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What is the history of the Encyclopedia Britannica?

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Quick Answer

The Encyclopedia Britannica was founded in 1768 in Edinburgh, Scotland by Colin MacFarquhar and Andrew Bell. In the beginning, it had a single editor, William Smellie. MacFarquhar and Bell managed the encyclopedia from a business perspective. Its first product was a three-volume first edition. It has since expanded to a 32-volume 15th edition. In 1981, Britannica published its first digital encyclopedia.

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Full Answer

Ownership of Encyclopedia Britannica has been passed numerous times. After they had published the first three editions, MacFarquhar and Bell sold the copyright of Britannica to Scottish bookseller Archibald Constable in 1812. Constable produced the next three editions, each of which was expanded to six volumes instead of three.

In 1827, ownership of Britannica passed to Scottish publisher A&C Black, named after its founders, the brothers Adam and Charles Black. The firm managed Britannica until 1901, when it was sold to American Everett Hooper. Hit hard by the recession, Hooper sold the copyright to Sears Roebuck in 1920.

In 1943, Sears donated the Encyclopedia Britannica to the University of Chicago, and University Vice President William Benton managed operations for the publication. Upon Benton's death, the copyright for the Britannica passed to his foundation, The Benton Foundation. However, the foundation had financial difficulties in the 1990s and sold the Britannica in 1996 to Swiss investor Jacqui Safra.

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