Then and Now
Celebrate 100 years of The World Book Encyclopedia by taking a look at the world in 1917 compared to today.

A Fellow Named Pulitzer

Readers paging through volume 6 of the first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia, published in 1917, could learn a bit about an ambitious Hungarian immigrant by the name of Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer became one of the greatest American newspaper publishers in history. Yet today’s readers may wonder why there is no mention in the article of the famous annual prizes that bear his name.

In one woman’s lifetime

On Nov. 19, 1917—the same year the first edition of World Book was published—a girl who would play a major role in the history of India was born in the northern city of Allahabad. Although the child couldn’t know it, she was born at a time when her family and homeland were on the brink of a transformation.

The Roof of the World

Since the publication of the 1917 edition, however, many people have “accomplished the feat” of scaling Mount Everest. Here are just three milestones in the history of summiting the mountain, taken from the 2017 edition of World Book.

Women on the March in 1917

​March is Women’s History Month in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, where it coincides with International Women’s Day (March 8). As we celebrate this relatively recent annual observance of women's achievements and contributions to society, it is interesting to look back 100 years, when The World Book Encyclopedia was first published, to see how women in these countries and others fared back in 1917.

Guess Who: “English author, soldier and statesman”

In 1917, The World Book Encyclopedia found him important enough to merit a 2-paragraph biography. A picture caption identified him as an “English author, soldier and statesman.” The article’s lead sentence called him “one of the best-known of the modern group of English statesmen.” Can you guess who he was?


The 1917 World Book article describes football’s early history and development. Readers today may be surprised to learn that football in the 21st century remains largely unchanged from the sport World Book described 100 years ago.

Changing Map of Africa | Africa: 1917 and Now

When the first World Book was published in 1917, there were only two independent countries in Africa: Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and Liberia. Together, they made up less than 5 percent of the land area of the continent. The rest of Africa was divided into colonies controlled by the European nations of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

A pestilence that walketh in darkness

In 1917, World Book quoted this description of a mysterious disease that often led to death or paralysis. The illness mainly attacked children, so people called it infantile paralysis. Today, we know it as poliomyelitis, or polio.

Theodore Roosevelt: 1917 and Now

Imagine that you were a fifth-grader in 1917, and that you wanted to learn about former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. You go to your school’s brand new set of The World Book Encyclopedia, which was first published that year, for help. As you read the article about Roosevelt, you would have learned many facts about him. However, there are things that the encyclopedia editors could not have known and presented in his biography—because those things had not happened yet!

From “Moving Pictures” to IMAX and CGI

The “Moving pictures” article in the first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia, published in 1917, was just 8 ½ pages long. Readers looking for information on this “most revolutionary invention since the printing press” could find black-and-white illustrations of the latest “moving-picture camera” and “projecting machine.” Both patented that year, each machine was, as a caption points out, “the most modern device of the kind.” A century later, advances in motion-picture technology would no doubt be enough to make a 1917 moving-picture fan’s boater-hatted head spin.

Toys for Girls and Boys

​“If the little girl has no cups and saucers for her afternoon tea party, acorns and leaves can be made to take their places.” No, that’s not a quote from a recent back-to-nature seminar at some rustic, yet comfortable forest lodge. It’s from the article on “Toys” in the 1917 edition of World Book.

The Biggest Cities and How They Grew (or Didn’t)

Cities are the world’s most crowded places. Even in ancient times, there were many large cities in the world, though ancient cities had far fewer people than today’s cities. When the first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia was published in 1917, its “City” article ranked London as the world’s largest city.

From Soup to Strawberries: 1917 World Book Preserved Them All

When we take a can of soup off a store shelf, we don’t usually think about the temperature the soup needed to reach as it was canned to be sure it was safe to eat. In our 21st-century world, most of us think of food preservation as something done in a factory, using machines attended by workers in white coats.

Two Peach Baskets and a Soccer Ball

When the first edition of The World Book Encyclopedia was published in 1917, basketball was barely 25 years old. The 1917 article called the game “basket ball” and portrayed it as a form of self-improvement. “It is an excellent game not only for physical exercise but for mental training as well, as it calls for concentration, quickness of perception and thought and the ‘team work’ which is so valuable for all group play.”

A Day in the Life of a 1917 Baseball Fan

The “Baseball” article in the 2017 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia states, “Baseball is so popular in the United States that it is often called the national pastime.” The 1917 World Book was...

Halloween Then and Now

Are you excited that its Halloween? Halloween has been a popular and festive holiday in America since the beginning of the colonial period.