Encyclopaedia Britannica marks 250th birthday

The December 10 celebrations also coincided with the 25th anniversary of Britannica Online, the first encyclopaedia on the internet

Britannica’s two-and-a-half-century journey began on an out-of-the-way street in Edinburgh, in 1768, when the encyclopaedia’s founding publishers – Andrew Bell, an engraver, and Colin Macfarquhar, a printer – hired scholar, William Smellie, to be Britannica’s first editor. They set him to work producing a practical reference work founded on the principle of utility, with a goal of making knowledge available to the masses in a world where Latin was the language of intellectuals.

On December 10 of that year, a small section of the first volume of the encyclopaedia was published. What would eventually be a three volume set was released piecemeal over three years; the founders supported the project through the 18th-century equivalent of a crowdfunding campaign.

From there, Britannica expanded to a 10 volume second edition, beginning in 1777, and over the course of the 19th century and several new editions it would grew its reputation worldwide.

Britannica went on to publish the first digital encyclopaedia in 1981, and the first multimedia encyclopaedia in 1989. The print edition ceased publication in 2012.

With today’s alarming trends – smarter phones and weaker minds – Curiosity Day is designed to rekindle an innate human trait that helps us break boundaries and progress. Karthik Krishnan, global CEO of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Group

Karthik Krishnan, global CEO of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Group, said: “Today, Britannica is focused on inspiring curiosity and the joy of learning, both inside and outside the classroom, helping people cut through the clutter and find better information in the digital universe and transforming learning within schools.

Britannica has a presence in 83 countries and reaches 150 million students on the institutional side. On the consumer front, Britannica and our Merriam-Webster subsidiary generate over five billion page views a year across all platforms, making it a top-ten digital destination in the general reference category.”

Britannica is conducting a year long series of celebrations, involving students, educators, and the public, in forums, civic events and online activities. It began with Curiosity Day on December 10.

“Curiosity Day will encourage people to learn something new and share something new,” said Krishnan. “With today’s alarming trends – smarter phones and weaker minds – Curiosity Day is designed to rekindle an innate human trait that helps us break boundaries and progress.”

The Britannica Anniversary Edition, published to commemorate the anniversary, includes perspectives on the future from leading scholars, writers and thinkers, from the 18th century to today.

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