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The Great Courses 25th Anniversary

In 2015, The Great Courses celebrated its 25th anniversary. Our founder, Tom Rollins, joined in the celebrations and provided us with his thoughts and reflections on what we have accomplished in a quarter century.

From Our Founder
My vision was clear: If I could record lectures by the greatest professors in America - professors who were not just experts in their field but who were also passionate and truly gifted communicators - then anyone could enjoy learning from them, without the pressure of homework or exams.

And 25 years later, while times and technologies have changed, the DNA of The Great Courses has not. Great professors making great courses for anyone who values the sheer joy of learning. That is what makes me most proud today.

Finally, I can't let this occasion pass without taking the opportunity to personally thank you for making this milestone possible. In a world of decreasing attention spans and sound-bite media, you choose deep learning as a way of life. That's what will propel The Great Courses to its next 25 years and beyond.

Tom Rollins, Founder
A History of The Great Courses
Trace the history of The Great Courses from our first VHS tapes to our mobile apps.
View Timeline
A History of The Great Courses
A History of The Great Courses
Trace the history of The Great Courses from our first VHS tapes to our mobile apps.

Great Beginnings

The Teaching Company is founded by Tom Rollins. After extensive research, he assembles 15 professors from top universities and records them lecturing before a live audience in a Georgetown University auditorium. Those 15 lectures became the first Great Courses.

Finding Customers

Courses are first advertised in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Book Review. To this day, The Great Courses is among the longest continuing advertisers in these publications.

Getting Noticed

The Wall Street Journal touts our courses as "sheer classroom horsepower: the ability to captivate students with their passion for a field of knowledge."

Listen Up

Robert Greenberg begins recording the first edition of his epic and legendary How to Listen to and Appreciate Great Music. During filming, he pauses periodically to play music samples through a cassette player on a bookshelf stereo system.

Scientific Breakthrough

We release our first science course: Chemistry by Professor Frank Cardulla. An updated edition was released in 2009.

At Your Service

A team of customer service representatives is formed to handle the increasing number of orders by phone. "Course Knowledge" is established as a critical element of training, and each team member keeps a "CK Binder" with their notes about each course.

TV Debut

The Teaching Company showcases its award-winning professors in its first television commercial.

"Great" Endorsement

In Inc. magazine, New York Times best-selling business author Jim Collins (From Good to Great) names Professor Greenberg's How to Listen to and Appreciate Great Music as a course every leader should take to broaden their perspective.

OK, Computer

The Teaching Company goes digital and creates its first website—designed and coded by one of its own Customer Care representatives. It displays information about the courses, but does not feature the ability to order online.

Passing the Audition

The Christian Science Monitor highlights the three key ingredients for professors of The Great Courses: depth of knowledge about a subject, extraordinary communication skills, and passion.

Da Vinci Decoded

Da Vinci Decoded: Professor Bart Ehrman's course "Lost Christianities" sells out on the heels of Dan Brown's best-selling book The Da Vinci Code. Many buy the course hoping to separate fact from fiction in the book, which revolves around a mystery of early Christian history.

Presidential Award

President George W. Bush awards Professor Alan Kors (The Birth of the Modern Mind and Voltaire: The Mind of the Enlightenment) a prestigious National Humanities Medal for his contributions to the humanities.


Founder Tom Rollins retires as President and CEO but remains as a member of the company's Board of Directors.

One Million Lifelong Learners

The Great Courses reaches one million customers when an order is placed from Lakeland, Florida, for the 60-lecture set Great World Religions.

Expanding the Universe

Professor Alex Filippenko updates his 84-lecture Understanding the Universe to include 12 brand-new lectures, making his 2nd edition an epic 96 lectures. It remains one of the most popular and highly rated courses ever.

Living in 3D

Understanding the Brain by Professor Jeanette Norden is the first course to feature 3D graphics.

Making "Big History"

Professor David Christian produces Big History, which re-conceives history from the Big Bang forward. Bill Gates is so inspired by this course that he contacts the professor and launches a project to teach Big History in U.S. high schools.

Share Your Feedback

For the first time, customers can post ratings and reviews of courses on The Great Courses website. By 2015, customers have registered more than 400,000 reviews and ratings on the site.

O Canada

The Great Courses makes its first international foray, launching operations in Canada. Further expansion to the United Kingdom and Australia follows in 2009 and 2010.

Prime Time Cameo No. 1

The Great Courses is featured in an episode of the hit NBC comedy The Office.

Prime Time Cameo No. 2

The Great Courses take another comedic turn, this time on NBC's 30 Rock, with Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan.

Oscar-Winning Inspiration

Argentine filmmaker Juan Jose Campanella wins the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Secret in their Eyes. He later says his screenplay was inspired by listening to the Great Course, Beethoven's Piano Sonatas.

Going HD

Courses begin production in a newly constructed HD studio facility. Among the first courses filmed there are Understanding Complexity, by Professor Scott Page, and Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City, by Professor Steven Tuck.

A Makeover

The Great Courses redesigns all course packaging and adopts a fresh, new logo.

Rave Reviews

Professor Stephen Ressler's remarkable engineering course, Understanding the World's Greatest Structures, becomes the first course whose first 100 reviews are all 5 stars.

Two Million and Counting

Just four years after reaching one million, the two millionth customer places an order from Reston, Virginia, for Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers.

Going Green (Screen)

Professor Neil deGrasse Tyson's Inexplicable Universe becomes the first course shot largely using green screen technology and a virtual environment to enhance its production value.

Now We're Cooking

The Great Courses announces its course partnership with the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. The first course in the series, The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking, debuts in November and becomes one of the most popular courses of all time.

TGC Anywhere

The Great Courses launches video streaming and its first app for the iPad.

Founding Contributions

Founder Tom Rollins is selected as the 2012 recipient of Philip Merrill Award for outstanding contributions to liberal arts education, awarded by The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

Grab Your Earbuds

The Torch debuts as The Great Courses podcast. The first episode features lively interviews with professor and Cosmos TV show host Neil deGrasse Tyson, plus Joel Sartore, William Lidwell, and Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan.

Bill Gates Talks Great Courses

Corporate and philanthropic titan Bill Gates shows off his large library of Great Courses as a key part of what motivates his thinking during an extended interview on 60 Minutes.

Adventures in Learning

The Great Courses announces a long-term agreement with National Geographic, a worldwide leader in educational media, to produce courses in a range of subjects, including photography, natural history, adventure travel, and more.

Partners in Lifelong Learning

The Great Courses and the esteemed Smithsonian Institution announce a long-term agreement to produce numerous courses in history, science, cultural travel, and more.

Course Milestone

The Great Courses releases its 500th course, with Understanding Modern Electronics, by longtime favorite physics professor, Richard Wolfson.

Virtual Reality

Professor John Medina's Your Best Brain is the first course to be produced entirely on a "virtual" set, bringing The Great Courses into a new generation of high-value video course production.