William Benton, Chairman and Publisher, Encyclopaedia Britannica

William BentonParalleling this whole development of the computer, encyclopedists at Encyclopædia Britannica had thinking long and hard about the proper structure of a modern encyclopedia and how it might be conjoined with an appropriate human/machine interface adapted to the electronic age.

The 14th Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica had been published in 1929, when the company was owned by Sears Roebuck. That same year William Benton founded the Benton and Bowles advertising agency in New York City. The agency prospered with the growth of network radio and its own innovations in the development of national advertising. Among other things, Benton & Bowles is credited with inventing the radio soap opera, which it used as a vehicle to sell its clients’ products.

JFK and William Benton

President John F. Kennedy and William Benton in the Oval Office

Benton, later a vice president at The University of Chicago, used the proceeds from his sale of Benton & Bowles to acquire Britannica in 1943, after Sears failed at gifting the company to the University.

During World War II, Benton joined the war effort and is credited with being the founder of the Voice of America in 1945.  In 1949, he was appointed U.S. Senator to fill a vacancy  by his former advertising partner in Benton & Bowles, Connecticut Governor Chester Bowles.  He financed and oversaw the development of the 15th Edition until his death in 1973, the year before it was finally published.