It began when Sir Hugh Beaver missed a shot at a golden plover. He tried to relieve his embarrassment by claiming the golden plover was faster than the red grouse. His shooting partners didn’t agree so Sir Hugh sought to find the truth in a reference book. He didn’t find the information he needed, but he came up with an idea: create a book containing records.
Sir Hugh contacted Norris and Ross McWhirter to see if they could help him put together a book. The McWhirters had a fact-finding business. At first, the book they developed was a vanity project sponsored by Guinness Breweries where Sir Hugh was the managing director. Initially the book was called the Guinness Book of Superlatives.
A year later, the Guinness Book of Records became a publishing phenomenon. An edition was published each year. The book moved from records that were clearly identified to ones that bordered on strange feats. In addition to the book, a database of records was created. The books contained only a small number of the records in the database.
The ownership of the book and database has changed over the years, but the focus on validating records has remained. That has become more challenging. Some records are subjective and not included. Others have so few people who are interested in a category to make a claim of a world records is meaningless.
The book appears in over 100 countries in 23 different languages. The database contains 50,000 records. But the success of the book has become problematic with the availability of the internet. A new business model was needed. Those who wish to have a record fast-tracked must now pay a fee. Advisors will be provided for records to break. Validation will be expedited for a fee. Many of those looking to gain publicity for breaking a record are willing to pay the money, which can range from several thousand dollars to half a million dollars. Unfortunately, some of those willing to pay the money are bad actors.
What does the beginning of the Guinness Book of records say about society? We have an obsession for being the best even when that best may be silly. In contrast, there is no book honoring those who make the fullest use of their own talent or who support those in need. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had a book that celebrated personal fulfillment to society? While there are a few organizations that do recognize individuals for their contributions, their reach is but a fraction of the Guinness Book of Records.
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“It’s only jumping into a sandpit.” – Jonathan Edwards upon setting the world’s record for the triple jump.