In memoriam
Robert P. Gwinn, former chairman of Sunbeam appliances as well as chairman and CEO of Encyclopædia Britannica, died from natural causes at 102, at his Riverside home on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009.

He joined Sunbeam, then based in Chicago and, at the time, the largest manufacturer of small appliances in the nation, in 1936 as a salesmen. While there, Mr. Gwinn ascended the executive ranks, becoming president in 1955 and chairman in 1971. He served in the latter position for 10 years, at which point the company was sold to Pittsburgh-based Alleghany International Inc. Sunbeam is now a subsidiary of Rye, N.Y.-based Jarden Corporation.

Prior to Sunbeam’s sale to Alleghany International in 1981, Mr. Gwinn had already become chairman and CEO of Encyclopædia Britannica, whose corporate office is still located in Chicago, in 1973, following the death of longtime owner and publisher William Benton.

During Mr. Gwinn’s tenure and through the guidance his sales experience provided, Britannica saw a surge in its domestic business, but particularly experienced a boom internationally.

Laurence Maher, executive vice president of Encyclopædia Britannica International, commented on the beginning of the company’s international approach in a Britannica press release.

“In the old days, you went out on the street and knocked on the doors. We don’t do that at all. Our salesperson has a name and an address and a place to go when he or she leaves the office.”

Mr. Gwinn is credited with emphasizing the need for Britannica to expand its distribution and become as prevalent as possible.

“I think the seventies was a period of expansion,” said Tom Panelas, an Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. spokesman. “[And] these things happened on [Mr. Gwinn’s] watch.”

The “things” Panelas referenced were large-scale efforts by Britannica to form partnerships with international publishers and combine their work with that of the Chicago-based editors that worked on the English-language Britannica projects.

“The local editors would take what was relevant in that country … and we’d put it together with articles from the English level Britannica,” Panelas said. “This way you could create an encyclopedia for the country without doing it from scratch.”

This helped to vastly increase the global distribution of the company’s encyclopedias.

Mr. Gwinn retired from Britannica in 1993, after 20 years of service. He also served on the boards of First National Bank, Continental Casualty Company, CAN Financial Corp. and Alberto Culver, a major manufacturer and marketer of personal care and household brands.

Mr. Gwinn was born in 1907 on a farm in Anderson, Ind., which is now part of metropolitan Indianapolis, and moved to the Chicago area to attend the University of Chicago, graduating in 1929. Mr. Gwinn had been a resident of Riverside for more than 60 years.

Mr. Gwinn was preceded in death in 1989 by his wife, Nancy Gwinn (nee Flanders), and by his son, John Gwinn. He is survived by his son, Richard (Lisa) Gwinn, and his grandchildren, Christi, Tabitha, Aaryn, Stephanie and Robert Gwinn.

A funeral service was held on Dec. 14 at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park.

Memorials donations may be made to the Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield Zoo, Development Dept, 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, Ill. 60513 or to the Robert P. Gwinn Scholarship Fund, in care of the Riverside-Brookfield Educational Foundation, 160 Ridgewood Road, Riverside, Ill. 60546.