emergency.”  Not very conclusive, eh?  Let’s discuss it over another pint!

References:

Book-of-records.  Guinness Record Book Collecting—The History of the Book.  Available at:  http://guinness.book-of-records.info/history.html.  Accessed November 9, 2017.

Claxton, Stuart.  2011.  The Very First Guinness Book of World Records.  The Blog, Huffington Post, 09/11/2011.  Available at:  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/stuart-claxton/the-very-first-guinness-b_b_956684.html.  Accessed November 9, 2017.

Guinness Storehouse.  Archive Fact Sheet:  Guinness Book of Records.  Available at:  https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/Content/pdf/archive-factsheets/advertising/guinness-book-of-records.pdf.  Accessed November 9, 2017.

Guinness World Records.  Our history.  Available at:  http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/about-us/our-history/.  Accessed November 9, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
Spencer Fullerton Baird, First U.S. Fish Commissioner, Born (1823)
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Ugalde, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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