Guinness World Records, known until 2000 as The Guinness Book of Records (and in previous U.S. editions as The Guinness Book of World Records), is a reference book published annually, containing an internationally recognized collection of world records, both human achievements and the extreme of the natural world. The book itself holds a world record, as the best-selling copyrighted series of all-time.
Beaver’s idea became reality when Guinness employee Christopher Chataway recommended student twins Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London. The brothers were commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. One thousand copies were printed and given away.
After founding the Guinness Book of Records at 107 Fleet Street, the first 197-page edition was bound on 27 August 1955 and went to the top of the British bestseller lists by Christmas. "It was a marketing give away—it wasn't supposed to be a money maker," said Beaver. The following year it launched in the U.S., and it sold 70,000 copies.
After the book became a surprise hit, many further editions were printed, eventually settling into a pattern of one revision a year, published in October to coincide with Christmas sales. The McWhirters continued to publish it and related books for many years. Both brothers had an encyclopedic memory — on the TV series Record Breakers, based upon the book, they would take questions posed by children in the audience on various world records, and would usually be able to give the correct answer. Ross McWhirter was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1975. Following McWhirter's assassination, the feature in the show where questions about records posed by children were answered was called "Norris on the Spot".
Guinness World Records Limited was formed in 1954 to publish the first book. The group was owned by Guinness Brewery and subsequently Diageo until 2001, when it was purchased by Gullane Entertainment. Gullane was itself purchased by HiT Entertainment in 2002. In 2006, Apax Partners purchased HiT and subsequently sold Guinness World Records in early 2008 to the Jim Pattison Group, which is also the parent company of Ripley Entertainment, Inc..
Recent editions have focused on record feats by human competitors. Competitions range from obvious ones such as weightlifting to the more entertaining such as longest egg-throwing distance, or for longest time spent playing Grand Theft Auto IV, attempted by a member of Bush League TV, or the number of hot dogs that can be consumed in ten minutes - although eating contest and beer and alcohol consumption entries are no longer accepted, possibly for fear of litigation. Besides records about competitions, it contains such facts as the heaviest tumor, the most poisonous plant, the shortest river (Roe River), the longest-running drama (Guiding Light), the longest serving members of a drama series (William Roache for Coronation Street in the UK, Kate Ritchie and Ray Meagher for Home and Away in Australia), the world's most successful salesman (Joe Girard), the most successful reality television musical group (Girls Aloud), and the only brother and sister to have solo number one singles in UK chart history (Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield). Many records also relate to the youngest person who achieved something, such as the youngest person to visit all nations of the world, being Maurizio Giuliano.
Each edition contains a selection of the large set of records in the Guinness database, and the criteria for that choice have changed over the years. The newest records are added, and the records that have been updated are added too.
The ousting of Norris McWhirter from his consulting role in 1995 and the subsequent decision by Diageo plc to sell the Guinness World Records brand have shifted it from a text-oriented reference book, to an illustrated product. This shift means that the majority of world records are no longer listed in the book (or on the website), and can only be determined by a written application to Guinness to 'break' the record. For those unable to wait the 4-6 weeks for a reply, Guinness will process a 'fasttrack' application for GBP 300 (US$600).
Critics (including McWhirter) have pointed out that since Norris McWhirter's dismissal, the series has become prone to creating record categories simply in order to name-drop contemporary popular celebrities to boost sales. One notorious example was the genesis of a "Most Successful Virtual Band" category in 2001, which was duly won by Gorillaz, whose debut album had sold heavily worldwide - however, as the only other such "virtual bands" that had ever existed were Alvin and the Chipmunks and a number of Hanna Barbera cartoon characters, it was hardly a noteworthy "world record".
The Guinness Book of Records is the world's most sold copyrighted book, thus earning it an entry within its own pages. A number of spin-off books and television series have also been produced. Again the emphasis in these shows has been on spectacular, entertaining stunts, rather than any aspiration to inform or educate.
Guinness World Records does not monitor the category of 'Person with the most records' as this changes too frequently, and records that once existed may now have been 'rested' and therefore this would not be a fair category. In 2005, Guinness designated 9 November as International Guinness World Records Day to encourage breaking of world records; it was described as "phenomenally successful". The 2006 version was dubbed "the world’s biggest international event," with an estimated 100,000 people participating in over 10 countries. The promotion has earned Guinness a whopping 2,244 all-new valid records in 12 months, which is a 173% increase over the previous year.
In February 2008, NBC aired 'The Top 100 Guinness World Records of All Time.' The complete countdown from 100 down to 1 is available at http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2008/01/080128.aspx
Several world records that were once included in the book have been removed for ethical reasons. By publishing world records in a category, the book may encourage others to try to beat that record, even at the expense of their own health and safety. For example, following publication of a "heaviest cat" record, many cat owners overfed their pets beyond the bounds of what was healthy, so entries such as these were removed. The Guinness Book also dropped records within their "eating and drinking records" section of Human Achievements in 1991 over concerns that potential competitors could do harm to themselves and expose the publisher to potential litigation. These changes included the removal of all liquor, wine and beer drinking records, along with other unusual records for consuming such unlikely things as bicycles and trees.
Other records, such as sword swallowing and rally driving (on public roads), were closed from further entry as the current holders had performed beyond what are considered safe human tolerance levels. There have been cases where closed records have been reopened. For example, the sword swallowing record was listed as closed in 1990 Guinness Book of World Records, but the Guinness World Records Primetime TV show, which started in 1998, accepted three sword swallowing challenges (and so did the 2007 edition of the Guinness World Records).
Chain letters are also not allowed. "Guinness World Records does not accept any records relating to chain letters, sent by post or e-mail. If you receive a letter or an e-mail, which may promise to publish the names of all those who send it on, please destroy it, it is a hoax. No matter if it says that Guinness World Records and the postal service are involved, they are not.
In 1976, a Guinness Book of World Records Exhibit Hall was opened on the lower concourse of the Empire State Building. Speed shooter Bob Munden was on tour promoting the Guinness World Record series of Dixie cups and set a new speed record, drawing, cocking, and firing a single-action revolver in .02 seconds. Among other exhibits were life-size statues of the world's tallest man (Robert Wadlow) and world's largest earth worm, an X-ray photo of a sword swallower, repeated lightning strike victim Roy Sullivan's hat complete with lightning holes and a pair of gem-studded golf shoes for sale for $6500. That exhibit closed several years ago.
In more recent years the Guinness company has permitted the franchising of small museums with displays based on the book, all currently (as of 2008) located in towns popular with tourists: Tokyo, Copenhagen, San Antonio, Niagara Falls, Hollywood and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with a new location scheduled to open in Bangalore, India.
There were once Guinness World Records exhibitions at the Trocadero in London, Surfers Paradise, San Francisco, Atlantic City, New Jersey and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but these locations have closed.
While some displays are dramatic, like the statues of the world's tallest and shortest people, or videos of records being broken, much of the information is presented simply with text and photos.
Guinness World Records has commissioned various television series documenting world record breaking attempts, including:
With the popularity of reality television, GWR began to market itself as the originator of the television genre, with slogans such as 'we wrote the book on Reality TV'.
In 2008, Guinness World Records released their long awaited gamer's edition in association with Twin Galaxies. The Gamer's Edition contains 258 pages, over 1236 video game related world records and four interviews including one with Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day.