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Archiv zur Geschichte des Individuellen Reisens AGIR
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The Footprint Story
  How it all began



Footprint has one of the longest track records in guidebook history. It all started in the 1920s with the publication of the first South American Handbook, now the world's longest running guidebook in the English language.


  It was 1921

Ireland had just been partitioned, the British miners were striking for more pay and the Federation of British industry had an idea. Exports were booming in South America - how about a Handbook for businessmen trading in that far away continent? The Anglo-South American Handbook was born that year, written by W Koebel, the most prolific writer on Latin America of his day.


  1924 A Half Guinea book for Half-a-Crown

Two editions later the book was 'privatised' and in 1924, in the hands of Royal Mail, the steamship company for South America, became the South American Handbook, subtitled 'South America in a nutshell'. This annual publication became the 'bible' for generations of travellers to South America and remains so to this day.

In the early days travel was by sea and the Handbook gave all the details you needed for the long voyage from Europe. What to wear for dinner; how to arrange a cricket match with the Cable & Wireless staff on the Cape Verde Islands and a full account of the journey from Liverpool up the Amazon to Manaus: 5898 miles without changing cabin!

Travellers were blessed with the luxury of time to enjoy their journeys to the full. Travel at night was simply not the way to do it. Trains traversed the high Andes in broad daylight so you could enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery. Halts were called for meals and definitely for overnight stops. There were safety benefits too as the drivers could more easily avoid running down unsuspecting campesiños or llamas.


As the continent opened up South American Handbook reported the new Pan Am flying boat services and the fortnightly airship service from Rio to Europe on the Graf Zeppelin. For reasons still unclear but with extraordinary determination, the annual editions continued through WW2. The editor of the day referred obliquely to the 'difficulties' of getting updating information through the U-boat blockade and complained about the blast damage to the window of his London office which made it rather draughty.


From the 1970s, jet aircraft transformed travel and many more people discovered South America using the Handbook as their guide and companion. The energetic editor John Brooks expanded the coverage to widen the appeal, inspiring everybody, not just business travellers, to explore this vast and varied continent. Famous travellers have used the Handbook too. Graham Greene once sent some updates and addressed his envelope to 'The publishers of the best travel guide in the world, Bath, England'. Paul Theroux in his South American railway odyssey The Old Patagonian Express often refers to 'the Handbook'.


During the 1990s Patrick and James Dawson, the publishers of South American Handbook set about developing a new travel guide series with this legendary title as the 'flagship'. Guides to the Caribbean, Mexico & Central America, India, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East were published, at the time, under the imprint of Trade & Travel Publications.


By now there were about a dozen travel guides in the series and the new Footprint imprint was launched, followed in 1999 by the development of the award-winning travel-tough paperback format and an explosion in the range of guides in the series.

"I carried the South American Handbook from Cape Horn to Cartagena and consulted it every night for two and a half months. I wouldn't do that for anything else except my hip flask." Michael Palin, BBC Full Circle

  2001 onwards

The Footprint series is constantly growing, at present it covers more than 120 countries worldwide. Recently a number of city guides covering London, Dublin, Edinburgh and Rio de Janeiro have been launched. Many more travel guides are in the pipeline.

And as Footprint continues to develop, so it remains true to its original goals: publishing travel guidebooks for intelligent and imaginative individuals looking for inspiration and new horizons.

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