World Book Encyclopedia

The World Book Encyclopedia is an encyclopedia published in the United States. According to the company, its mission is to "enhance learning and reading for children around the world by developing trustworthy, engaging content to create products that will engage children of all ages at home, on the go, in the classroom or in libraries worldwide."[1] The encyclopedia was designed to cover major areas of knowledge uniformly, but it shows particular strength in scientific, technical, and medical subjects.[2]

World Book Encyclopedia
CountryUnited States
LanguageAmerican English
GenreReference encyclopedia
PublisherScott Fetzer Company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway
Publication date
1917 (1917)
Media typePublication
LC ClassAE5 .W55

It is based in Chicago, Illinois. Today, the company claims that World Book is the most up-to-date commercial encyclopedia, According to the company, the latest edition, World Book Encyclopedia 2019, contains 14,000 pages distributed along 22 volumes and more than 17,000 articles in total which represents an increase of 7.05% from the last edition (1,200 articles more) [3]

World Book also publishes children's non-fiction and picture books under the Bright Connections Media imprint, and educational development and supplemental instructional resources through Incentive Publications by World Book.


World Book was founded by Chicago publishers J. H. Hansen and John Bellow, who realized that existing encyclopedias were off-putting to young readers. In 1915, they enlisted the help of Michael Vincent O'Shea, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin.[4]

The first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia was published (as simply The World Book) in 1917, by the Hanson-Roach-Fowler Company. "As a rule," wrote O'Shea, the founding editor, in the preface of that first edition, "encyclopedias are apt to be quite formal and technical. A faithful effort has been made in the World Book to avoid this common defect."

In 1919, World Book became the property of W.F. Quarrie & Company. The new owners created an editorial board to help make sure the entries were aligned with what students studied, from kindergarten through high school.[4]

In 1945, the World Book became the property of Field Enterprises.

In 1978, World Book was purchased by Scott Fetzer Company, an Ohio conglomerate that left the encyclopedia company in Chicago. That year, the company had a sales force of 60,000 and vastly outsold Encyclopædia Britannica.

In 1985, the Scott Fetzer Company was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway. In the late 1980s, while the World Book sales force had declined, it still had 45,000 door-to-door representatives.[5] For the year 1990, Berkshire Hathaway reported that the business of producing the encyclopedia had generated profits of $32 million. But as sales plunged in the 1990s, World Book's results were no longer broken out in Berkshire Hathaway financial reports.[6]

In 2009, Funk & Wagnalls was acquired by World Book Encyclopedia;[7] the company's Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia had ceased publication in 1997.

As of 2018, the only official sales outlet for the World Book encyclopedia is the company’s website; the official list price is $1,199. A company representative said, that year, that "thousands” of print sets are still ordered annually, mostly by schools who use them as teaching tools for library research skills; public libraries and homeschooling families are also frequent purchasers.[8]


The first edition (1917) contained eight volumes. New editions have since appeared every year except 1920, 1924, and 1932, with major revisions in 1929 (13 volumes), 1947 (19 volumes), 1960 (20 volumes), 1971 (22 volumes), and 1988 (new typeface and page design, and some 10,000 new editorial features).[9]

Unlike the way most other encyclopedias were printed, World Book has traditionally been published in variously sized volumes, depending on the letter of the alphabet. Although most volumes cover exactly one letter completely, the letters with exceptionally numerous entries ("C" and "S") are divided between two volumes, while adjacent letters with relatively few entries ("J"–"K", "N"–"O", "Q"–"R", "U"–"V", and "W"–"Z") share a volume.

World Book editors lay out major articles distinctly, often starting them on a page of their own, perhaps with a two-column heading. Materials are reviewed and authored by experts. It recognizes that one of the primary uses of general-purpose encyclopedias is students' work on school reports. For instance, every article for a U.S. state has a box giving information about such things as the official state bird and tree; each President of the United States gets a very distinctive look with an oversized portrait, a timeline and significant historical events that occurred during that president's administration.

Alternative editions

In 1962 World Book produced a Braille edition, which filled 145 volumes and nearly 40,000 pages. It was the first encyclopedia in Braille. The project was mainly an effort in goodwill, for the company did not see its way clear to selling enough copies of the set to cover production costs. Eventually, all sets of the Braille edition were donated to several institutions for the blind. In 1964 the company also published a large-print edition.[10]

An international version, aimed at English-speakers outside of North America, was also produced in 1992.

Since 1998, in addition to the print and CD-ROM editions of the 22-volume, 13,800-page encyclopedia, World Book also publishes an online version called World Book Online. The online version includes 23 subscription databases with all of the articles contained in the print set, as well as several thousand additional articles and the contents of every yearbook World Book has published since 1922. Articles are also available in Spanish. The online version contains links to current web sites and magazine articles, a news section, and video and audio samples.

Digital multimedia encyclopedia

World Book Encyclopedia was also published in electronic form for Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac OS X. Electronic editions contained the entire text of the 22-volume World Book Encyclopedia, plus illustrations, video clips, 3D panoramic views, and sounds. The articles bring together a complete story, multimedia content, an article outline, research aids and links to related information. Online updates to articles and a "Month in Brief" time browser are available by subscription.

In 2002, Apple included a bundled copy of the Mac OS X Edition of World Book Encyclopedia when they made OS X the default operating system for all new computers.[11] This edition had some Mac-only features including a more intuitive user interface, Sticky Notes sharing via Bonjour technology, Trivia Challenge game, a collection of editor-approved webcams, Notepad, speech capabilities and "This Day in History", "Media Showcase" and "Librarian" widgets.

Since November 2007, both the Windows and Mac electronic editions of World Book Encyclopedia have been developed and published by Software MacKiev.

Associated publishing projects

Other World Book products include:

  • World Book eBooks
  • World Book Online
  • A Look At ...
  • Anti-Bullying Basics
  • Building Blocks of Mathematics
  • Building Blocks of Science
  • Childcraft
  • Dinosaurs!
  • Discovery Science
  • Early World of Learning
  • Endangered Animals
  • Enigmas of History
  • Out of This World[12] (Book series for ages 10-14+, profiling NASA inventors and their concepts.)
  • World Book Year Book (covers previous year's events/history and features updated articles from the encyclopedia)
  • World Book's Animals of the World

Cultural references

  • Alistair McCartney's debut novel, The End of the World Book (2008), was in the form of an encyclopedia, with topics such as “Diana’s Wedding,” “Mad Cow Disease,” and “Death.”

See also


  1. "About Us – World Book". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  2. "Encyclopedias in English and Other Languages". Library Research Guides. Indiana University. Archived from the original on June 19, 2012.
  4. Grossman, Ron (December 7, 2017). "Long before Google, there was the encyclopedia". Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  5. Dirda, Michael (February 17, 2016). "'You Could Look It Up': The world before and since Wikipedia". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  6. Buhayar, Noah (December 1, 2017). "The Unlikely Strategy Behind Buffett's Investments in Encyclopedias". Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  7. "World Book Launches New Co-Edition Business under Funk & Wagnalls Brand". Business Wire. 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2014-07-08.
  8. Purtill, Corinne (May 5, 2018). "You can still buy the World Book encyclopedia, thanks to Warren Buffett". Quartz. Retrieved January 12, 2019.
  9. Kobasa, Paul A. (2008). "Encyclopedia". World Book Online Reference Center. Retrieved 2008-01-13.
  10. Stockwell, Foster (2001). A History of Information Storage and Retrieval. p. 137.
  11. "MACWORLD EXPO 2002 Press Announcement". Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  12. Out Of This World. Chicago: World Book. 2017. Retrieved December 7, 2017.

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