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Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Type Private
Genre Reference material
Founded Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (1768 (1768))
Founder(s) Colin Macfarquhar
Andrew Bell
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Products Encyclopædia Britannica, Britannica Online, Merriam-Webster products
Revenue Not reported
Owner(s) Jacqui Safra (principal owner)
Employees About 400 (300 in Chicago, 100 worldwide)[1]

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. is an American company best known for publishing the Encyclopædia Britannica, the world's oldest continuously-published encyclopaedia.



The company was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 18th century, in the atmosphere of the Scottish Enlightenment. A printer, Colin Macfarquhar, and an engraver, Andrew Bell, formed a partnership to create a new book that would embody the new spirit of scholarship. William Smellie was engaged to edit the original three-volume work, published one volume at a time beginning in 1768.

The encyclopaedia's reputation grew throughout the publication of its subsequent volumes.


Sears Roebuck

The 11th edition was published in 1920, after which the trademark and publication rights were sold to Sears Roebuck.

A thoroughly-revised 14th edition was published in 1929.

By the mid-1930s, the company headquarters had moved to Chicago, Illinois, United States, and the editorial staff were now no longer disbanded after the completion of a new edition, but kept on as a permanent editorial department, to keep pace with the rapid increase in knowledge at the time.

Starting in 1936, a new printing of the encyclopaedia was published each year, incorporating the latest changes and updates. In 1938, the first edition of the Britannica Book of the Year appeared. This annual supplement is still published today.

Britannica Inc. extended its publishing ventures by purchasing Compton's Encyclopedia and G. & C. Merriam in the 1940s.

In 1947, Britannica released 10 Eventful Years, a compendium of World War II in 4 volumes.

In 1952, Britannica published the landmark set Great Books of the Western World, a 54-volume set of the "great books" of Western culture. William Burnett Benton figured as publisher from 1943 to his death in 1973, followed by his widow Helen Hemingway Benton until her own death in 1974. Management was then passed to the Benton Foundation, whose establishment was announced at the Britannica's bicentennial.

Jacqui Safra

In January 1996, the company was purchased by billionaire Swiss financier Jacqui Safra for $136 million.[2]

The company was one of the first to offer encyclopaedia content online (in association with LexisNexis in the 1980s), and currently publishes in several mediums, including DVD and through its website. It has several international projects to develop educational materials in Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Italy, France, Spain, Latin America, Turkey, Hungary, and Poland.

Under Safra's ownership the company has experienced some financial woes with freelance contributors waiting up to six months for checks and staff going years without raises, according to a report in the New York Post. Cost-cutting measures have included mandates to use free photos. Britannica in December 2002 told employees it would raise the contribution paid into their 401(k) accounts, then eliminated them entirely. A company spokesperson said: "We've had some cost reductions and belt-tightening but we're not going into details… We're a privately held company."[3]


  1. ^ Smith, William C. (February 2 2004). "Venerable tomes go digital". The National Law Journal: P8.  
  2. ^ Shane Greenstein and Michelle Devereux, "The Crisis at Encyclopædia Britannica" (pdf), case study 5-306-504, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, 2006*
  3. ^ "Cash-shy Britannica", New York Post, 11 September 2003

Further reading

  • “Encyclopædia Britannica May Refer to ‘For Sale’ to Raise Capital,” Portland Oregonian, April 7, 1995
  • Richard A. Melcher, “Dusting Off the Britannica,” Business Week, October 20, 1997
  • Robert McHenry, “The Building of Britannica Online”
  • Steve Barth, “Britannica on the Virtual Bookshelf,” Knowledge Management Magazine
  • Dorothy Auchter, “The Evolution of Encyclopædia Britannica,” Reference Services Review 27, no. 3: 297
  • [1] Sydney Morning Herlad online

External links


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