Guinness World Records, known from its inception in 1955 until 2000 as The Guinness Book of Records and in previous United States editions as The Guinness Book of World Records, is a reference book published annually, listing world records both of human achievements and the extremes of the natural world. The brainchild of Sir Hugh Beaver, the book was co-founded by brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter in Fleet Street, London in August 1954.
The book itself holds a world record, as the best-selling copyrighted book of all time. As of the 2017 edition, it is now in its 62nd year of publication, published in 100 countries and 23 languages. The international franchise has extended beyond print to include television series and museums. The popularity of the franchise has resulted in Guinness World Records becoming the primary international authority on the cataloguing and verification of a huge number of world records; the organisation employs official record adjudicators authorised to verify the authenticity of the setting and breaking of records.
On 10 November 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, then the managing director of the Guinness Breweries, went on a shooting party in the North Slob, by the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland. After missing a shot at a golden plover, he became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover or the red grouse (it is the plover). That evening at Castlebridge House, he realized that it was impossible to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe's fastest game bird. Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in pubs throughout Ireland and abroad, but there was no book in the world with which to settle arguments about records. He realised then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove successful.
Beaver's idea became reality when Guinness employee Christopher Chataway recommended University friends Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London. The twin brothers were commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. A thousand copies were printed and given away.
After the founding of The Guinness Book of Records at 107 Fleet Street, London, the first 198-page edition was bound on 27 August 1955 and went to the top of the British best seller lists by Christmas. The following year, it launched in the US, and sold 70,000 copies. Since then, Guinness World Records has become a household name and the global leader in world records. The book has gone on to become a record breaker in its own right; with sales of more than 100 million copies in 100 different countries and 37 languages, Guinness World Records is the world's best selling copyright book ever.
Because the book became a surprise hit, many further editions were printed, eventually settling into a pattern of one revision a year, published in September/October, in time for Christmas. The McWhirters continued to compile it 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 were able to give the correct answer. Ross McWhirter was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1975. Following Ross' assassination, the feature in the show where questions about records posed by children were answered was called Norris on the Spot.
Guinness Superlatives (later Guinness World Records) Limited was formed in 1954 to publish the first book. Sterling Publishing owned the rights to the Guinness book in the US for decades. The group was owned by Guinness PLC 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, the parent company of Ripley Entertainment, which is licensed to operate Guinness World Records' Attractions. With offices in New York City and Tokyo, Guinness World Records' global headquarters remain in London, while its museum attractions are based at Ripley headquarters in Orlando, Florida, US.