Who was the original Cliff?

Born in a small, rural Nebraska town named Rising City, Cliff Hillegass epitomized the notion of the "self starter." Fueled by his early love of literature, Cliff was determined to go to college. To finance his education, Cliff held down two paper routes in addition to caring for his family's Jersey cows.

As a college student in the dust bowl days of the "dirty '30s," Cliff continued to pursue his love of learning. While a graduate student in geology and physics at the University of Nebraska, Cliff got married and started his first full-time job as a college bookstore representative for Long's College Bookstore (now the Nebraska Book Company). The numerous contacts Cliff developed through his work at the bookstore were crucial to the launch of CliffsNotes many years later.

One Toronto contact, Jack Cole, owned Coles, The Book People, which produced study guides called Cole's Notes that were published in Canada. During one momentous conversation, Cole suggested that American students would likely welcome a U.S. version of the notes. With that idea, Cliff launched CliffsNotes in August 1958, with a line of 16 Shakespeare study guides.

Working out of Lincoln, Nebraska, Cliff built the company that produces the most widely used study guides in the world. Cliff's message for students was to use CliffsNotes to better understand literature.

In 1998, Cliff sold CliffsNotes, Inc., and the brand lives on today as part of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. In May 2001, Mr. Hillegass passed away at the age of 83.

Timeline of Events


CliffsNotes, Inc., is founded by Cliff Hillegass with the prompting of Jack Cole, owner of Canada's Coles Notes.

Sixteen Shakespeare Coles Notes are published with CliffsNotes covers.

Cole's Notes' Total Study Edition titles are published by CliffsNotes as Complete Study Edition titles.


CliffsNotes experiences a phenomenal increase in the number of units sold per year: from 18.5K units in 1958 to 2M units in 1965.


Jack Coles' heirs inform CliffsNotes that Coles Notes content may no longer be sold under CliffsNotes brand name; CliffsNotes republishes titles with non-Coles Notes content at break-neck speed.

Late 1970s

CliffsNotes expands into test preparation market by publishing ACT and SAT test prep books.

Early 1990s

CliffsNotes unveils two new series: CliffsQuickReviews, supplemental study aids for high school and college subjects, and CliffsAP, study guides that help students pass Advanced Placement exams.

December 1998

Hungry Minds, Inc., (formerly IDG Books, Inc.) acquires CliffsNotes, Inc.

August 1999

Eight CliffsNotes Technology titles are published.

September 1999

Eight CliffsNotes Business titles are published.

November 1999

Cliffsnotes.com site is launched.

May 2000

Ten Shakespeare titles from the Complete Study Edition series are relaunched as the CliffsComplete series, with a new look-and-feel and new content.

June 2000

The top 30 best-selling CliffsNotes literature titles are relaunched with a new look-and-feel and new content.

July 2000

CliffsTestPrep series relaunches with five new edition titles in a larger, easy-to-use trim size.

December 2000

CliffsNotes next 30 best-selling literature titles are relaunched in the updated series design with new content.

March-April 2001

Nine new CliffsComplete literature titles are published, including non-Shakespeare titles (The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, Frankenstein, and others).

May 2001

CliffsQuickReview top 12 best-selling titles are relaunched with new look-and-feel and updated content.

September 2001

John Wiley & Sons, Inc., acquires Hungry Minds, Inc., including the CliffsNotes brand.

June 2003

CliffsNotes unveils the new CliffsStudySolver workbooks, which contain plenty of practice problems to give students additional help with complex concepts.

August 2004

Cliffsnotes.com begins the school year with a new design, new online tools and resources, and free online literature notes.

August 2006

CliffsNotes launches the new Shakespeare on the Double series, featuring the original text with a side-by-side translation. The first four titles published are Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet.

June 2007

CliffsNotes.com relaunches with an updated design, plus an expanded selection of free content covering school subjects like math, science, writing, foreign languages, history, and government.