Technical Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Technical Encyclopedias and Dictionaries


scientific reference publications containing a systematized summary of information on engineering—production equipment and processes and the objects of labor—and technical and allied sciences. Such publications include general technical encyclopedias, encompassing the full range of engineering, and specialized encyclopedias, devoted to a specific branch or trend of engineering. A common type of general technical dictionary is the polytechnical dictionary. Like other encyclopedias, technical encyclopedias may be arranged systematically by topic or, more frequently, alphabetically.

History. Individual technical works that were encyclopedic in scope and treatment and the development of general encyclopedias and technical dictionaries laid the groundwork for the first technical encyclopedias. Early precursors of the technical encyclopedia included Vitruvius’ De architectura (first century B.C.) and works by Renaissance scholars, such as Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s Trattato d’architettura civile e militare (written 1476; published 1841). The appearance of the first encyclopedic technical works in Latin, namely, V. Biringuccio’s Pirotechnia (1540) and G. Agricola’s De re metallica (1556), was of great importance to the development of technical encyclopedias. For the next 200 years, these works served as indispensable handbooks and manufacturing and scientific textbooks on technology.

Works of an encyclopedic nature were written in the 17th and 18th centuries, for example, the English mathematician J. Mox-on’s Mechanik Exercises (London, 1677–79), which contained general information on construction, and the German engineer J. Leupold’s Theatrum machinarum generale: Schauplatz des Grundes mechanischer Wissenschaften (vols. 1–9; Leipzig, 1724–39). Some of this literature remained in manuscript, for example, the Polish scholar J. Naronowicz-Naronski’s, Architektura militaris, to est budownictwo wojenne (1659), a summary of knowledge on artillery, fortifications, measurements, and tools.

The 18th century saw the first specialized technical dictionaries, which were still only slightly differentiated from other types of technical books. Important examples were W. Hooson’s The Miner’s Dictionary (Wrexham, 1747), a German work published under the pseudonym Minerophilus Freibergensis, and Neues und wohleingerichtetes Mineral und Bergwerks-Lexikon (Chemnitz, 1730). General technical dictionaries included P. Jambert’s Dictionnaire raisonné universel des arts et métiers (vols. 1–5; Paris, 1773). Technical material came to occupy a prominent place in general English encyclopedias, for example, J. Harris’ Lexicon Technicum, or an Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (London, 1704) and E. Chambers’ Cyclopaedia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (vols. 1–2; London, 1728). These publications strove to satisfy the needs of the industrial revolution and the development of machine technology. Major attention was focused on problems in engineering, mathematics, and natural science. The increased importance of science and technology in society and the growing interest in these subjects encouraged publishers to issue special supplements to general encyclopedias. Such supplements were important in their own right, for example, Curieuses und reales Natur-Kunst-Berg-Gewerck und Handlungs-Lexikon (Leipzig, 1712), which was a supplement to the encyclopedia of J. Hübner.

Publication of the French Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des metiers was of great importance to the popularization of science and technology. In addition to the scientific and technological information presented in the text, the Encyclopédie contained 11 volumes of etchings, many of which were well executed representations of technical devices, instruments, and production processes. There arose many difficulties related to the systematic treatment of technology in its numerous social and economic aspects. For example, the Ökonomische-technologische Enzyklopädie (parts 1–242; Berlin, 1773–1858), conceived by the Berlin entrepreneur J. G. Krünitz, developed in the course of its publication into a work of general scope.

Specifically technical encyclopedias appeared in the latter half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. By this time, the scientific foundation of engineering had been formed and the technical sciences had developed, which facilitated the truly scientific encyclopedic systematization of subject matter. The purpose of technical encyclopedias was and is the rapid access to reliable information that helps the reader understand many technical phenomena, perform calculations of complex production processes, and engage in technical planning and design with the use of scientific data.

The multivolume technical encyclopedia also developed during the second half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century; an early example was the Dictionnaire technologique (vols. 1–22; Paris, 1822–35). In the period 1837–39, the Scotch chemist and economist A. Ure published A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mines, and the German edition of the work was used by K. Marx (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 47, pp. 624–25, 654). Subsequent works included Lueger’s Lexikon der gesammten Technik und ihrer Hilfswissenschaften (vols. 1–7; Stuttgart, 1894–99), with topics arranged alphabetically, Machinery’s Encyclopedia (vols. 1–7; New York, 1917), Hutchinson’s Technical and Scientific Encyclopedia (vols. 1–1; London, 1935), and G. Albenga and E. Perucca’s Dizionario técnico industríale enciclopedico (vols. 1–2; Turin, 1937).

With the acceleration of scientific and technological progress, the increasing differentiation of industry and branches of engineering, and the unequal development of industry and technology in the first half of the 20th century, general technical encyclopedias rapidly became obsolete. A relatively independent encyclopedic literature developed for individual branches of industry and technology. Specialized technical encyclopedias are the most valuable and promising type of such encyclopedias.

One way of increasing the usefulness and timeliness of technical encyclopedias has been the publication of series of encyclopedic works on engineering. Flexibility and timeliness can be achieved by means of a loose-leaf format, in which articles and data tables are printed on removable pages, which can be grouped in any order convenient to the specialist and which can be used to replace outdated material. New editions of technical encyclopedias are issued relatively frequently. The material presented is updated in sections periodically, for example, yearly, in order to reflect the newest advances in the individual branches of engineering. Modern engineering is also covered in scientific and technological encyclopedias devoted to advances in the natural and technical sciences and applications in industry, agriculture, transportation, and communications. Many linguistic dictionaries and dictionaries of terminology are also used to obtain varied information on technical subjects.

Russia. The systematization of technical knowledge and the creation of technical terminology in Russian were made possible by manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries, for example, Tipik Nektariia (Typicon of Nectarius) and Skazanie o vsiakikh promyslakh i ukazy ob ikonnom masterstve i serebrianom rukodelii i o inykh veshchakh (Concerning All Crafts and Regulations of Icon Craftsmanship and Silverwork and Other Matters). The systematization of technical knowledge intensified with the publication of technical literature in the first quarter of the 18th century. The first Russian technical handbooks were translations or adaptations of foreign works. Examples are Terminy, upotrebliaemye v fortifikatsii (Terms Used in Fortification; in Vauban’s Istinnyi sposob ukrepleniia gorodov [Essais sur la fortification; St. Petersburg, 1724]) and Zrelishche prirody i khudozhestv (A View of Nature and the Arts; St. Petersburg, 1784–90), an encyclopedic work in ten fascicles containing 90 articles on the manufacturing professions, labor equipment, branches of natural science and the applied sciences, and materials used in industry. A collection of translations from the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert was published in 1767.

Encyclopedic works for industry and household use appeared in the beginning of the 19th century, for example, V. A. Lev-shin’s Polnaia khoziaistvennaia kniga (Complete Book of Economy, vols. 1–5; Moscow, 1813–15) and I. A. Dvigubskii’s Leksikon gorodskogo i sel’skogo khoziaistva (Lexicon of Urban Production and Agriculture, vols. 1–12; Moscow, 1836–39). G. I. Spasskii’s Gornyi slovar’ (Mining Dictionary, vols. 1–3; Moscow, 1841–43) encompassed a wide range of material. Similar handbooks were later published, including I. A. Time’s Spravochnaia kniga dlia gornykh inzhenerov i tekhnikov po gornoi chasti, t. IGornozavodskaia mekhanika (Handbook for Mining Engineers and Technicians, vol. 1: Mining Mechanics; St. Petersburg, 1879) and V. N. Chikolev’s Spravochnaia knizhka po electrotekhnike (Handbook of Electrical Engineering; St. Petersburg, 1885).

From 1911 to 1918, the publishing house Prosveshchenie issued Tekhnicheskaia entsiklopediia (Technical Encyclopedia; vols. 1–8; St. Petersburg-Petrograd), which was a significant reworking of Lueger’s Lexikon. The new work took into account contemporary achievements in science and technology: many articles were revised, new articles were added, and a wealth of statistical data on Russia was included. A. A. Baikov, G. P. Perederii, A. A. Skochinskii, G. F. Depp, and N. A. Beleliubskii participated in the preparation of the encyclopedia. The systematic popular encyclopedia Promyshlennost’ i tekhnika (Industry and Technology, vols. 1–11; St. Petersburg), which was translated from a German edition, was published from 1901 to 1911.

USSR. In the period of Soviet power, original works in Russian appeared that were characterized by broad scope and depth of systematized scientific material. Technical encyclopedias designed for mass readership were a new phenomenon, and such works enjoyed large printings. In the first years of Soviet power, the multivolume encyclopedias Khimiko-tekhnicheskii spravochnik (Chemical Engineering Handbook) and Spravochnik Otdela khimicheskoi promyshlennosti VSNKh (Handbook of the Department of the Chemical Industry of the Supreme Council on the National Economy) were published.

The publication of the Tekhnicheskaia entsiklopediia (Technical Encyclopedia, vols. 1–26; edited by L. K. Martens; Moscow, 1927–36) was a major achievement of Soviet science and printing arts. The work was designed to provide specialists with information needed for work under the conditions of socialist construction, and its major articles alone numbered approximately 4,000. A supplement to the encyclopedia was published from 1927 to 1933 under the title Spravochnik fizicheskikh, khimicheskikh i tekhnologicheskikh velichin (Handbook of Physical, Chemical, and Technological Quantities, vols. 1–10; subject index, 1936); it contained approximately 500,000 numerical and other data on 80,000 different materials and compounds. Publication of the second edition of the Tekhnicheskaia entsiklopediia, planned as a 10-percent enlargement with 60 percent of the material revised, was interrupted by the Great Patriotic War of 1941–15; 14 volumes were published between 1937 and 1941. Participants in the preparation of the encyclopedia included I. I. Artobolevskii, M. A. Bonch-Bruevich, I. M. Gubkin, M. V. Kirpichev, V. N. Obraztsov, M. A. Pavlov, P. A. Rebinder, and S. I. Vavilov. Other publications of this period included technical dictionaries edited by A. A. Armand and G. P. Brailo (1934) and L. K. Martens (1939).

Post-1945 publications included the encyclopedic handbook Mashinostroenie (Machine Building, vols. 1–16; Moscow, 1946–51), Tekhnicheskii spravochnik zheleznodorozhnika (Technical Handbook of Railroads, vols. 1–13; Moscow, 1949–57), the handbook Gornoe delo (Mining, vols. 1–11; Moscow, 1957–60), Kratkii pqlitekhnicheskii slovar’ (A Short Polytechnical Dictionary; editor in chief Iu. A. Stepanov; Moscow, 1956), and Politekhnicheskii slovar’ (Polytechnical Dictionary; editor in chief 1.1. Artobolevskii; Moscow, 1976).

Encyclopedic scientific and technical works have also been published on major trends in the development of modern technology, for example, the five-volume handbook Priborostroenie i sredstva avtomatiki (Instrumentation and Means of Automation; Moscow, 1963–65), Atomnaia Energiia (Atomic Energy; Moscow, 1958), the small encyclopedia Kosmonavtika (Space Exploration; Moscow, 1968; 2nd ed., 1972), which was aimed at a general readership, and Entsiklopediia kibernetiki (Encyclopedia of Cybernetics, vols. 1–2; Kiev, 1974). A series of Soviet technical encyclopedias has appeared to meet the demand for systematized handbooks on the most significant branches of and developments in technology. The concurrent publication of Avtomatizatsiia proizvodstva i promyshlennaia elektronika (Automation of Production and Industrial Electronics, vols. 1–4; Moscow, 1962–65), Konstruktsionnye materialy (Structural Materials, vols. 1–3; Moscow, 1963–65), and Stroitel’stvo (Construction, vols. 1–3; Moscow, 1964–65) was undertaken as part of the series Entsiklopediia sovremennoi tekhniki (Encyclopedia of Current Technology). Of particular importance was the publication of Entsiklopediia izmerenii, kontrolia i avtomatizatsii (Encyclopedia of Measurements, Control, and Automation), which featured a loose-leaf format.

Foreign countries. Current general technical encyclopedias published in the capitalist countries include such systematized encyclopedias as the fourth edition of the Lueger Lexikon der Technik (vols. 1–17; Stuttgart, 1960–72) and multidisciplinary encyclopedias of science and technology offered in alphabetized formats, for example, the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (3rd ed., vols. 1–15; New York, 1971; with annual supplements). The latter work is also published in Italy under the title Enciclopedia della scienza e delta tecnica (5th ed., vols. 1–12; Milan, 1970–73) and in France under the title Encyclopedic internationale des sciences et des techniques (vols. 1–10; Paris, 1969–74). The Lexikon Technik und exakte Naturwissenschaften (vols. 1–10; Frankfort, 1972) is similar in scope.

Important publications in the socialist countries include the Malá technická encyklopedie (vols. 1–2; Prague, 1966), Műszaki lexicon (vols. 1–3; Budapest, 1970–74), and Lexiconul Tehnic Romîn (vols. 1–19; Bucharest, 1957–68). The series Encyklopedia techniki was begun in Warsaw in 1966. Published volumes have been devoted to atomic power engineering, construction technology, chemistry, automation, and other topics.

Several single-volume technical encyclopedias with subject matter arranged alphabetically or by topic are also in print, for example, The Encyclopedia of Engineering, Materials and Processes (New York-London, 1963), Das Grosse Buch der Technik (Gütersloh, 1961), Meyers Handbuch über die Technik (Mannheim, 1964), and Technik. Kleine Encyklopädi (6th ed.; Leipzig, 1970). Specialized, single-volume publications include works in the series Mayers Taschenlexicon; among the volumes published to date have been H. Mielke’s Rakettentechnik: Raumfahrt (Leipzig, 1967) and Schiffbau: Schiffahrt (Leipzig, 1964).


Cherniak, A. Ia. Istoriia tekhnicheskoi knigi, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1969–73.
Ol’shki, L. Istoriia nauchnoi literatury na novykh iazykakh, vols. 1–3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1933–34.
Winchell, C. M. Guide to Reference Books. Chicago, 1972.
Guide to Reference Material, 3rd ed., vol. 1. Edited by A. I. Walford. London, 1973.
Zischka, G. A. Index lexicorum. Vienna, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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