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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). The work's coverage of American and Canadian geography and history has been a traditional strength. 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 factboxes. Most articles are signed by their contributors.
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. The company did not produce an edition in 2007, a change from its previous approach of releasing a revised print edition each year. The most recent print edition of the Encyclopedia Americana was published in 2006.
The online version of the Encyclopedia Americana, first introduced in 1997, 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 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 and middle school students. Grolier Online is not available to individual subscribers.
"Francis Lieber (1800-1872), a German political exile, who came to Boston, Massachusetts in 1827, began publication of Encyclopedia Americana in 1829. 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. Lieber's work was based upon and was in no small part a translation of the 7th edition of the well established Konversations-Lexikon of Brockhaus […] The last three editions included a supplementary fourteenth volume.[…] Just before the beginning of the 20th century Richard S. Peale, publisher of various subscription sets […] entered into a cooperative arrangement with Munn and Company, of New York City, publisher of Scientific American, for the production of the Encyclopedia Americana, under their sponsorship. Some of the old material was carried over into the new encyclopedia. The short article method of Brockhaus was continued."
Thus in 1902 a new version in 16 volumes that carried over some of the old material was published, 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, with George Edwin Rines appointed managing editor in 1903. 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, with George Edwin Rines as editor-in-chief. An Annual or Yearbook was also published each year beginning in 1923 and continuing until 2000.
The encyclopedia was purchased by Grolier 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 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 through their Lexicon division added to sales volumes in the 1970s. By the late 1970s, Grolier had moved its operations to Danbury, Connecticut.
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 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. Today, Encyclopedia Americana lives on as an integral database within the Grolier Online product.
Editors in Chief
- 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 (Encyclopædia 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/Encyclopædia Britannica).
- K. Anne Ranson, 2005–2006. Editor (Academic American Encyclopedia, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia).
- Joseph M. Castagno, 2006–present. Editor (Grolier/Lands and Peoples, New Book of Popular Science).
- Noam Cohen (16 March 2008). "Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias". New York Times. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
- Encyclopedia Americana, 1963 Edition, vol. 10, p. 317a.
- Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Rines, George Edwin". Encyclopedia Americana.
- Collison, Robert (1964). Encyclopedias: Their History throughout the Ages. New York: Hafner.
- "French Plan to Sell Grolier," PublishersWeekly.com, 11/29/1999; "Scholastic to Acquire Grolier," press release, Scholastic Inc., 4/13/2000.
- "Scholastic Has Record Year and Begins Grolier Integration," PublishersWeekly.com, 7/24/00; "Scholastic Sales Surge Continues," PublishersWeekly.com, 1/01/01; "Robinson: Scholastic's Business Remains Strong," PublishersWeekly.com, 10/01/01; "Sales Dip, Earnings Rise at Scholastic," PublishersWeekly.com, 7/29/02; "Scholastic Cuts 400 from Global Workforce," PublishersWeekly.com, 6/02/03; "Scholastic Takes a Charge," PublishersWeekly.com, 7/19/04; "Scholastic Cuts 30 Spots in Library Unit," PublishersWeekly.com, 6/02/05; "Scholastic to Cut Costs as Profits Fall," PublishersWeekly.com, 12/16/05; "Weak Results Prompt Closings, Layoffs at Scholastic," PublishersWeekly.com, 3/23/06.
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- Text and images of the Encyclopaedia Americana 1851 at the University of Michigan's Making of America site.
- Encyclopedia Americana Description from Grolier online
- Complete hyperlinked editions of the 1904 and 1918-20 eds. at the Online Books Page
- The Americana, 1912 – via HathiTrust (fulltext)
- Encyclopedia Americana, 1918 – via HathiTrust (fulltext)