The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK), founded in 1826, up and running through 1848, published inexpensive texts presenting scientific and similarly high-minded material for the general reading public. It was founded by the Right Honorable Lord Henry Brougham in London, as a way of providing those who didn’t have access to a formal education to knowledge. It also catered to the self-directed sort of people who preferred self-education through reading. An American version of the organization appeared about the same time.
In 1825 Brougham had published a pamphlet called Practical Observations upon the Education of People, which posited that books on scientific topics should be available at a price that the working class could afford. After the founding of SDUK he worked with the publisher Charles Knight to produce works like The Library of Useful Knowledge, which sold for a sixpence and was published biweekly, and was one of the cornerstones of the Society’s publishing activities. Scientific topics like electricity, magnetism, useful and ornamental planting, astronomy, animal husbandry, optics, among others, were all covered in their publications. The society also produced a two-volume set of excellent maps.
Sales of their publications were not all they could be, as often happens in publishing, and subscribers dwindled. Today, the in-house publishing organ of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles is called the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information, in what must be a homage to SDUK.