Encyclopedia Americana

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Encyclopedia Americana
Author Francis Lieber (1800–1872)
Published1829–33 [1]
Media type1

Encyclopedia Americana is a general encyclopedia [1] written in American English. It was the first general encyclopedia of any magnitude to be published in North America. [2] :31 With Collier's Encyclopedia and Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana became one of the three major and large English-language general encyclopedias; the three were sometimes collectively called "the ABCs of encyclopedias". [2] :23 Following the acquisition of Grolier in 2000, the encyclopedia has been produced by Scholastic.


The encyclopedia has more than 45,000 articles, most of them more than 500 words and many running to considerable length (the "United States" article is over 300,000 words). Americana is international in scope and is known for its detailed coverage of American and Canadian geography and history. [1] Americana is also known for its strong coverage of biographies, as well as scientific and technical subjects. [1] Written by 6,500 contributors, the Encyclopedia Americana includes over 9,000 bibliographies, 150,000 cross-references, 1,000+ tables, 1,200 maps, and almost 4,500 black-and-white line art and color images. It also has 680 fact boxes. Major articles are signed by their contributors, many being scholars pre-eminent in their field. [1]

Long available as a 30-volume print set, the Encyclopedia Americana is now marketed as an online encyclopedia requiring a subscription. In March 2008, Scholastic said that print sales remained good but that the company was still deciding on the future of the print edition. [3] The company's final print edition was released in 2006. [1]

The online version of the Encyclopedia Americana, first introduced in 1996, [1] continues to be updated and sold. This work, like the print set from which it is derived, is designed for high school and first-year college students along with public library users. It is available to libraries as one of the databases in the Scholastic GO! reference service (previously known as Grolier Online), which also includes the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia , an encyclopedia for middle and high school students, The New Book of Knowledge , an encyclopedia for ages 7-14 and particularly grades 3-6, America the Beautiful, Lands and Peoples, Amazing Animals of the World, and The New Book of Popular Science. [4] [2] :31 According to The New York Public Library, [5] Scholastic GO! also includes the La Nueva Enciclopedia Cumbre, a Spanish-language general encyclopedia for students in middle through high school. [6] However, the previously mentioned Scholastic blog does not show that. [4] It is possible that La Nueva Enciclopedia Cumbre is only included in the Spanish version of Scholastic GO!, though the existense of that in itself is unsure due to the same New York Public Library link saying that the language of Scholastic GO! is English. [5] Scholastic GO! is not available to individual subscribers.

History and predecessors

This 1921 advertisement for the Encyclopedia Americana suggests that other encyclopedias are as out-of-date as the locomotives of 90 years earlier. 1921EncycAmericanAd.jpg
This 1921 advertisement for the Encyclopedia Americana suggests that other encyclopedias are as out-of-date as the locomotives of 90 years earlier.

There have been three separate works using the title Encyclopedia Americana.

The first work began publication in 1829 by Francis Lieber, an influential 19th century German-American scholar. [2] :31 The 13 volumes of the first edition were completed in 1833, and other editions and printings followed in 1835, 1836, 1847–1848, 1849 and 1858. According to one contemporary source, the original price in 1832, at which time several volumes had been issued, was to be $2.50 per volume for 12 volumes, or $30 in total. [7] [8] At first, Lieber planned only an English-language translation of the 7th edition of the popular German encyclopedia Konversations-Lexikon, familiarly known as Brockhaus after its publisher Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. However, as work on the new encyclopedia progressed, Lieber sought and added original articles by leading U.S. writers and intellectuals of the day. United States Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, for instance, contributed more than 120 pages of legal material to the 1st edition. Hence, when the Americana began appearing some 165 years ago, it represented a hybrid of 2 cultures, German and American. [2] :31

A second Encyclopedia Americana was published by J.M. Stoddart between 1883 and 1889, as a supplement to American reprintings of the 9th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica . It was four quarto volumes meant to "extend and complete the articles in Britannica". [9] Stoddart's work, however, is not connected to the earlier work by Lieber. [10]

In 1902, a new, 16-volume Encyclopedia Americana was published under the editorial supervision of Scientific American magazine. The magazine's editor, Frederick Converse Beach, was editor-in-chief, assisted by hundreds of eminent scholars and authorities as consulting editors and article authors. Beach also expanded the encyclopedia's coverage, especially in the area of the physical and life sciences. [2] :31 George Edwin Rines was appointed managing editor in 1903. [11] Between 1903 and 1906 the publisher was R.S. Peale & Co. From 1906 through 1936, Encyclopedia Americana was published by the Americana Corporation, with the editorial support of Scientific American. The relationship with Scientific American was terminated in 1911. [12] From 1907 to 1912, the encyclopedia was published as The Americana.

In 1918–20, the Americana Corporation published a new, International, 30-volume edition, with George Edwin Rines continuing as editor-in-chief. [11] [2] :31 It was the last entirely new edition of the encyclopedia. [2] :31 A yearbook, which appeared under a variety of titles, was also published each year beginning in 1923 and continuing until 2008. [1]

In 1936, the Americana Corporation was purchased by The Grolier Society, later renamed Grolier Incorporated. The Americana Corporation's president, J. Cooper Graham, became a vice president of Grolier. [13] By the late1960s, Grolier's annual sales of EncyclopediaAmericana and its sister publications under Grolier The Book of Knowledge , the American Peoples Encyclopedia , the Book of Popular Science, and Lands and Peoples were over $181 million, [14] and the company held a 30 percent market share as the leading publisher of encyclopedias in the United States. [15] Grolier's corporate headquarters were in a large building (variously named the Americana Building and the Grolier Building) in Midtown Manhattan, at 575 Lexington Avenue. Sales during this period were accomplished primarily through mail-order and door-to-door operations. Telemarketing and third-party distribution of Encyclopedia Americana through Grolier's Lexicon Publications subsidiary added to sales volumes in the 1970s. By the late 1970s, Grolier had moved its operations to Danbury, Connecticut.

Later developments

In 1988, Grolier was purchased by the French media company Hachette, which owned a well-known French-language encyclopedia, the Hachette Encyclopedia. Hachette was later absorbed by the French conglomerate the Lagardère Group.

A CD-ROM version of the encyclopedia was published in 1995. Although the text and images were stored on separate disks, it was in keeping with the standards current at the time. More importantly, the work had been digitized, allowing for the release of an online version in 1997. Over the next few years, the product was augmented with additional features, functions, supplementary references, Internet links, and a current events journal. A redesigned interface and partly re-engineered product, featuring enhanced search capabilities and a first-ever ADA-compliant, text-only version for users with disabilities, was presented in 2002.

The acquisition of Grolier by Scholastic for US$400 million, took place in 2000. The new owners projected a 30% increase in operating income, although historically Grolier had experienced earnings of 7% to 8% on income. [16] Following the acquisition, Americana became part of a suite of educational resources, with those resources including The New Book of Knowledge, The New Book of Popular Science, America the Beautiful, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Amazing Animals of the World, and Lands and People. [4] All of those resources formed Grolier Online (now called Scholastic GO!). According to The New York Public Library, [5] Scholastic GO! also includes the La Nueva Enciclopedia Cumbre, a Spanish-language general encyclopedia for students in middle through high school. [6] However, the previously mentioned Scholastic blog does not show that. [4] It is possible that La Nueva Enciclopedia Cumbre is only included in the Spanish version of Scholastic GO!, though the existense of that in itself is unsure due to the same New York Public Library link saying that the language of Scholastic GO! is English. [5] Staff reductions as a means of controlling costs also followed soon thereafter, even while an effort was made to augment the sales force. Cuts occurred every year between 2000 and 2007, leaving a much-depleted workforce to carry out the duties of maintaining a large encyclopedia database. [17]

In 2004, Scholastic stated that Americana's 2,500 online articles are being revised annually. [1] Today, Americana lives on as an integral database within the Scholastic GO! product. [18]


Critical Review

See also

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