History of The World Almanac

Bill Clinton working in his White House office, with a copy of the World Almanac behind him
New York Times
Bill Clinton working in his White House office, with a copy of the World Almanac behind him.

THE WORLD ALMANAC AND BOOK OF FACTS is an American institution that millions of people have turned to for 137 years. Ever since the first edition was published in 1868, it has been improved, revised, expanded, and updated from year to year to keep up with our changing world. Accuracy, adaptability, tradition, and innovation are the qualities that make the award-winning WORLD ALMANAC the best-selling reference book available. It contains millions of easily accessible facts in compact form.

Here is a brief overview of the history of THE WORLD ALMANAC, along with a few interesting facts:

  • The first edition of THE WORLD ALMANAC was published by The New York World newspaper in 1868 (the name of the publication comes from the newspaper itself, which was known as "The World"). Published just three years after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, its 120 pages of information touched on such events as the process of Reconstruction and the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.
  • Publication was suspended in 1876, but in 1886 famed newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who had purchased The New York World and quickly transformed it into one of the most influential newspapers in the country, revived THE WORLD ALMANAC with the intention of making it "a compendium of universal knowledge." THE WORLD ALMANAC has been published annually ever since.
  • In 1894, when it claimed more than a half-million "habitual users," THE WORLD ALMANAC changed its name to THE WORLD ALMANAC AND ENCYCLOPEDIA. This was the title it kept until 1923, when it became THE WORLD ALMANAC AND BOOK OF FACTS, the name it bears today.
  • During World War II, THE WORLD ALMANAC could boast that it was read by GIs all over the world: between 1944 and 1946, at the request of the U.S. Government, THE WORLD ALMANAC had special print runs of 100,000 to 150,000 copies for distribution to the armed forces.
  • In 1961, a wire service photograph showed President Kennedy sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office and on his desk were 6 books: the only reference book was THE WORLD ALMANAC. Amazingly, almost 40 years later, a 1999 New York Times photo showed President Clinton in almost the exact same position, seated at his desk in the Oval Office. Clearly visible on the desk behind him are busts of Jefferson and Lincoln, pictures of his wife and daughter, a Bible, and a copy of THE WORLD ALMANAC. And they're not the only U.S. Presidents who have relied on THE WORLD ALMANAC: at Franklin Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park, NY, a reproduction of his White House desk includes a copy of THE WORLD ALMANAC 1945.
  • In 1923, Calvin Coolidge was sworn as president after Warren Harding's sudden death by his father, a Vermont Justice, who read the oath of office from a copy of THE WORLD ALMANAC
  • THE WORLD ALMANAC is the bestselling U.S. reference book of all time, with more than 80 million copies sold since it was first published in 1868.
  • Over the years THE WORLD ALMANAC has become a household name and has been featured in a number of Hollywood films. For example, Fred MacMurray talks about it with Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity; Bette Davis screams about it in All About Eve; Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper flirt about it in Love in the Afternoon; it is featured in Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street when a trial is held to see if Santa Claus really exists; and Rosie Perez continually reads it in the film White Men Can't Jump.
  • THE WORLD ALMANACalso makes frequent appearances on television. It was recently featured on Wheel of Fortune as a puzzle title to solve, and it is regularly cited as a source on Jeopardy — and as a source for contestants preparing for that shows.
  • THE WORLD ALMANAC has served readers since the 19th century, and yet it has always remained on the cutting edge of the latest technological advances. THE WORLD ALMANAC is available through numerous library on-line database providers and via subscription as the World Almanac Reference Database @ FACTS.com. THE WORLD ALMANAC is also available on CD-ROM and for handheld PDAs though Palm OS.
  • THE WORLD ALMANAC issues a free monthly e-newsletter featuring year-round updates of the most turned-to sections of the Almanac.
The World Almanac and Book of Facts