See something you'd like to change or add, but you've never edited an open encyclopædia before? This overview was written to help absolute beginners get started.

Encyclopædia Britannica

From A Storehouse of Knowledge
(Redirected from Britannica)
Jump to: navigation, search

Encyclopædia Britannica is a 32 volume encyclopedia written in English. It is the oldest reference work in the English language.[1] It was first published in 1768 and has been available and in print ever since.[2]



Encyclopædia Britannica began in Scotland during the enlightenment in the 18th century by Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, a printer and an engraver respectively. It was published one section at a time over a three year period, from 1768 to 1771. It first came to the United States (as a pirated edition) in 1790 by Thomas Dobson, where it was bought by George Washington, amongst others.

Beginning in 1815, many famous and influential people began contributing to the encyclopaedia including Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Young, who worked on translating hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone. The ownership of the encyclopaedia then passed to two Americans, Horace Hooper and Walter Jackson. In 1910, the 11th edition was produced in cooperation with Cambridge University.

The encyclopaedia was then bought by two Americans, Horace Hooper and Walter Jackson, and gradually moved to America, although it always maintained its British English spelling. During the 1920s and 1930s many important changes happened to the encyclopaedia. More important people and famous names started to contribute including Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Leon Trotsky, Harry Houdini and Henry Ford. The company fully moved to the United States and for the first time hired editorial staff full time permanently and began to update continuously. During and after the Second World War, the company was owned by William Benton, who would become a U.S. Senator.

In 1981 Britannica made the first digital version of its encyclopaedia and this was followed in 1989 by the first encyclopaedia available on CD-ROM, Compton's MultiMedia Encyclopedia. In 1994 Britannica launched a website to become the first encyclopaedia on the internet.[3]

Britannica Today

Today, Britannica has a solid reputation for both accuracy and quality.[4] When it revamped its website in 1999, so many users visited the site that the website crashed.[5] Despite this the company has struggled to remain profitable and recently had to cut 16% of its online staff.[6] The accuracy of the site has also been questioned by a high profile study in nature, which found it had similar reliability to Wikipedia.[7]

In addition to the encyclopaedia, Britannica now also sells Great Books of the Western World, subscriptions to online reference sites, a CD and DVD version of the encyclopaedia and language products.[8] The full version of Encyclopaedia Britannica has a rrp of £750.00 (UK) or a list price of $1992.85 (US).[9][10]

Britannica and Wikipedia

Many early Wikipedia articles were copied from the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, as this is in the public domain and can be freely used. There were concerns though, that this might lead to bias and inaccuracy as information on many subjects a century ago is not as comprehensive as today.[11] There has been controversy based on the relative accuracy of the two websites, with a Nature report arguing that the two have similar accuracies, and other commentators suggesting that Encyclopædia Britannica will always be more accurate because it doesn't rely on anonymous contributers.[12]

Despite this Britannica has lately moved closer to Wikipedia by allowing users to make edits and contribute articles. A reason for this was despite its reputation, it was getting only a tiny fraction of the visits to Wikipedia.[13]


  9. Encyclopædia Britannica at
  10. Encyclopædia Britannica at

External links

Official site
1911 Version
Personal tools

visitor navigation
contributor navigation