I'm not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did. 


Encyclopaedia Britannica


A man is the whole encyclopedia of facts.

The word ‘encyclopaedia’ originally meant a complete system of learning.

Edinburgh’s Mr Smellie

William Smellie was the man who edited the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1768. Smellie's first job was as an apprentice to a maker of whalebone supports for ladies' corsets. We don't know much about his early life – not even his birth date, because his father was part of a banned group of Presbyterians who didn't keep any records in case of persecution. Smellie was paid just £200 for his work editing the encyclopaedia.
One of Britannica's other founders, Andrew Bell, was only four and a half feet tall. He had a huge nose – if people commented on it at parties, he would disappear and then return wearing an even bigger false nose made of papier-mâché. Before Britannica, one of his main claims to fame was his skill of engraving family crests on dog collars. 

Famous Editors

Since Britannica's foundation Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Leon Trotsky and Harry Houdini have all contributed articles. Five US Presidents have also written articles – Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Herbert Hoover.
The first print editions of Britannica were dedicated to the British monarch. After the headquarters moved to the US in the early 20th century, they were jointly dedicated to the British monarch and the President of the USA. The 1954 edition was dedicated to US President Dwight Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II. The 2010 edition was dedicated to Barack Obama and…Queen Elizabeth II.
In the 1930s there were 2,000 Britannica salesmen working door-to-door across the USA. Former salesmen include J. G. Ballard and Mike Myers' father, Eric.
The publisher of the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced in 2012 that they would no longer print physical copies. They were immediately inundated with orders for the final, 62kg 2010 edition.

After only five years, Wikipedia had 7.5 times the number of articles as Britannica online.

First Edition

Britannica isn't the oldest encyclopaedia – they date back to Pliny the Elder – but it is the oldest one still being produced. The first edition took three years to write, and cost £12 for three volumes. It's not evenly-proportioned – volume one only covers the letters 'A' and 'B'. Here are some more highlights:

  • The letter 'K' gets a grand total of four pages and Kensington is described as 'A pleasant village…two miles west of London.'
  • California is spelt with two Ls and described as 'a large country of the West Indies. Unknown whether it is an island or a peninsula.'
  • In the article about Noah's Ark, it is reckoned that there were probably only 100 species of quadruped, and only 170 species in total which needed accommodation on the ark.
  • The entry for 'woman' just says, 'The female of man. See Homo'.
  • 'Applause' is defined as follows: 'An approbation of something, signified by clapping the hands, still practised in theatres.'


An encyclopedia is a system for collecting dust in alphabetical order.

The writers of Diderot’s 1751 Encyclopedia were jailed and police scoured Paris to find copies and burn them.

An investigation by Nature found an average of 2.92 mistakes/article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia.

In 1957, Mike Myers's father Eric was awarded a ring for being the Encyclopedia Britannica's Salesman of the Year.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has no entry for 'Chin', as in the facial feature. It does have Ch'in, as in the dynasty.