Anyone who ever said that you can’t out-hit Babe Ruth, outscore Gordy Howe, or even eat more hot dogs than Takeru Kobayashi has been proven wrong. And the editors of “Guinness World Records” who call a select few records “unbreakable” may be proven wrong one day, too. All we need is a 9-foot man or a 26-year-old woman who weighs less than 4.7 pounds.
“You can never be absolute,” said Guinness editor in chief Craig Glenday. “But a few records are so extraordinary or have stood for so long. It’s generally quite self-evident.”
Guinness is now looking back on its earliest days as the world’s record keeper. The company has re-issued a limited-edition replica of the first “Guinness World Records,” a modest hardcover that would evolve into one of the best-selling books in history.
Why did one of the world’s top brewers turn to publishing? Simply because men who drink in pubs are no different today than they were 55 years ago. They argue over arcane facts.
“This book was, and still is, the ultimate argument ender,” Glenday said. “The early editions had a plastic cover, to protect the pages from beer spills.”
The $42 reproduction, sold exclusively on the Guinness Web site, has a limited production run of 5,000 copies — and it bears some striking differences to today’s glossy efforts.
You’ll find records for bullfighting, excessive drinking and other activities Guinness simply won’t track today.
In the 1955 edition, Dionsio Sanchez of Spain is cited for consuming 24 pints of beer in 52 minutes and 40 pints of wine in 59 minutes.
“We’re not going to encourage that sort of thing today,” Glenday said. “That’s how people get hurt.”
“We once published records on the world’s heaviest dog, but you don’t want to see a pet owner abusing an animal just for a spot in the book.”
Nevertheless, some records remain intact, even 55 years after the first edition. These “unbreakables,” as Guinness calls them, may one day be shattered.
“If they are, I won’t be disappointed,” Glenday said. “I’ll be astounded. Like everyone else.”
1. Tallest Man: If 8-foot-11 Robert Wadlow were around today, he’d stand 10 inches taller than Sultan Kosën, the tallest living man.
“Like a lot of giants, Kosën had a pituitary problem,” said Marc Hartzman, author of “American Sideshow” (Tarcher/Penguin). “Modern medicine allows those sorts of problems to be taken care of. When Sultan’s tumor was removed, his growth stopped.”
In 1940, when Wadlow died, he was 22 years old, and he was still growing.
“If he didn’t suddenly die,” Hartzman said, “he’d have hit 9 feet.”
2. Lightest Woman: Lucia Zarate, the 21.5-inch Mexican “Lilliputian,” was a 19th-century sideshow star. She died in 1889 at at age 26 of pneumonia, after her circus train got stranded in the snow. While Zarate weighed as much as 13 pounds and one ounce at one point, she tipped the scales for the last time at 4.7 pounds – less than the average newborn.
3. Loudest Sound: The volcanic eruptions on the island of Krakatoa on Aug. 26, 1883, killed more than 36,000 people. The final explosion sent shock waves that reverberated seven times around the globe and were heard 2,200 miles away in Perth, Australia.
4. Most Prolific Murderess: Aileen Wuornos got a lot of press for her bloody deeds, but Countess Elizabeth Bathory allegedly killed more than 600 people, mostly young women.
As the legend goes, the creepy Hungarian noblewoman bathed in the blood of girls to stay young. That part of the story is questionable, but she was convicted on 80 counts of murder, and was probably guilty of many more. She was locked away at Csejte Castle, where she died in 1614.
5. Largest Diamond: The 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond had no equal. In 1905, it was found in Gauteng, South Africa, and presented to Britain’s King Edward VII on his birthday. It was eventually cut into 105 pieces, including the 530.2-carat Cullinan I (or “The Great Star of Africa”) and the 317.4-carat Cullinan II ( “The Lesser Star of Africa”). Both are now part of the British crown jewels.
6. Greatest Wingspan: The Hughes H-4 Hercules, better known as “The Spruce Goose,” weighs more than 400,000 pounds and took to the air just once, in 1947, traveling about a mile, and just 70 feet off the ground. Eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes built this monstrosity with the aim of transporting soldiers. No aircraft has since come close to its 319-foot wingspan, which is longer than a football field.
7. Biggest Pandemic: Let’s file this under records we hope never get broken. From 1347 to 1351, bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, claimed 75 million people.
8. Longest Pole-Sitting: Pole-sitting is generally considered a college stunt, but it also figures in what Guinness considers its oldest record. It’s held by St. Simeon the Stylite, who spent 37 years atop a pillar at Syria’s Hill of Wonders. Crowds gathered to listen to the monk preach until his death in 459. While this seems like something David Blaine would try, in the last 1,550 years this feat remains unchallenged.
9. Youngest Doctorate: In 1814, 12-year-old Karl Witte of Austria became a doctor of philosophy at the University of Giessen in Germany. He spoke five languages.
Ashrita Furman — the man who holds the record for holding the most world records — isn’t so sure any Guinness mark is untouchable.
“Certainly, any record that involves physical achievement can be broken,” he said. “And there will be people to try.”
Since 1979, Furman has stilt-walked, hula-hooped, and pogo-sticked his way to glory, setting 245 records (including the record for most records).
“When I broke the stilt record [8 kilometers in 39 minutes], I broke a record that stood for 113 years,” Furman said. “If I hadn’t had trained two years, would that record be called untouchable, too?”
Still, there are marks that Furman doesn’t see getting broken anytime soon. In 1900, Johann Hurlinger of Austria walked 870 miles, from Paris to Vienna, in 55 days — on his hands.
“I’ve thought about this record a lot,” Furman said. “And let’s just say, I’m still thinking about it. Maybe one day. Why not?”