A unique publishing company ...
"A paperback reprint for only sixpence? The project is impractical - it's impossible." So thought the publishing world when the first 10 Penguins made their debut in British bookshops, bookstalls and branches of Woolworths on 30 July, 1935. Could anyone make a profit out of a book that cost no more than 10 cigarettes? The young Allen Lane, then the rebellious Managing Director of Bodley Head, thought he could by the mass-production and mass-distribution of "intelligent books for intelligent people" at a price everyone could afford - and in the economic recession of the early thirties, few could dream of building their own libraries when the average price of a hardback novel was 7/6d.
Allen Lane was right. To the astonishment of journalists, publishers and booksellers, he sold a million Penguins within six months. Nor was this to be a passing craze, but the advent of a paperback movement on a scale that would create a revolution in reading habits all over the world.
Two of the company's most famous names were launched in the 1940s. Puffin was born in 1940 as a series of non-fiction picture books for children. They proved to be such a great success that Puffin started publishing fiction the following year, with Worzel Gummidge among its first titles. In 1946, Penguin Classics were launched with E. V. Rieu's translation of The Odyssey, making classic texts available to everyone. Today this world famous series consists of more than 1,200 titles (including Penguin Modern Classics), ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
The 1960s brought a revolution in popular culture and Penguin was at the forefront. The company was charged under the Obscene Publications Act in 1960 after publishing Lady Chatterley's Lover.
Allen Lane died in 1970, and in the same year Penguin became a wholly owned subsidiary of Pearson Longman Ltd, now Pearson.
The 1980s brought more change and expansion for Penguin - it acquired Frederick Warne, best known for its Beatrix Potter titles, in 1983, set up the Viking imprint in 1984, and bought the Michael Joseph and Hamish Hamilton book-publishing divisions in 1985.
Like every other period in the company's history, Penguin continued to publish controversial books throughout the 1980s, including Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.
On 10 May 2000, Pearson acquired Dorling Kindersley and DK became part of the Penguin Group.
Penguin retained its position as a champion of free speech when it successfully defended a libel suit brought by revisionist historian David Irving in 2000 after the publication of Professor Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust. The company also published Michael Moore's controversial Stupid White Men in the UK in 2002 after attempts in the US to ban it.
Today, Penguin is one of the world's three largest English language publishers and publishes books in a wide variety of formats and subjects for adults and children embracing fiction and non-fiction. Besides Australia it has companies in the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Holland, Italy, China and Singapore and is one of the more versatile and adventurous publishing houses in the world - a unique situation which had its modest beginning with Allen Lane's ten paperbacks published at sixpence each.
... with a long history in Australia
Little more than 10 years after Allen Lane published the first Penguins in the UK, the Australian company was established in a tin shed in South Melbourne, Victoria in 1946. For many years it was simply a distribution branch of Penguin UK, moving to Mitcham in 1953, onto Ringwood in 1963, and then to Camberwell, Victoria in 2002, and finally to its present location at 707 Collins Street Melbourne.
The first Australian Penguin titles - To the Islands by Randolph Stow, Kangaroo Tales, edited by Rosemary Wighton and Three Australian Plays edited by Alan Seymour - were published in 1963. The late 50s and early 60s saw publication of writers such as Martin Boyd, Randolph Stow and Joan Lindsay, whose Picnic at Hanging Rock was eventually made into a successful film and remains one of Penguin Australia's bestselling titles, while Donald Horne's The Lucky Country brought a new phrase into the language. From a tiny tin shed in 1946 Penguin Australia has grown into an established and influential publishing company.
Today Penguin is home to some of Australia’s bestselling and award-winning writers and illustrators: Maggie Alderson, Stephanie Alexander, Pamela Allen, Graeme Base, Geoffrey Blainey, Maggie Beer, Michelle Bridges, Peter Carey, Isobelle Carmody, Kaz Cooke, Bryce Courtenay, Robert Drewe, Mem Fox, Morris Gleitzman, Sonya Hartnett, Paul Jennings, Kylie Kwong, Michael Leunig, Melina Marchetta, Monica McInerney, Paul Kelly, Rachael Treasure and Tim Winton are household names.