Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography

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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography (1900, volume 5)

Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography is a biographical reference work with articles on important personalities of the New World in 6 volumes. They were published by Daniel Appleton between 1887 and 1889 . Her articles, published without an author's name, were considered authoritative for several decades. The encyclopedia later became notorious for dozens of biographies of people who never existed.


The Cyclopædia records the names of more than 20,000 citizens of the United States , including people living at the time. In addition, it includes several thousand people from all other North and South American countries. The aim was to include all important people in the New World. The work also contained the names of over 1,000 people from around the world who were closely connected to American history. Illustrated the Cyclopaedia with 60 full-page portraits and about 1500 smaller vignettes portraiture using, and some facsimile - autographs and several hundred views of places of birth, places of residence, monuments and grave times .

None of the articles is signed, which makes it very difficult to derive the articles, and for some articles no author information is available.

Made up biographies

Appletons' Cyclopædia became notorious for about 200 biographies of fictional people. These bogus entries were first discovered in 1919 by John Hendley Barnhart Barnhart identified 14 biographies of botanists who should have come to America from Europe, which he commented on and republished. In 1939, 47 invented biographies had already been discovered, although only the lemmas of H and V had been systematically processed. The nature of the inventions was illustrated by Margaret Castle Schindler (Goucher College) in 1937. According to their research they had

“The writers (or writers) of these articles must have had some scientific training, for most of the creations were scientists, and sufficient linguistic knowledge to have invented or adapted titles in six languages. He was certainly familiar with the history and geography of South America. Most of the places visited by his characters are real places, and most of the historical events in which they participated are genuine. However, he sometimes made mistakes by which his fraudulent work can be detected. "

“The authors of these articles had both some science training, because most of the articles were about scientists, and sufficient linguistic skills to invent or adapt titles in six different languages. The author was thoroughly familiar with the history and geography of South America. Most of the places the “sock puppets” visited are real places, and most of the historical events they attended were also occupied. However, the author sometimes made mistakes, which is how you can recognize his forgeries. "

George Zorn identified the author of the “phantom Jesuit articles” as William Christian Tenner and discovered 42 invented entries. Dobson considers Hermann Ritter to be the source of the forgeries, who wrote articles on South and Central Americans from Volume 3 onwards. Dobson argues that the first two volumes in which Juan G. Puron wrote these articles are almost devoid of "problem articles", even if he considers the article on "Dávila, Nepomuceno" to be suspicious but not made up out of the shadows classified of a doubt.

Authors of the Appletons' Cyclopædia were allowed to propose new articles and were paid according to their length. The editors only checked the articles for formal criteria. Appletons' Cyclopædia is still considered a "valuable and authoritative work", however the articles on Latin American persons must be viewed with reservation and only used after checking other sources.


Appletons' Cyclopædia is based on an older work by Francis Samuel Drake (1828-1885), the so-called Dictionary of American Biography . (Not to be confused with the Dictionary of American Biography of the same name, but later ). This work was originally published in 1872. The second edition went with the corrections and many additional materials in the Cyclopædia . The original comprised 10,000 biographies.


The first edition of Cyclopædia was published by D. Appleton and Company in New York from 1887 to 1889 . James Grant Wilson and John Fiske were the editors ; the editor was Rossiter Johnson (1840-1931) from 1886 to 1888. A seventh volume with appendix and supplementary lists, as well as a thematic index, was added in 1901.

The Cyclopædia was reissued uncorrected in 1968 by the Gale Research Company .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography . Volume 1. Preface
  2. ^ For example, for the biography of President Grover Cleveland . Our Men of Note In: The New York Times , April 3, 1887, p. 4
  3. ^ Museum of Hoaxes
  4. Barnhart: Some fictitious botanists. In: Journal of the New York Botanical Garden. 20, 1919, pp. 171-181. This discovery was amusing and important enough to be mentioned in his obituary: Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 7 (November 19, 1950: 35-61) p. 52.
  5. Editorial note by “GS” in Dobell (1939). The 47 are listed in Schindler (1937) which is cited on p. 272 of the note by “GS” Dr. Uplavici was another fictitious person similar to the Cyclopædia’s fictitious entries. Dobell's article revealed the spectral "Dr. O. Uplavici ”to have his origin in non-Czech-literate writers' mistaking an article on amoebic dysentery by Dr. Jaroslav Hlava, which was titled “O úplavici” (“On dysentery”).
  6. Schindler: Fictitious biography . In: American Historical Review , 42, 1937, pp. 680-690, JSTOR 1839450
  7. Schindler: Fictitious biography . In: American Historical Review , 42, 1937, p. 683, JSTOR 1839450
  8. George Zorn: Woodstock Letters Index: Volumes 1-80 (1872-1951) . Woodstock College Press, Woodstock MD 1960 ( [PDF; accessed October 13, 2011]). ( Memento of the original from July 29, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Search terms: “Appleton's” or “phantom Jesuit”.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. Schindler: Fictitious biography . In: American Historical Review , 42, 1937, p. 687, JSTOR 1839450 .
  10. Schindler: Fictitious biography . In: American Historical Review , 42, 1937, p. 689, JSTOR 1839450 .
  11. Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography . 1900.
  12. Drake, Francis Samuel . In: The New International Encyclopædia . 1905.
  13. Editors note of "GS" (i e.. George Sarton ) in Clifford Dobell: Dr O. Uplavici (1887-1938) . In: Isis , 30, May 2, 1939, pp. 268-272, JSTOR 226292 .
  14. ^ Johnson, Rossiter . In: The New International Encyclopædia . 1905.
  15. Appleton's cyclopaedia of American biography . Edition 1968.