ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, Inc. (A)
Scotland in the mid to late eighteenth century enjoyed its own “information age,” the
Scottish Enlightenment. It was an era that embraced industrialization, spawned
revolutionary ideas (Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” theory of economic is one example),
and transformed Edinburgh into a world-renowned cultural center. So it is not surprising
that during this time, two enterprising men decided to capture and market that
Colin Macfarquhar was a printer and Andrew Bell an engraver when they formed
a partnership in 1768 to publish what they called a “Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.”
William Bell, hired to edit the vast collection, emphasized usefulness in his preface to
the three volume set.
“Wherever this intention does not plainly appear,” he wrote, “neither the books
nor their authors have the smallest claim to the approbation of mankind.” Thus did
serving society’s need to know become the mission of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc
The new reference guide, which took three years to complete, was offered to
consumers in weekly installments. This timing was right, for the edition sold out quickly.
A second edition soon followed, then a third and a fourth, each bigger and more
comprehensive than the last. By 1815, when the fifth edition was published, the set had
ballooned to 20 volumes. A pirate version, published in the US in 1790, tapped growing
new market. Even George Washington bought a set.
Throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, when the company
was purchased by Americans and moved into US, EBI continued to enhance its
reputation as the premiere source of knowledge. The company maintained, “Our brand
represents material you know is authoritative and trustworthy.” The company recruited
notable scientist and scholars, including Thomas Malthus, Sigmund Freud, and Marie