Funk & Wagnalls

Funk & Wagnalls was an American publisher known for its reference works, including A Standard Dictionary of the English Language (1st ed. 1893–5), and the Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia (25 volumes, 1st ed. 1912).[1]

Funk & Wagnalls
Logo of Funk and Wagnalls from a 1922 edition of Hoyt's Cyclopedia of Quotations
FounderIsaac Kaufmann Funk
SuccessorWorld Book
Country of originUnited States
Key peopleGeorge Alfred Hartley – Key financial contributor
Publication typesBooks

The encyclopedia was renamed Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia in 1931 and in 1945, it was known as New Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, Universal Standard Encyclopedia, Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia, and Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia (29 volumes, 1st ed. 1971).[1]

The last printing of Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia was in 1997. As of 2018, annual Yearbooks are still in production.

The I.K. Funk & Company, founded in 1875, was renamed Funk & Wagnalls Company after two years, and later became Funk & Wagnalls Inc., then Funk & Wagnalls Corporation.[1]


Isaac Kaufmann Funk founded the business in 1875 as I.K. Funk & Company.[1] In 1877, Adam Willis Wagnalls, one of Funk's classmates at Wittenberg College (now Wittenberg University), joined the firm as a partner and the name of the firm was changed to Funk & Wagnalls Company.

During its early years, Funk & Wagnalls Company published religious books. The publication of The Literary Digest in 1890 marked a shift to publishing of general reference dictionaries and encyclopedias. The firm published The Standard Dictionary of the English Language (OCLC 19715240) in 2 volumes in 1893 and 1895, and Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia (OCLC 1802064) in 1912.

In 1913, the New Standard Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language was published under the supervision of Isaac K. Funk (Editor-in-Chief). The New Standard Unabridged Dictionary was revised until 1943, a later edition that was also supervised by Charles Earl Funk.

The encyclopedia was based upon Chambers's Encyclopaedia: "Especially are we indebted to the famous Chambers's Encyclopaedia ... With its publishers we have arranged to draw upon its stores as freely as we have found it of advantage so to do."[2]

Wilfred J. Funk, the son of Isaac Funk, was president of the company from 1925 to 1940.

Unicorn Press (later known as the Standard Reference Work Publishing Co.) obtained the rights to publish the encyclopedia, and by 1953 that firm began to sell the encyclopedia through a supermarket continuity marketing campaign,[1] encouraging consumers to include the latest volume of the encyclopedia on their shopping lists. Grocery stores in the 1970s in the Midwest (Chicago – Jewel Grocers) typically kept about four volumes in a rotation, dropping the last and adding the latest until all volumes could be acquired with the initial first volume being 99 cents. The first several volumes were gold painted along the edges and the later volumes were not. These volumes typically were $2.99 and then toward the later volumes the price had increased with the inflation of the 1970s. If one did not go shopping on a weekly basis, or delivery was spotty, there was a good chance that a volume might be missed to complete the set.

In 1965, Funk & Wagnalls Co. was sold to Reader's Digest.

In 1971, the company, now Funk and Wagnalls, Incorporated, was sold to Dun & Bradstreet.[3] Dun and Bradstreet retained Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, but other reference works were relinquished to other publishers.[1]

In 1984, Dun & Bradstreet sold Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., to a group of Funk & Wagnalls executives, who in turn sold it to Field Corporation in 1988.[1][4]

In 1991, the company was sold to K-III Holdings, Inc, and then in 1993 Funk & Wagnalls Corporation acquired the World Almanac.[5][1]

In 1998, as part of the Information division of Primedia Inc. (the renamed K-III), the encyclopedia content appeared on the Web site "". This short-lived venture was shut down in 2001.

Ripplewood Holdings bought Primedia's education division in 1999, which became part of Reader's Digest Association in 2007. In 2009, Funk & Wagnalls was acquired by World Book Encyclopedia.[6]

After failing to purchase rights to the text of the Encyclopædia Britannica and World Book Encyclopedia for its Encarta digital encyclopedia, Microsoft reluctantly used (under license) the text of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia for the first editions of its encyclopedia. This licensed text was gradually replaced over the following years with content Microsoft created itself.[7]


  • 18?? – The Preacher's Homiletic Commentary on the Old Testament
  • 18?? – The Preacher's Homiletic Commentary on the New Testament
  • 1890 – The Literary Digest
  • 1891 – The Encyclopedia of Missions
  • 1893–95 – The Standard Dictionary of the English Language
  • 1901/1906 – The Jewish Encyclopedia, 12 volumes
  • 1906 – The World's Famous Orations, 10 volume set
  • 1909 – Standard Bible Dictionary
  • 1912 – Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia
  • 1913–1943 The New Standard Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Two volumes
  • 1915 – Women of all nations: a record of their characteristics, habits, manners, customs, and influence, Volume 1
  • 1915 – Women of all nations: a record of their characteristics, habits, manners, customs, and influence, Volume 2
  • 1915 – Women of all nations: a record of their characteristics, habits, manners, customs, and influence, Volume 3
  • 1920 – Funk and Wagnall's Student's Standard Dictionary of the English language [Hardcover]
  • 1927 – The World's One Hundred Best Short Stories, 10 volumes
  • 1929 – Pocket Library of the World's Essential Knowledge, 10 volumes
  • 1929 – The World's 1000 Best Poems, 10 volumes
  • 1936 – A New Standard Bible Dictionary
  • 1946 – Funk and Wagnalls New Practical Standard Dictionary, 2 volumes Re-Copyrighted in 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954 1955 ***First hand account from volumes dated 1955.
  • 1949/50 – Funk & Wagnalls standard dictionary of folklore, mythology and legend, 2 volumes. A one-volume edition with minor revisions was released in 1972.
  • 1957 – The Fashion Dictionary
  • 19?? – Funk & Wagnalls standard handbook of synonyms, antonyms, and prepositions
  • 1968 – Handbook of Indoor Games & Stunts [Paperbook F58]
  • 1971 – Standard Dictionary of the English Language (International Edition)
  • 19?? – Poetry handbook; a dictionary of terms
  • 1971 – Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia
  • 1973 – Funk & Wagnalls Guide to modern world literature
  • 1974 – Funk & Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopedia
  • 1974 – Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary (2nd Edition)
  • 1980 – The New Funk & Wagnalls Illustrated Wildlife Encyclopedia
  • 1986 – Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia of Science
  • 1996 – Funk & Wagnalls World Atlas[8]

During certain scenes of banter between Dan Rowan and Dick Martin on the NBC comedy-variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, after a particular anecdote of trivia or wisdom, Dick Martin would end the saying by stating, "Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls!"

In the TV series The West Wing, Season 1: Episode 21 entitled "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics" press secretary CJ Craig references Funk & Wagnalls when being told by Toby Ziegler that direction and track are two different words, which garners the sarcastic response "Thank you Funk & Wagnalls" from her.

On The Tonight Show, host Johnny Carson often played a mystic seer from the East named "Carnak the Magnificent". Sidekick Ed McMahon would hand "Carnak" "hermetically sealed" envelopes of questions he purported had been kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnalls' porch since noon that day.

In the TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (TV Series), Season 1: Episode 3 entitled "Planet of the Slave Girls" Buck Rogers and Colonel Wilma Deering come to the rescue of a Directorate pilot under attack. When Buck is reprimanded for "interfering" with a training mission, he tells the flight leader, "If you call that interfering, there's something wrong with your Funk & Wagnalls!"


  1. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 1996
  2. Publishers' Preface, Funk & Wagnalls Standard Encyclopedia, 1912
  3. Smith, William D. (1971-02-02). "Merger News". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  4. Fabrikant, Geraldine (1988-05-27). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; Field Publications Agrees To Buy Funk & Wagnalls". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  5. Hicks, Jonathan P. (1990-12-22). "COMPANY NEWS; K-III Holdings to Buy Field Assets". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  6. "World Book Launches New Co-Edition Business under Funk & Wagnalls Brand". Business Wire. 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2014-07-08.
  7. Randall E. Stross, The Microsoft Way: The Real Story of How the Company Outsmarts its Competition (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1996), pp. 81f, 91f
  8. Funk & Wagnalls World Atlas. Funk & Wagnalls. 1996. ISBN 978-0834301047 via Google Books.
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