Over Eight Decades of Infoplease
Infoplease.com has a long and remarkable history, from its origins as a radio program to its current status as a comprehensive and engaging encyclopedia website for desktop, mobile, and tablet users — which means that you can even quiz yourself on arts and culture or explore world geography on the go! Read on to discover the fascinating backstory of Infoplease and discover how far we have progressed, as authors and audiences.
Wake up, America! It's time to stump the experts!
On May 17, 1938, the NBC Blue Network presented the "Information, Please!" radio quiz show for the first time. The show aired from 1938 to 1952 and was the most literate, long-running radio show of its day. The show turned traditional quiz programs on their heads by allowing the public to ask questions of a panel of experts, who would then provide the answers, or at least a reply that was entertaining if not plausible.
Listeners from across the country wrote in their questions on topics ranging from performing arts to natural history. Though the contributors were supposed to provide correct answers along with their questions, many did not, and the quiz show quickly evolved into a forum for curious people to find answers to difficult and often obscure questions.
Information, Please! was one of the most popular shows in the Golden Age of radio. The show elevated intelligence and wit as cultural values and allowed everyday Americans to show their smarts. In its heyday the show was a cultural icon — it attracted famous guests, was the subject of editorial cartoons, and led to several books and quiz book card games designed for listeners to play the show at home. A set of Information Please film shorts was shown in the early 1940s, and Information Please even had a brief run as a television show in the summer of 1952.
The most successful spinoff from the radio show was the "Information Please Almanac". The show's creator saw a need for a reference book with the answers and information presented on the show, and so he published the first volume in 1947. It became an annual publication, outliving the original program.
The Host & Panelists
Clifton Fadiman was the perfect host. Book review editor of The New Yorker, he was widely read and widely respected. He was warm and witty, able to draw out the best in his guests, and able to sustain the show’s tone of civilized intelligence.
Information, Please! had three regular panelists, who among them were able to answer a great many questions across the spectrum from sports to literature to politics and history.
Franklin P. Adams, known as FPA, wrote for the New York Post and was the most popular columnist of his time. Among his famous quotes is one well-suited to Information Please: "I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way."
John Kieran was a noted sports columnist for the New York Times, inducted into the Sportswriters Hall of Fame in the 1970s. His breadth of knowledge extended well beyond the field of play, however. He was also an avid birdwatcher, with encyclopedic knowledge about ornithology (and many other natural history subjects).
Oscar Levant was a Renaissance man of the arts — a composer, a gifted pianist, and an actor. He performed with leading American composers like George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. On the show he contributed a particular wit and humor; "What the world needs is more geniuses with humility — there are so few of us left."
In addition to the regular panelists, Information, Please! had as "guest experts" many of the leading writers, comedians, actors, directors, athletes, historians, and politicians of the day. These included:
The original sponsor of Information, Please! was Canada Dry. Over the years the show was also sponsored by Lucky Strike, Heinz, Mobil, and Parker Pens. The relationship with Canada Dry was a happy one. The ginger ale maker even funded an "Information, Please! Party Quiz Book" as a premium. However, the battles between the show’s creator and guardian, Dan Golenpaul, and sponsor Lucky Strike, were the stuff of broadcasting legend, as described in the PBS documentary "The American Experience: The Rise of TV Quiz Shows":
"Information Please was ...noteworthy not only for its success but for its integrity. At the time, radio programs made their way on air in two ways. They were underwritten by big-name sponsors, who were expected to be involved with the show, or they were funded by individual producers, making them self-sufficient. Dan Golenpaul, the producer for "Information, Please," earned kudos when he fired the Reynolds Tobacco Company, which had run a series of untruthful commercials and also demanded that panelists on the show smoke its cigarettes."
Information Please expanded immensely after the end of the program's run. In addition to the original Information Please Almanac, Information Please published an annual almanac geared for kids (the predecessor to Fact Monster). With the 1998 launch of Infoplease.com, free on-line accessibility to these reference works, as well as a leading dictionary and encyclopedia, became available, providing up-to-date information on a broad range of topics. The almanac was published annually from 1947 through the late 2000s with a variety of publishers, including Viking, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill. After 1997, Information Please partnered with TIME in publishing the almanac as The TIME Almanac with Information Please. In 2000, we partnered with TIME in publishing The TIME for Kids Almanac with Information Please. This book became an instant success by providing thousands of fascinating facts in a fun, kids-oriented design. Over the years, a variety of other Information Please almanacs have been published, including:
- "The Information Please Business Almanac and Desk Reference".
- "The Information Please Environmental Almanac".
- "The ESPN Sports Almanac with Information Please".
- "The Information Please Baseball Almanac".
- "The A&E Entertainment Almanac with Information Please".
- "The Information Please Women’s Almanac and Sourcebook".
- "The Information Please Kids’ Almanac".
- "The Information Please Almanac for Girls".
The almanacs were successful, especially in schools. This success dwindled as the internet became more and more important as a way for people to find information. Around the time they ceased publication, even the widely read and regarded Encyclopædia Britannica became electronic-only. While the print almanacs were in production, they provided the bulk of editorial content on the website. Almanacs, as opposed to encyclopedias, are yearly publications that detail events and data of that year. Subject-specific almanacs (like the kinds listed above) are more likely to offer analysis and argument than an encyclopedia, which instead offers a broad factual overview. Almanacs are some of the oldest and most important publications in the United States, dating back to the early colonies, where they would contain farming advice, weather predictions, as well as some editorial content and valuable data.
Infoplease was first launched on the Web in 1998, and users have flocked to the site ever since to find answers to their questions. Each month, millions of visitors come to Infoplease for answers to their questions. In 2000 we launched Fact Monster, which is intended for grade schoolers (though even adults might find it has useful information). Fact Monster was awarded "Best Kids Site 2001" by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences at the 5th Annual Webby Awards. The internet has grown and changed a lot since 1998, though. We’ve grown and changed with it, going through multiple iterations of our site. But we want to do even better. That’s why we’re currently making some big changes to improve our functionality and to make your user experience even better.
Improvements to the Website
The purpose of Infoplease.com is to provide users with fast, easy access to a vast array of authoritative and up-to-date information. We are continuing to improve the site in many ways:
- Faster pages: We’re constantly making improvements to reduce our page load time so that you spend less time waiting and more time learning.
- Better organization: Over the past couple decades we’ve built up quite a list of content pages, and a lot of those have gotten lost in the shuffle of updating our site and editorial policies. That’s why we’re going through and reorganizing our site to make it easier than ever to find what you want to know.
- Better experience on mobile: If there’s been one big change since we were founded, it’s been the advent of cell phones. More and more people are coming to us from their phones rather than their computers, so we want to accommodate. We’re working to improve our site presentation and load times for mobile users.
We hope you find these improvements useful, and as always, we welcome your feedback.
—The Infoplease Staff
Pbs.org. The Rise of TV Quiz Shows. 2023.
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