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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Guinness Book Of World Records

In elementary school, one of my all-time favourite places to be in was our school library. Back in those days, our library was located in the basement of the school, so admittedly, the aesthetics of the library decor were somewhat on the creepy side. With exposed pipes on the ceiling and walls made of brick and concrete, it wasn't exactly the most child-friendly library in the world.

Yet some of my fondest memories took place there.

The way our school library was set up was like this. The bookshelves for the lower grades were at the front of the library. Next to those shelves was a carpeted area complete with a couple of sofas for children to read books on.

For some reason, in the center of the library was a giant red bathtub where we could sit down and read books in. (If I remember correctly, almost every kid in my class fought for the chance to sit in the bathtub.)

And, finally, the back of the library contained reading tables, the card catalogues (keep in mind that I attended elementary school before the Internet became popular), and the shelves that contained books for the older children.

As far back as I can remember, most of the kids in my class (particularly once we were past the fifth grade) used to crowd around the shelves with the books made for older children. For some of them, they were looking for sports books, and others wanted to catch up on the “Sweet Valley High” series. In my case though, I was looking for a specific kind of book. A book that, unfortunately for me, other kids had checked out of the library before I had the chance to.

The good news about our library was that there was a rule that stated that you could only check out a book for two weeks at a time. As little patience as I had as a child, I knew that if I waited long enough, I would eventually get the chance to read the book that I had my eye on all year long.

Mind you, I had to wait until the school year was almost OVER before I managed to get my hands on the book I wanted. By that time, almost everyone else in the class had read it from cover to cover. It was worth the wait though.

The book that I had waited to get my hands on was the 1991 Guinness Book of World Records.

As it so happens, today's blog topic also happens to be on The Guinness Book of World Records (or Guinness World Records as it has been known since 2000).

The reference book has detailed all the various records that have been broken all over the world since 1954, and the book has been updated each year as new records are created and broken. The most recent edition of the book was released in September 2011.

The story behind the creation of the Guinness Book of World Records is a fairly interesting one. It began approximately four years before the creation of the book, in May 1951. Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of the Guinness Breweries (where the book got its name) attended a shooting party by the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland. He had gotten into an argument about whether the grouse or the koshin golden plover was the fastest game bird in all of Europe. Toiling through several reference books on birds, Beaver was unable to come up with a definitive answer. He then began to wonder if maybe there were other questions that were debated at pubs all across Ireland that happened because there was no way to look up the information.

He then came up with the solution. What if he wrote a book that answered every one of the questions asked, putting an end to the arguments and debates once and for all?

With assistance from Norris and Ross McWhirter, the first edition of The Guinness Book of World Records was compiled throughout 1954. What was interesting about the first edition of the book was that only one thousand copies were made. Even more fascinating was that those thousand copies were given away. No profit was made through the book.

I wonder how much one of those 1954 edition books would cost now?

The following year, The Guinness Book of World Records set up an office at 107 Fleet Street, in London. The 1955 edition of the book was printed on August 27, 1955. It contained 197 pages, and unlike the edition before, this one was actually sold in stores all over London. It had reached the British bestsellers list that Christmas, and when the book was brought over to the United States in 1956, seventy thousand copies were sold.

The book became a surprise hit, and eventually, the decision was made to publish the book annually. The book was released in September or October of each year to ensure that it was available for holiday sales, and was updated each year. For the first twenty years of the publication's history, the McWhirter brothers were at the helm, using their near encyclopedic memory to their advantage. But sadly, the partnership ended in 1975, when Ross McWhirter was assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Norris continued on with The Guinness Book of World Records until he was let go from the publication in 1996. He passed away in 2004.

What started off as a small project quickly grew into what is now considered to be the most sold copyrighted book (ironically enough becoming a world record in its own book), and the book has spawned several television shows based on the book's content, including one that ran on the FOX Channel between 1998 and 2001. You can see some clips of the show in action by clicking on the links below. I warn you though, some of these records are not for the overly squeamish.

(That last clip still makes me look away in fear, I have to admit.)

But that's one of the beautiful things about The Guinness Book of World Records. There was never a shortage of records to be found. There were records on animals, human achievements, natural and man-made disasters, entertainment and music trivia, sports records, and much more.

If one was lucky enough to actually break an existing record, and had concrete proof of this being fact, they would have their name published in the book, and receive a certificate of authentication. But, be warned...some records have conditions, and some records have been stricken from the book out of safety concerns.

What I mean by that second statement is that there used to be a record for the heaviest pet fish, and reports of owners deliberately overfeeding their own fish, which sometimes lead to the death of the pet. Records involving mass consumption of liquor and alcohol were also removed, as the publication felt that leaving them in promoted binge drinking. Whenever records were submitted for large food items (such as the largest hamburger or heaviest cake), the rules stated that the food had to be completely edible, and distributed to the public for consumption to avoid food waste.

So, before you attempt to break a record, you might wish to look over the guidelines and rules listed in the preface of the book as well as on the official website ( ) before you embark on your quest. You don't want to be wasting your time on a record that the book won't even recognize as a record, do you?

The book has even spawned a spin-off book, designed especially for video game players, called “The Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition”. The latest version of the book was released in early 2011, and offers up records for various video games past and present, including high scores, marathon gaming sessions, and most successful game characters.

There was even a Guinness Book of World Records museum built inside the Empire State Building in 1976. It remained open at the location for nineteen years. Since then, several smaller museums have opened up in cities all over the world including Tokyo, Japan, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A, and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Before I close off this entry, I have one more trivia fact for you. Do you know who holds the most Guinness World Records of all time?

It happens to be this man.

Ashrita (Keith) Furman, born September 16, 1954 in Brooklyn, New York, currently holds 133 different records in the book, and has set an estimated 300 records since 1979. Some of the records that he currently holds include the following;

  • fastest mile on a kangaroo ball
  • jumping rope on a pogo stick, longest duration
  • doing 27,000 jumping jacks (his very first record)
  • underwater juggling, longest duration
  • piggyback running, fastest mile
  • kangaroo ball racing, fastest mile
  • racing against a yak while hopping in a sack

(That last one isn't a joke.)

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