Encyclopedia Americana

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Encyclopedia Americana at Göttingen State and University Library.

Encyclopedia Americana is one of the largest general encyclopedias in the English language. Following the acquisition of Grolier in 2000, the encyclopedia has been produced by Scholastic.

The encyclopedia has more than 45,000 articles, most of them more than 500 words and many running to considerable length (the "United States" article is over 300,000 words). The work's coverage of American and Canadian geography and history has been a traditional strength. Written by 6,500 contributors, the Encyclopedia Americana includes over 9,000 bibliographies, 150,000 cross-references, 1,000+ tables, 1,200 maps, and almost 4,500 black-and-white line art and color images. It also has 680 factboxes. Most articles are signed by their contributors.

Long available as a 30-volume print set, the Encyclopedia Americana is now marketed as an online encyclopedia requiring a subscription. In March 2008, Scholastic said that print sales remained good but that the company was still deciding on the future of the print edition.[1] The company did not produce an edition in 2007, a change from its previous approach of releasing a revised print edition each year. The most recent print edition of the Encyclopedia Americana was published in 2006.

The online version of the Encyclopedia Americana, first introduced in 1997, continues to be updated and sold. This work, like the print set from which it is derived, is designed for high school and first-year college students along with public library users. It is available to libraries as one of the options in the Grolier Online reference service, which also includes the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, intended for middle and high school students, and The New Book of Knowledge, an encyclopedia for elementary and middle school students. Grolier Online is not available to individual subscribers.

Early history

This 1921 advertisement for the Encyclopedia Americana suggests that other encyclopedias are as out-of-date as the locomotives of 90 years earlier.

The Encyclopædia Americana. A popular dictionary of arts, sciences, literature, history, politics and biography, brought down to the present time; including a copious collection of original articles in American biography; on the basis of the 7th ed. of the German Conversations-Lexicon was founded by German-born Francis Lieber. It was the first full-size encyclopedia of American authorship, being preceded by Dobson's Encyclopædia (1789–1798), and other American reprints of British encyclopedias,[2] as well as a few compact American encyclopedias such as the four-volume Minor Encyclopedia of 1803, and the seven-volume Low's Encyclopedia, of 1805-1811.

Lieber presented the idea of an American encyclopedia, based on Brockhaus' Conversations-Lexikon, to Carey, Lea & Carey of Philadelphia in January 1828, then the largest publishing house in the United States. Although he invoked the name of the German encyclopedia, he explained that this work would not be simply a translation but be a distinctively American reference work, omitting much of the European matter. The publishers were not at first receptive to the idea, but Lieber had made numerous contacts with American intellectuals who convinced the publishers to commit to the project. Several weeks later they replied with their agreement to the project. "However," notes, "instead of being granted a royalty on sets sold, he would be compensated by payments totaling $20,000, and from this sum he must defray editorial costs, such as fees for translators and contributors and salaries of editorial assistants. This may have been a fair enough proposition for the period, but it would leave Lieber in straitened circumstances when the work was done."[3]

Assisted by Edward Wigglesworth, a recent graduate of Harvard University, Lieber set to work. When it was clear they could not keep to their scheduled output of a volume every three months, Thomas Gamaliel Bradford joined the editorial team.[4] The editors offered fifty cents per German page to translators of the Conversations-Lexicon, while contributors of new articles would receive one dollar per page. The later was the rate set by the North American Review. Notable contributors to this edition include: Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, who provided some twenty articles on legal topics including "Common Law", "Contract", "Corpus Delicti", "Courts of England and the United States", "Criminal Law", "Equity", "Evidence", "Jury", "Law", "Natural Law", and "Usury"; John Pickering, who wrote "Agrarian Law", "Americanism", "Indian Languages", and part of "Accents"; and John Davidson Godman, who agreed to contribute articles on natural history, but his work was prematurely ended when he died of tuberculosis in 1830.[5] Also worthy of note was Joseph Bonaparte, the older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose contributions on French topics include a 25,000-word biography on the former emperor of France, which according to De Kay was the longest biographical article in the Encyclopedia Americana.[3]

The first volume was released September 1829, at the price of $2.50, and quickly sold out. When completed in 1833, the first edition comprised 13 volumes.[4] Despite the success of the Encyclopedia, the Panic of 1837 led the Careys to scale back their catalog and concentrate on medical works. Nevertheless, this work continued to return profits to its owners on a regular basis. Publishing houses across the United States, and even in Canada, would rent or purchase Carey stereotype plates and publish Encyclopedia editions with their own imprints at the foot of the title pages, while retaining the Carey copyright notes on the overleaf, through 1858.[6] In 1846, a supplementary fourteenth volume was issued.[citation needed]

In 1848, John Sutter used the set to verify the authenticity of the gold found in his mill, a discovery that would start the California Gold Rush.[7]

A separate Encyclopedia Americana, published by J.M. Stoddart, was printed between 1883 and 1889, as a supplement to American reprintings of the 9th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. It was four quarto volumes meant to "extend and complete the articles in Britannica".[8] Stoddart's work, however, is not connected to the earlier work by Lieber.[9]

In 1902 a new version in 16 volumes that carried over some of the old material was published under the title Encyclopedia Americana, under the editorial supervision of Scientific American magazine. The magazine's editor, Frederick Converse Beach, was editor-in-chief, and was said to be assisted by hundreds of eminent scholars and authorities who served as consulting editors or authors. The first publisher was R.S. Peale & Co; between 1903 and 1906 further editions were issued by the Americana Corp. and the Scientific American Compiling Department, with George Edwin Rines appointed managing editor in 1903.[10] The relationship with Scientific American was terminated in 1911.[11] From 1907 to 1912, the work was published as The Americana.

A major new edition appeared in 1918–20 in 30 volumes, with George Edwin Rines as editor-in-chief.[10] An Annual or Yearbook was also published each year beginning in 1923 and continuing until 2000.

The encyclopedia was purchased by Grolier in 1945. By the 1960s, sales of the Americana and its sister publications under GrolierThe Book of Knowledge, the Book of Popular Science, and Lands and Peoples—were strong enough to support the company's occupancy of a large building (variously named the Americana Building and the Grolier Building) in Midtown Manhattan, at 575 Lexington Avenue. Sales during this period were accomplished primarily through mail-order and door-to-door operations. Telemarketing and third-party distribution through their Lexicon division added to sales volumes in the 1970s. By the late 1970s, Grolier had moved its operations to Danbury, Connecticut.

Later developments

In 1988 Grolier was purchased by the French media company Hachette, which owned a well-known French-language encyclopedia, the Hachette Encyclopedia. Hachette was later absorbed by the French conglomerate the Lagardère Group.

A CD-ROM version of the encyclopedia was published in 1995. Although the text and images were stored on separate disks, it was in keeping with standards current at the time. More importantly, the work had been digitized, allowing for release of an online version in 1997. Over the next few years the product was augmented with additional features, functions, supplementary references, Internet links, and current events journal. A redesigned interface and partly reengineered product, featuring enhanced search capabilities and a first-ever ADA-compliant, text-only version for users with disabilities, was presented in 2002.

The acquisition of Grolier by Scholastic for US$400 million, took place in 2000. The new owners projected a 30% increase in operating income, although historically Grolier had experienced earnings of 7% to 8% on income.[12] Staff reductions as a means of controlling costs followed soon thereafter, even while an effort was made to augment the sales force. Cuts occurred every year between 2000 and 2007, leaving a much-depleted work force to carry out the duties of maintaining a large encyclopedia database.[13] Today, Encyclopedia Americana lives on as an integral database within the Grolier Online product.

Editors in Chief

  • Francis Lieber, 1829–1833. German-American legal scholar; author of "A Code for the Government of Armies" (1863), a key document in the history of the humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war.
  • Frederick Converse Beach, 1902–1917. Engineer and editor of Scientific American magazine.
  • George Edwin Rines, 1917–1920. Author and editor.
  • A. H. McDannald, 1920–1948. Reporter (Baltimore News and Baltimore Evening Sun), editor, and author.
  • Lavinia P. Dudley, 1948–1964. Editor (Encyclopædia Britannica and Encyclopedia Americana) and manager; first woman to head a major American reference publication.
  • George A. Cornish, 1965–1970. Reporter (New York Herald Tribune) and editor.
  • Bernard S. Cayne, 1970–1980. Educational researcher (Educational Testing Service, Harvard Educational Review), editor (Ginn & Co., Collier's Encyclopedia, Macmillan) and business executive (Grolier Inc.).
  • Alan H. Smith, 1980–1985. Editor (Grolier/Encyclopedia Americana)
  • David T. Holland, 1985–1991. Editor (Harcourt Brace, Grolier/Encyclopedia Americana).
  • Mark Cummings, 1991–2000. Editor (Macmillan, Oxford University Press).
  • Michael Shally-Jensen, 2000–2005. Editor (Merriam-Webster/Encyclopædia Britannica).
  • K. Anne Ranson, 2005–2006. Editor (Academic American Encyclopedia, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia).
  • Joseph M. Castagno, 2006–present. Editor (Grolier/Lands and Peoples, New Book of Popular Science).

See also


  1. Noam Cohen (16 March 2008). "Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias". New York Times. Retrieved 26 June 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. see list enumerated at Low's Encyclopedia
  3. 3.0 3.1 Drake De Kay, . "Encyclopedia Americana, First Edition", Journal of Library History, 3 (1968), p. 205
  4. 4.0 4.1 De Kay, Encyclopedia Americana, p. 207
  5. De Kay, Encyclopedia Americana, pp. 206f
  6. De Kay, "Encyclopedia Americana", p. 212
  7. John A. Sutter (November 1857). "Discovery of Gold". Hutchings' California Magazine. Retrieved 26 June 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Literary Gossip". The Week : a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts. 1 (12): 190. 21 February 1884. Retrieved 26 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Walsh, S. Padraig (1968). Anglo-American General Encyclopedias: A Historical Bibliography, 1703–1967. New York: Bowker. p. 42. OCLC 221812838.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). [https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikisource.org%2Fwiki%2FThe_Encyclopedia_Americana_%281920%29%2FRines%2C_George_Edwin "Rines, George Edwin" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopedia Americana.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Collison, Robert (1964). Encyclopedias: Their History throughout the Ages. New York: Hafner.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "French Plan to Sell Grolier," PublishersWeekly.com, 11/29/1999; "Scholastic to Acquire Grolier," press release, Scholastic Inc., 4/13/2000.
  13. "Scholastic Has Record Year and Begins Grolier Integration," PublishersWeekly.com, 7/24/00; "Scholastic Sales Surge Continues," PublishersWeekly.com, 1/01/01; "Robinson: Scholastic's Business Remains Strong," PublishersWeekly.com, 10/01/01; "Sales Dip, Earnings Rise at Scholastic," PublishersWeekly.com, 7/29/02; "Scholastic Cuts 400 from Global Workforce," PublishersWeekly.com, 6/02/03; "Scholastic Takes a Charge," PublishersWeekly.com, 7/19/04; "Scholastic Cuts 30 Spots in Library Unit," PublishersWeekly.com, 6/02/05; "Scholastic to Cut Costs as Profits Fall," PublishersWeekly.com, 12/16/05; "Weak Results Prompt Closings, Layoffs at Scholastic," PublishersWeekly.com, 3/23/06.

External links