But it’s a man called Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of the Guinness Brewery, who we should really show our gratitude to. In the early 1950s, he went on a shooting party in Ireland where he got into a heated debate over which was the fastest game bird in Europe. Was it the teal, the plover or the grouse? He soon realised that it was impossible, using a reference book, to confirm who was right – and that there must have been numerous similar arguments across the world that could never be settled on a daily basis. (These were the dark days when we didn’t all carry google around in our back pockets.) He had a brainwave: he would be the man to supply the answers in a definitive list of the world’s superlatives.
Beaver was introduced to twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter – who managed a fact-finding agency in London. The twins already had a wealth of trivia that could be used to settle many a pub debate, and Beaver was keen to bring these fascinating facts to the public. He decided to commission the very first (as it was initially called) The Guinness Book of Records.
The first edition, bound in the summer of 1955, went straight to the top of the British bestseller list by Christmas, and across the pond in America it sold 70,000 copies the following year. Guinness World Records™ is now a household name – and the title, somewhat ironically, has gone on to break records in its own right: a global phenomenon, it’s reached over 134 million sales in 100 countries around the world, has been translated into 37 languages, and is officially the world’s best-selling copyright book ever. Pretty impressive stuff for a book that stemmed from an argument. (For the record, the plover is officially the fastest!).
But let’s not move on from that first book where it all started just yet. Surely there must’ve been some fascinating records broken in the ‘50s? Although there was only one full-colour image in the book back then (of Mount Everest), the facts were just as intriguing: for example, The Smith’s Arms was dubbed “the smallest pub in the world”, measuring ten feet wide and four feet high (taking “cosy” to a whole new level!), and the first edition featured a giant gentleman called John R. Cobb, who was the holder of the “world land speed record”, set in 1947 at 403.135 miles per hour.
As the years have passed by, editions have even become more people-focused; ranging from the tallest living man (Sultan Kosen – 8 ft 3 inches) to the most pierced human (Rolf Buchholz – 453 piercings). But while the variety of records has grown and more and more obscure records are being broken, a few rules and restrictions have also come into place in the favour of fairness, ethics and health and safety. Eating and drinking records are only accepted as long as the food is not wasted afterwards, and there are a fair few entries the publication refuses to accept for ethical reasons, including anything that is associated with the killing or harming of animals. Confirming that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the Guinness World Records™ website also states that they do not accept any claims for attractiveness as “it is not objectively measureable”. Quite right, too.
Although there are a few rules in place now, there are still plenty of unbelievable records being set each year for you to gawp at in awe. Here are some of our favourites to emerge in recent years –
- Tallest Man Alive: 8ft 3in – Sultan Kosen, Turkey
- Shortest Adult in Recorded History: 1ft 10in – Chandra Bahadur Dangi, Nepal
- Oldest Person Ever: 122-years-old – Jeanne Louise Calment, France
- Highest Mountain: Mount Everest – Nepal
- Most Watermelons Smashed with the Head in One Minute: 43 – Ahmed Tafzi, Germany
- Most Throws and Catches while Juggling Three Chainsaws: 94 – Ian Stewart, Canada
- Largest Spider: 28cm – bird-eating spider, Venezuela
- Longest Ears on a Dog: 31.1cm – Harbor, USA
- Most People Eating Breakfast in Bed: 418 – China
- Most Selfies Taken in Record Time: 105 in 3 minutes – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
- Most Searched-for Pop Star on the Internet: Miley Cyrus
Today, Guinness World Records™ – now one of the most trusted and recognised brand names in the world – receives 50,000 applications from 174 countries each year. It’s no wonder, then, that it has been named one of the most frequently stolen library books in America! The book is a must-have on Christmas lists across the globe; in 2014 alone, it sold 2.7 million copies, with readers looking forward to discovering the 4,000 world records that lie within each annual.
Back in the 1950s, the aim of the book was to educate people about the fascinating world of record-breakers and to stimulate discussion. Despite now having offices in Tokyo and New York, international museum attractions and global headquarters in London, 60 years down the line, the book has the same intentions and spirit as the very first edition, and continues to create the same record-breaking magic – year after year.