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Entries : Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Founded in Scotland in 1768, the original Encyclopaedia Britannica consisted of three volumes, the last of which appeared in 1771. In 1901, the operation was purchased by American investors, who moved the general offices to New York City. Chicago's connection with the publication began in 1920, when Britannica was purchased by Julius Rosenwald, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. chief. Rosenwald's backing allowed the encyclopedia to publish its 14th edition in 1929. Three years later, Elkan H. “Buck” Powell, a University of Chicago graduate and Sears employee, took charge of Britannica, and the general offices moved to Chicago. In 1943, the operation was purchased by William Benton, who was backed by the University of Chicago. After World War II, Britannica salespeople solicited orders by telephone and by selling door-to-door. By the beginning of the 1960s, having purchased Compton's Encyclopedia and dictionary publisher G. & C. Merriam (later Merriam-Webster), and having published, in 1962, the Great Books of the Western World, the enterprise had nearly 4,000 employees nationwide and was doing about $75 million in annual sales. By the 1980s, when it was controlled by the William Benton Foundation, Britannica employed about 1,000 people in the Chicago area. During the 1990s, the company concentrated on producing electronic references, but competition in this field was heavy, and sales dropped. In 1995, Britannica was purchased by an investment group led by Jacob E. Safra of Switzerland.