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The Encyclopædia Americana is one of the largest general encyclopedias in the English language. As the name suggests, it is produced in the United Statesmarker and is aimed mainly at the North American market; it is, however, also sold in Asia and elsewhere. The encyclopedia has more than 45,000 articles, most of them of the long-entry variety (500 words or more) and many running to considerable length (the "United States" article is over 300,000 words long). The work's coverage of American and Canadian geography and history has been a traditional strength, but its lead here has dwindled in recent years under the pressures of electronic publishing. Written by 6,500 contributors, the 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 factboxes. Most articles are signed by their contributors.

Currently, the encyclopedia is produced by Scholastic Library Publishingmarker, a division of Scholastic Inc. that grew out of the company's acquisition of Grolier Inc. in 2000. Long available as a 30-volume print set, the Americana is now marketed as an online encyclopedia requiring a subscription. In March 2008, Scholastic said that print sales remained good and that the company was still deciding on the future of print. The company did not produce an edition in 2007, a change from its previous approach of releasing a revised print edition each year.

The online version of the Encyclopaedia Americana, first introduced in 1997, continues to be nominally 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 options in the Grolier Online reference service, which also includes the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, intended for middle and high school students, and the New Book of Knowledge, an encyclopedia for elementary school students. Grolier Online also offers a Spanish language student encyclopedia and additional student references covering science, nations and peoples, animals, and the states of the United States and Mexico. Grolier Online is not available to individual subscribers.

Early history

This 1921 advertisement for the Encyclopedia Americana suggests that other encyclopedias are as out-of-date as the locomotives of 90 years earlier.
The Encyclopædia Americana. A popular dictionary of arts, sciences, literature, history, politics and biography, brought down to the present time; including a copious collection of original articles in American biography; on the basis of the 7th ed. of the German Conversations-Lexicon was founded by German-born Francis Lieber. After Dobson's Encyclopædia (1789-1798), it was the first significant American encyclopedia. Although based on Brockhaus' Conversations-Lexikon, it had significant added and rewritten material. Like that work, it was written in an accessible style and intended for general, rather than scholarly use.

The first edition comprised 13 volumes and was published between 1829 and 1833 by Carey, Lea & Carey of Philadelphia; in 1846, a supplementary fourteenth volume was issued. Later editions and reprints were published, to considerable acclaim, through 1858. In 1848, John Sutter used the set to verify the authenticity of the gold found in his millmarker, a discovery that would start the California Gold Rush.

A separate "Encyclopedia Americana," published by J.M. Stoddart, was printed between 1883 and 1889, as a supplement to American reprintings of the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Stoddart's work, however, is not connected to the earlier work by Lieber.

In 1902 a new version in 16 volumes that carried over some of the old material was published under the title Encyclopedia Americana, under the editorial supervision of Scientific American magazine. The magazine's editor, Frederick Converse Beach, was editor-in-chief, and was said to be assisted by hundreds of eminent scholars and authorities who served as consulting editors or authors. The first publisher was R.S. Peale & Co; between 1903 and 1906 further editions were issued by the Americana Corp. and the Scientific American Compiling Department. The relationship with Scientific American was terminated in 1911. From 1907 to 1912, the work was published as The Americana.

A major new edition appeared in 1918-20 in 30 volumes, under the editorship of George Edward Rines. An Annual or Yearbook was also published each year beginning in 1923 and continuing until 2000.

The encyclopedia was purchased by the Grolier Society, commercial publishing wing of the Grolier Club, in 1945. By the 1960s sales of the Americana and its sister publications under Grolier — The Book of Knowledge, the Book of Popular Science, and Lands and Peoples — were strong enough to support the company's occupancy of a large building (variously named the Americana Building and the Grolier Building) in Midtown Manhattanmarker, at 575 Lexington Avenuemarker. Sales during this period were accomplished primarily through mail-order and door-to-door operations. Telemarketing and third-party distribution through their Lexicon division added to sales volumes in the 1970s.

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. Following the acquisition, Grolier moved its operations to Danbury, Connecticutmarker.

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 standards current at the time. More importantly, the work had been digitized, allowing for 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 current events journal. A redesigned interface and partly reengineered 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. Staff reductions as a means of controlling costs 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 work force to carry out the duties of maintaining a large encyclopedia database. Scholastic, which specializes in works for the K-8 market, has sought to position the Americana as a reference resource for schools. It remains to be seen whether that strategy, applied to a venerable upper-level (even adult-level) publication, will work in the long run.

Editors in Chief

  • Francis Lieber, 1829-1833. German-American legal scholar; author of "A Code for the Government of Armies" (1863), a key document in the history of the humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war.
  • Frederick Converse Beach, 1902-1917. Engineer and editor of Scientific American magazine.
  • George Edwin Rines, 1917-1920. Author and editor.
  • A. H. McDannald, 1920-1948. Reporter (Baltimore News and Baltimore Evening Sun), editor, and author.
  • Lavinia P. Dudley, 1948-1964. Editor (Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopedia Americana) and manager; first woman to head a major American reference publication.
  • George A. Cornish, 1965-1970. Reporter (New York Herald Tribune) and editor.
  • Bernard S. Cayne, 1970-1980. Educational researcher (Educational Testing Service, Harvard Educational Review), editor (Ginn & Co., Collier's Encyclopedia, Macmillan) and business executive (Grolier Inc.).
  • Alan H. Smith, 1980-1985. Editor (Grolier/Encyclopedia Americana)
  • David T. Holland, 1985-1991. Editor (Harcourt Brace, Grolier/Encyclopedia Americana).
  • Mark Cummings, 1991-2000. Editor (Macmillan, Oxford University Press).
  • Michael Shally-Jensen, 2000-2005. Editor (Merriam-Webster/Encyclopaedia Britannica).
  • K. Anne Ranson, 2005-2006. Editor (Academic American Encyclopedia, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia).
  • Joseph P. Castagno, 2006-present. Editor (Grolier/Lands and Peoples, New Book of Popular Science).

See also


  1. "French Plan to Sell Grolier,", 11/29/1999; "Scholastic to Acquire Grolier," press release, Scholastic Inc., 4/13/2000.
  2. "Scholastic Has Record Year and Begins Grolier Integration,", 7/24/00; "Scholastic Sales Surge Continues,", 1/01/01; "Robinson: Scholastic's Business Remains Strong,", 10/01/01; "Sales Dip, Earnings Rise at Scholastic,", 7/29/02; "Scholastic Cuts 400 from Global Workforce,", 6/02/03; "Scholastic Takes a Charge,", 7/19/04; "Scholastic Cuts 30 Spots in Library Unit,", 6/02/05; "Scholastic to Cut Costs as Profits Fall,", 12/16/05; "Weak Results Prompt Closings, Layoffs at Scholastic,", 3/23/06.

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