Quick notes:

  • The first Guinness of Book of World Records was created to settle a dispute among executives of Guinness Son Co. Ltd.
  • The dispute was the same kind of bar stool arguments that prevailed in pubs and bars across the world, such as: Who runs the fastest 100-meter hurdles in swim fins? Answer:  Christoph Irmscher at 14.82 seconds.
  •  Guinness executives sought to end these arguments forever by providing a reference book for all drinkers and non-drinkers alike.

On Aug. 26, 2019, nearly 900 dancers gathered in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, poised to break the world record for largest sustained folk dance.

For five minutes mariachi’s performed the quintessential Mexican song, “El Jarabe Tapatio.” And how did they know they achieved the world record? Because an official from the Guinness Book of World Records was on hand.

Since the first Guinness Book of Records (as it was previously called) was released in 1954, there has been an explosion of ridiculous feats dreamt up by both normal and crazy people. In the book, one can find out:

Who was the tallest man ever? Answer: Robert Wadlow at 8-feet-11-inches tall.

Who did the most pull-ups in a 24-hour period? Answer: John Orth did 7,600 on June 11, 2016.

But you’d be surprised to find out how it was created, and the funny reasons behind it.  Founded in 1759, Guinness dark Irish dry stout had been around for centuries. In all that time thousands, if not millions, of patrons in pubs across the world poured the black stuff down their throats, then argued over unsolved mysteries:

Who was the shortest human being ever? Answer: Chandra Bahadur Dangi at 22 inches tall.

How big is the world’s largest rubber band ball? Answer: 9,032 pounds by Joel Waul on Nov. 13, 2008.

Who has the largest collection of shoes in the world? Answer: Jordy Geller in May 2012 with 2,388 pairs of sports shoes

The tallest and shortest man in the world, Robert Wadlow and Chandra Bahadur Dangi
Left: Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images – The world’s tallest man, Robert Wadlow, in New York, on April Fools Day. 1937. Right: Photo by Peter Macdiarmid via Getty Images – The world’s shortest man, Chandra Bahadur Dangi, in London, England, on Nov. 13, 2014.

But these were just fleeting arguments, as there was no way to prove who was in the right. So for hundreds of years, the insane cycle continued: drink, argue, and drink some more. Brilliant!

That was until a bet changed all of that forever and finally gave closure (not to be confused with clarity) to drinkers worldwide.

The argument that started everything

Sir Hugh Beaver was a managing director at Arthur Guinness Son Co. Ltd in 1951. On Nov. 10 of that year, he went on a hunting trip from the Castlebridge House on the River Slaney in Wexford, Ireland.

Sir Beaver was hunting with other Guinness executives, and he was having a decidedly terrible day.

Despite firing his gun numerous times throughout the day, Beaver failed to hit a single golden plover. As the day went on, he became increasingly frustrated, as he was considered to be a really good shot.

His fellow Guinness men probably gave him a hard time about his performance, and it was then that Sir Beaver insisted that the golden plover was the fastest game bird in Europe, and that’s why he couldn’t hit one.

His Guinness mates disagreed and contended the red grouse was faster. While they were certain that Beaver was a terrible shot on that day, and that he was probably compensating for his embarrassment, they realized there was no way to settle the debate.

When they returned to Castlebridge House they descended on the library and poured through reference books looking for the answer. They simply couldn’t find which game bird was the fastest. 

It dawned on Sir Beaver that arguments like this took place in pubs across Ireland, and the world, all the time. The idea brewed in Sir Beaver’s head like fine Guinness stout, and four years later he decided to act.

To solve the problems of pub and bar arguments across the world, Beaver commissioned two twin brothers who were journalists with “encyclopedic memories.” 

Ross and Norris McWhirter were summoned to write constituents all over the world, essentially creating a reference book for every bar top in Ireland. For a country that is required by ancient law to have 24-hour pubs in each locale, it was sure to bring peace, like the feeling of zen when watching poured Guinness settle.

For nearly four months, the McWhirter brothers worked 90 hours a week to create the first edition of Guinness Book of Records, and it was ready in Aug. 1954. 

Sir Hugh Beaver and Norris and Ross McWhirter
Left: Photo by Edward Miller/Keystone/Hulton Archive via Getty Images – Sir Beaver arriving in Whitehall, London, Aug. 26, 1957, and certainly looking better holding a briefcase than a hunting rifle. Right: Norris McWhirter (left) on and brother Ross (right) in Sydney, Australia on Nov. 26, 1974, holding up one of the smallest bottles of beer in the world.

The craziest world records imaginable

Four thousand records were published in the first book, and patrons finally had answers to such questions as:

Which cow yielded the most milk? Answer: Manningford Faith Jan Graceful, British cow that produced 325,130 pounds of milk in 17 years.

What was the world’s smallest pub? “The Smith’s Arms,” coming in at 10 feet wide and ahem… 4 feet high.

These arguments were finally settled, and friendships all over Ireland were met with harmony.

Despite receiving some erroneous information, such as a fly in Africa that could reach 820 miles per hour, the following year the book was ready for Christmas and topped the United Kingdom’s 1955 bestseller list.

It took the United States by storm in 1956, and soon became the most successful copyrighted book in history.

The McWhirter brothers even appeared on a BBC show called Record Breakers from 1972-1975. Norris later continued alone when Ross was assassinated by the IRA in 1975 (true story).

As for Sir Beaver, he stayed with Guinness until his retirement in 1960 and must’ve been very satisfied with the fact that his misfortune while hunting created a book that has sold over 100-million copies.

He must’ve also tasted sweet satisfaction when he learned that the golden plover is indeed the fastest game bird in Europe.

Today, Guinness’ brand is still widely popular and the leading authority on world records, as they investigate 65,000 world record claims every year.

However, when drunken arguments arise in bars today, such as “the largest gathering of people dressed as Superman,” (867 people on July 27, 2013, in Cumbria, United Kingdom) people just google it.

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