The History of The Chicago Manual of Style

The history of The Chicago Manual of Style spans more than one hundred years, beginning in 1891 when the University of Chicago Press first opened its doors. At that time, the Press had its own composing room with experienced typesetters who were required to set complex scientific material as well as work in such then-exotic fonts as Hebrew and Ethiopic. Professors brought their handwritten manuscripts directly to the compositors, who did their best to decipher them. The compositors then passed the proofs to the “brainery”—the proofreaders who corrected typographical errors and edited for stylistic inconsistencies. To bring a common set of rules to the process, the staff of the composing room drew up a style sheet, which was then passed on to the rest of the university community. Even at such an early stage, “the University Press style book and style sheet” was considered important enough to be preserved, along with other items from the Press’s early years, in the cornerstone of the new Press building in 1903.

That sheet grew into a pamphlet, and by 1906 the pamphlet had become a book: Manual of Style: Being a compilation of the typographical rules in force at the University of Chicago Press, to which are appended specimens of type in use—otherwise known as the 1st edition of the Manual. (See a facsimile of the 1st edition in PDF format.) At 200 pages, the original Manual cost 50 cents, plus 6 cents for postage and handling. Now in its 16th edition, The Chicago Manual of Style—with more than a thousand pages in print or more than two thousand hyperlinked paragraphs online—has become the authoritative reference work for authors, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers. This hundred-plus-year evolution has taken place under the ongoing stewardship of Chicago’s renowned editorial staff, aided by suggestions and requests from the Manual’s many readers.

One of the most significant revisions was begun in the 1960s, led by the editorial team of Catharine Seybold (1915–2008) and Bruce Young (1917–2004), who rearranged, expanded, and updated the nearly twenty-year-old 11th edition (1949) and in doing so solidified the Manual’s position as the industry leader on style matters. This 12th edition (1969) had a first printing of 20,000 copies, which sold out before the publication date even arrived, and went on to achieve total sales of more than 150,000 copies—equaling the sales for the first eleven editions combined.

With the publication of the 13th edition in 1982, A Manual of Style became The Chicago Manual of Style, a change that reflected the title most often used by the book’s audience. The 13th edition incorporated the new United States copyright regulations that became law in 1978, and the production and printing sections of the Manual were revised to discuss the phototypesetting technology that had begun to displace lead type as well as the old Linotype and Monotype metal-casting machines—technologies that dated from the end of the nineteenth century. Nearly 200 pages longer than its predecessor, the 13th edition also addressed, for the first time, the use of personal computers and word processors, which authors were just beginning to turn to in preparing their manuscripts.

A decade later, computer word processing and desktop publishing were becoming the norm, and the 14th edition of the Manual (1993) addressed more systematically the role of computers in writing, editing, and publishing. Expanded to 936 pages, it reflected significant changes in style, usage, and technology, and contained new and more extensive editing examples based on requests from editors, authors, indexers, and teachers of publishing courses. Sales of the 14th edition reached nearly half a million copies, bringing the grand total of all Manual of Style sales to well over one million.

Throughout the 1990s, the growing popularity of the World Wide Web changed everything once again. The web offered new ways of researching, new ways of communicating, and new ways of sharing content that led to significant changes in the publishing industry. To ensure the 15th edition (2003) would fully address these shifts in the cultural and professional landscape, Chicago’s editorial staff solicited the advice of the Manual’s first-ever advisory board—a distinguished group of scholars, authors, and professionals from a wide range of publishing and business environments. The staff also made an official call to users for suggestions and comments. The result was a comprehensive revision that fully reflected a wealth of new topics and updated perspectives.

No sooner was the first printing of the 15th edition off the press than plans began for the first online version of the Manual. An online edition would allow the Manual’s users to search the book and instantly follow the volume’s many cross-references between paragraphs via hyperlinks. The Chicago Manual of Style Online, which debuted in 2006, had more than 200,000 recurring visitors by 2010. Many of these visitors were drawn in by the popular “Chicago Style Q&A” feature, which each month posts answers to selected readers’ questions about style, usage, and other matters.

The brand-new 16th edition (2010) was prepared in response to the new digital technologies that have prompted authors and publishers to reshape their processes and even rethink their identities over the preceding decade. In a reflection of those far-reaching changes to the publishing industry, this edition represents another milestone for the Press as the first of its books published simultaneously in print and in a fully functional web format. It also represents the first time the Manual was produced from XML-coded manuscript files.

Once again, Chicago’s editorial staff turned to a board of advisors—professionals in publishing and academia—for input at crucial stages in the revision. And once again, observations from the Manual’s readers and, especially, those who wrote to the Q&A, were pored over and weighed, many of them guiding important aspects of the revision. Through numerous rounds of intense inquiry, feedback, and debate, the revision team remained focused on two primary goals: to address the ongoing evolution in the way authors, editors, and publishers do their work, on the one hand, and to remain focused on those principles that are independent of the medium of publication, on the other. The resulting 16th edition offers up-to-date recommendations on electronic workflow, including the use of XML; best practices in electronic manuscript preparation and editing; expanded coverage of new digital formats such as e-books and web-based publications; a revamped Chicago citation system; and numerous other changes that bring Chicago style fully into the digital age. Though thoroughly reconceived, the 16th edition continues the Manual’s tradition as an authority for generations of readers seeking answers to all things related not only to the written word but also to the myriad and evolving ways in which words and ideas are shared and published.