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Penguin Books Penguin Books i(A98875 works by) (Organisation) assertion (a.k.a. Penguin Books Ltd; Penguin Group (UK); Penguin)
Born: Established: 1935 Harmondsworth, Middlesex,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,
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This history is primarily about Penguin Books Ltd, the UK-based parent company. See also individual entries for Penguin Australia and Penguin USA.

1935-1969: Penguin Books Ltd was established by Allen Lane at Harmondsworth, west of London, in 1935. Lane, who until risen from an apprentice at Bodley Head under the guidance of his uncle, and the company's owner John Lane, to the position of Managing Director had only recently left that company due to conflict with the Board of Directors. The idea for starting Penguin as a publishing house came about, according to legend, following a visit to see author Agatha Christie. Unable to find anything worthwhile to read at Exeter Station (Devon) he conceived the idea of selling paperback editions of literature of proven quality which would be cheap enough to be sold from a vending machine. Although Great Britain was then in the grip of an economic recession, and the idea of mass-producing and mass-distributing "intelligent books for intelligent people" at paperback prices was dismissed as being practically impossible. Nevertheless Lane set up his first vending machine (dubbed the Penguincubator) at Charring Cross Road, and began to publish and distribute his titles throughout the UK. Within six months the company had sold more than a million books, and effectively established itself as a major force in the publishing industry.

Lane began expanding his publishing operations as early as 1937 with the founding of the Pelican imprint. Established with the design to educate the reading public rather than entertain, the first title to be released was George Bernard Shaw's The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism. Pelican went on to publish several thousand titles over the next half-century. Many of these were written by authors specialising in the fields of academia or current intellectual and social thought. A a period of declining sales in the mid-late 1980s the Pelican series discontinued in 1990.

In 1940 the company launched Puffin Books, one of two internationally recognised Penguin imprints. A series of non-fiction picture books for children, these proved to be such a great success that Puffin started publishing fiction the following year. Five years later the company published its first reference book The Penguin Dictionary of Science. The following year (1946) Penguin Classics was launched with E. V. Rieu's translation of The Odyssey (there have been more than 1,200 titles published in this series up to 2010). The 1940s also saw Penguin begin to expand internationally. The company had initially set up a subsidiary company in Canada during the war (although this was later forced into a period of hiatus between the late 1950s and early 1970s). In 1948 Penguin set up operations in Australia to distribute books, although no official titles were published under the Penguin Australia imprint until 1963.

In 1960 Penguin was charged under the British government's Obscene Publications Act of 1959 for publishing D. H. Lawrence's 1928 novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. The defence brought in key literary academic critics and other experts (including E. M. Forster, Helen Gardner, Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams), which helped deliver a not guilty verdict on 2 November 1960. The trial was significant in that it paved the way for greater freedom in publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom. The following year, on 20 April, the company became a publicly listed company on the London Stock Exchange. The Penguin UK website records that the 'share offer was 150 times oversubscribed, setting a record for the London Stock Exchange.' Although the move to public ownership provided the company with significant financial boost, the move also meant that Lane had a diminished role at the firm from then on (although he continued in the position of Managing Director). 1961 also saw the launch of another imprint, Penguin Modern Classics

The development of new techniques such as phototypesetting and offset-litho printing in the early 1960s led to a dramatic reduction in costs for publishers, as well as the ability to print images and text on the same paper stock. This subsequently allowed the introduction of photography and new graphic design on its paperback covers.

In 1968, two years before Allen Lane died, Penguin established another imprint, named in honour the company's founder. Over the next 15 years it carved out a reputation for being one of Britain's leading hardcover imprints.

1970-1999: Shortly after Lane died in 1970, Penguin was bought out by Pearson Longman Ltd (now Pearson). Although now a wholly owned subsidiary, the company continued to retain control of its editorial and management operations. Five years after the sale, Penguin Books Ltd acquired the US publisher Viking. Specialising in hardback titles, the new venture became known as Viking Penguin. This was a strategic move on the part of Penguin Books UK, which sought to take advantage of Viking's impressive group of authors (including John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller) so as to give Penguin a strong presence in the U.S. market for the first time.

The 1980s brought more change and expansion for Penguin. In 1983 the company acquired Frederick Warne, best known for its Beatrix Potter titles; and the following year changed the name of the Allen Lane imprint to The Viking Press. The move towards a more simplified and analogous structure was seen as pivotal to Penguin's continued growth. In a press release dated 17 February 1984, the company's Chief Executive Officer , Peter Mayer, said that 'this simplification has an inherent logic for [Penguin's] international publishing, authors, as well as for the book trade and readers.' He went on to note that of the Penguin's international structure of subsidiary companies (citing Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States), would retain their "independent and individual editorial choice" thus continuing to allow for widely divergent paperback lists and separate publishing contracts" (ctd. Keneally Papers, National Library of Australia).

Two 1985 acquisitions were the Michael Joseph and Hamish Hamilton book-publishing divisions. The following year Penguin bought out New American Library/Dutton Books and merged them with its US operations. The acquisition included Dutton Children's Books, publisher of the classic Winnie-the-Pooh stories and winner of numerous children's awards (including several Caldecott and Newbery medals), and The Dial Press, another prestigious children's imprint with numerous awards. Penguin's US operations became known as Penguin USA from around this time - a name which changed in 1996 to Penguin Putnam Inc (following Penguin's purchase of the Putnam Berkely Group) and later again to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The 1980s also saw the company continued to push the boundaries of social and cultural convention, notably through the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Another significant development occurred, too, in 1985 when the company moved its headquarters from Harmondsworth to Wrights Lane in the London suburb of Kensington.

In 1993 Penguin Audiobooks was launched, thereby allowing a listening audience to access a mix of classic and contemporary titles. The company, which was also the first trade publisher to have a website and the first to open an eBook store, continued to expand its publishing empire in the 1990s, taking up a 51 percent stake in Rough Guides in 1996 (this acclaimed travel and music publishing house became a wholly owned subsidiary of penguin in 2002).

2000 - 2011: On 10 May 2000, Pearson acquired Dorling Kindersley (DK) which as a result became part of the Penguin Group. In 2002 the company also published Michael Moore's controversial Stupid White Men, despite attempts in the US to ban it.

In 2003 Pearson's implemented a strategy that unifies the various international Penguin divisions as a single brand. Each of the international operations had its name changed to Penguin Group, followed by the name of that country in brackets. However, while the UK-based Penguin division effectively became Penguin Group (UK) its website, identified as Penguin Books (and with copyright attributed to Penguin Books Ltd) clearly reflects its status as both the founding and senior organisation within the group.

To celebrate its 75th birthday in 2010, the company published the Penguin Decades series, which ranges across some of the great books published in Britain throughout 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. As Penguin now moves into the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is positioned as one of the world's three largest English language publishers. It also publishes books in a wide variety of formats and subjects for adults and children embracing fiction and non-fiction. Besides Australia and the USA it has subsidiary companies in the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Holland, Italy, China and Singapore.

Among the Australian authors and illustrators to have had their works first published in the United Kingdom by Penguin Books are: Sheila Hawkins, Janis Wilston, Richard Bosworth and Angela Devine.

Most Referenced Works


  • Further Reference:

    • Baines, Phil. Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005. London: Allen Lane, 2007.
    • Graham, Tim. Penguin in Print - a Bibliography. Penguin Collectors Society, 2003.
    • Hare, Steve. Penguin Portrait: Allen Lane and the Penguin Editors, 1935-1970. London: Penguin Books, 1995.
    • Joicey, Nicholas. A Paperback Guide to Progress: Penguin Books 1935-ca.1951." In Twentieth Century British History, Vol.4, No.1 (1993), pp.25-56.
    • Lewis, Jeremy. The Life and Times of Allen Lane. London: Penguin Special, 2005.
    • Morpurgo, Horatio. "Lady Chatterley's Defendent: Allen Lane and the Paperback Revolution." Three Monkeys Online Sept. (2008) - online (sighted 10/03/2011)
    • Morpurgo, J. E. Allen Lane: King Penguin. London: Hutchinson, 1979.
    • "Penguin Books." Wikipedia - online (sighted 28/02/2011).
    • "Penguin Archive, The." University of Bristol Library: Special Collections. - Collection details available online (sighed 10/03/2011)
    • "History." Penguin Group USA - online (sighted 28/02/2011).

Last amended 12 Mar 2013 13:58:46
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