The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK)

The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) was founded in London in 1826, mainly at the instigation of Whig MP Henry Brougham, with the object of publishing information to people who were unable to obtain formal teaching or who preferred self-education. It was a largely Whig organisation, and published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material for the rapidly-expanding reading public over twenty years until it was disbanded in 1846.

Henry Brougham considered that mass education was an essential prerequisite for political reform. In October 1824 he contributed an article on "scientific education of the people" to the Whig Edinburgh Review, in which he argued that popular education would be greatly enhanced by the encouragement of cheap publications. In April 1825 Brougham set about trying to found a society to produce cheap educational books, although it was not until November 1826 that the SDUK was formally founded. By using the new technologies of mass production, such as steam presses and stereotype, the Society and its printers kept costs low and were able to sell the books at much cheaper prices than was usual.

The Society's continuing commitment to the high intellectual standards with which it was conceived probably contributed to its ultimate decline, as subscribers and sale of publications fell away. The Biographical Dictionary begun in 1842 was immensely ambitious and contributed to the Society's demise.

Atlases with the Society's name on them continued to be published for several decades. This suggests that the steel plates for the maps were sold to someone who continued to update and publish the atlases, perhaps including the name of the Society as a way of using the high reputation of the SDUK to his advantage. It was common for engraved printing plates to change hands. We have seen an atlas published in 1850 by Charles Knight and an atlas published in 1860 by Stanford, both with a title page and maps all bearing the SDUK's name.

An American group of the same name was founded as part of the Lyceum movement in the United States in 1829. Its Boston branch sponsored lectures by such speakers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and was active from 1829 to 1947.  In 1838 and 1839, an American Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge published a fifty-volume set of books called The American School Library. Henry David Thoreau cites the Society in his essay "Walking" in which he jestingly proposes a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance.

(Excerpted from Wikipedia)