How The Guinness Book of World Records become a worldwide phenomenon (8 min read)

Guinness World Records (the Guinness Book of World Records) - a regularly issued reference book. It contains information about the fastest, the strongest, the most intelligent, the most popular, and other things, people, and events that stand out in the world of nature and humans. It has evolved from a “collection” of trivia facts about the world to an international craze about being the best at whatever you could think of.

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The Guinness Book of World Records History Timeline

  • 1954 – Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness Breweries, invited two siblings, Norris and Ross McWhirter, to compile a record of less known facts about nature and the world.
  • August 27, 1955 – the first edition of the Guinness Book of World Records got published in the UK. It became a bestseller by the next Christmas. It took them 13 weeks to compile the book.
  • September 1956 – the first US edition of the book was published. It was titled the Guinness Book of Superlatives. Just like in the case of the book from 1955, there were 50,000 copies made.
  • October 1956 – second British edition of the book was published.
  • 1966 – the company sold about 500,000 copies of their world records books by this date.
  • 1962-1964 – France and Germany got their first editions of the book. The publisher scored 1 M copies sold across all of the editions produced by then.
  • 1966 – 1.5 M copies sold worldwide.
  • 1967-1968 – more countries joined the group of those who received their editions of the book (including Japan, Finland, Sweden, or even Southern Africa).
  • December 15, 1972 – the evolution of the craze for world records began. The first TV show about world records appeared. BBC aired it as a series called “Record Breakers.” Norris and Ross starred there, next to the presenter of the show.
  • 1990 – Guinness Superlatives got renamed to Guinness Publishing Limited, and the first Polish edition was published.
  • 2003 – 100 M copies of Guinness World Records sold.

How did Guinness World Records start?

It all started from Sir Hugh Beaver's pub argument about the fastest bird. It was after the shooting competition he had taken part in. Beaver missed a shot at a golden plover. He got into an argument about whether that bird is faster than a red grouse.

He noticed there was no record of such trivia facts. He thought he could make one. Since he wanted to know such things, there was a big chance that there were other people with similar questions.

The first Guinness Book of World Records

The first edition of the Guinness Book of World Records appeared in the UK in 1954. The name came from the Irish stout brand, Guinness.

The original Guinness Book was published in 50,000 copies to promote pubs. The authors referred to the fact that people argue about a lot of things while drinking beer. They made a book to settle those pub arguments. But, it was also a way of marketing those places where Guinness was served. First, they made a free giveaway of 1,000 they had printed. The book also had the Guinness' logo on its front cover. They administered those copies to inns and pubs serving Guinness.

The interest was so great that they published 50,000 copies and hit the bookstores to start selling the book and make money on their idea.

The very first Guinness Book of World Records [source]

How was the Guinness Book of World Records made?

Ross and Norris McWhirter were sports journalists. They founded an agency to collect various facts about the world. They provided the information to newspapers, yearbooks, and more.

As the sports journalists, they met Christopher Chataway, a runner. He worked at Guinness and recommended brothers to Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness. Beaver invited them to an interview and offered a job at compiling the first world record of trivia, a reference book called The Guinness Book of World Records. The first edition was 198 pages long.

The original idea – viral side project

The Guinness Book of World Records was originally a small reference book with trivia. Beaver was already a managing director at Guinness. The book was only his side project to promote pubs where Guinness was served. It quickly became viral because people like to get “smarter” and show off with what they know.

The evolution

The demand for the first Guinness book was huge. Authors quickly noticed money in that business. They started selling their creation.

Over the years, the Guinness World Records has evolved a lot. Instead of presenting trivia, the authors started collecting record breakers. Norris and Ross got involved in travelling across the globe to verify records themselves.

TV shows

“Record Breakers” was the first TV show about Guinness World Records. The hosts invited people who wished to present their unique talents and break records. The program was aired by BBC between 1972 and 2001.

Another popular TV show about the world records was “Officially Amazing.” That program was targeted at the youngest. The official website of GWR celebrated 100 episodes of that TV show on August 1, 2018.

Good timing

The McWhirter brothers and Sir Hugh Beaver were also lucky with their timing. In 1954, Roger Bannister broke a record for the mile race. The man won against Oxford University, breaking the world record for running a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds (the original record was 4 minutes and 1.3 seconds).

Sports fans went crazy over that fact and the whole hype for world-breaking rose. People wanted to know about all the extremes of the world. That's where the Guinness Book of World Records came in to satisfy that hunger for knowledge.


Evolutionary Need for Self-Development

The Guinness Book of World Records was a tool for learning some trivia about the world. People like being smarter than others and prove it to them in discussions. Learning new things is an important part of self-development.


When you put subtle suggestions in front of your target audience's face, the chances are they will move toward your goal.

The Guinness Book's authors did this in pubs. They gave their first 1,000 copies as free gifts to the guests. Those guests got interested in the book during discussions over the Irish stout. They might have ignored it in any other context.


People like to compete against one another. The Guinness Book of World Records gave them the knowledge needed to win pub arguments. The stout gave them courage, and the book provided a weapon.

Social Currency Effect

If we know something others don't and we share this interesting fact with them, it makes us look good. This is called social currency.

The Guinness Book gave its readers access to not-so-known trivia. Learning about them gave people advantage in disputes (even so simple ones as pub arguments). That combined with the competitiveness, and boosted stout lovers' ego. The more they read the book, the smarter they were in the eyes of their friends.

🌊 Extra

Today, books are disappearing from our lives. When the Internet came in, the owners of the Guinness World Records brand switched to offering publicity and press coverage. Instead of being mentioned in a book nobody would probably read, people can now apply for getting the Guinness certificate and end up in the media. 

? Window of Opportunity

The McWhirter brothers and Sir Hugh Beaver had a great opportunity to come up with their book as Roger Bannister broke the world record in running a mile.

They used the international sensation to fuel their action. This way, they kept the world-record-breaking craze alive up to this day.

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