On 10 November 1951, Sir
Hugh Beaver, then the managing director of the
 went on a shooting party in the
North Slob, by the
River Slaney in
County Wexford, Ireland. After missing a shot at a
golden plover, he became involved in an argument over which was the fastest
game bird in Europe, the
golden plover or the
red grouse. (It is the plover.
) That evening at
Castlebridge House, he realised that it was impossible to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe's fastest game bird.
 Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in pubs throughout Ireland and abroad, but there was no book in the world with which to settle arguments about records. He realised then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove successful.
Beaver's idea became reality when Guinness employee
Christopher Chataway recommended University friends
Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London. The twin brothers were commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. A thousand copies were printed and given away.
After the founding of The Guinness Book of Records at 107
Fleet Street, the first 198-page edition was bound on 27 August 1955 and went to the top of the British best seller lists by Christmas. The following year, it launched in the US, and sold 70,000 copies. Since then, Guinness World Records has become a household name and the global leader in world records. The book has gone on to become a record breaker in its own right; with sales of more than 100 million copies in 100 different countries and 37 languages, Guinness World Records is the world's best selling copyright book ever.
Because the book became a surprise hit, many further editions were printed, eventually settling into a pattern of one revision a year, published in September/October, in time for Christmas. The McWhirters continued to compile it for many years. Both brothers had an encyclopedic memory; on the TV series
Record Breakers, based upon the book, they would take questions posed by children in the audience on various world records and were able to give the correct answer.
Ross McWhirter was assassinated by the
Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1975.
 Following Ross' assassination, the feature in the show where questions about records posed by children were answered was called Norris on the Spot.
Guinness Superlatives (later Guinness World Records) Limited was formed in 1954 to publish the first book.
Sterling Publishing owned the rights to the Guinness book in the US for decades, and, under their management, the book became a household name. The group was owned by Guinness PLC and subsequently
Diageo until 2001, when it was purchased by
Gullane Entertainment. Gullane was itself purchased by
HIT Entertainment in 2002. In 2006,
Apax Partners purchased HiT and subsequently sold Guinness World Records in early 2008 to the
Jim Pattison Group, the parent company of
Ripley Entertainment, which is licensed to operate
Guinness World Records' Attractions. With offices in New York City and Tokyo, Guinness World Records' global headquarters remain in London, while its museum attractions are based at Ripley headquarters in
Orlando, Florida, US.