The name Webster's Dictionary may refer to any of the line of dictionaries first developed by Noah Webster in the early nineteenth century and numerous unrelated dictionaries that adopted Webster's name just to share his prestige. The term "Webster's" has become a generic trademarkin the U.S. for dictionaries of the English language. For this reason the term may otherwise refer to any dictionary at all that chooses to use the name. Also, "Webster's" is often used to refer to a generic dictionary. (However, the only succeeding dictionaries that can trace their lineage to the one established by Noah Webster are those now published by Merriam-Webster.)
Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language
Noah Webster (1758–1843), the author of the readers and spelling books that dominated the American market at the time, spent decades of research in compiling his dictionaries. His first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, appeared in 1806. In it, he popularized features that would become a hallmark of American English spelling (center rather than centre, honor rather than honour, program rather than programme, etc.) and included technical terms from the arts and sciences rather than confining his dictionary to literary words. Webster was a proponent of English spelling reform for reasons both philological and nationalistic. In A Companion to the American Revolution (2008), John Algeo notes: "it is often assumed that characteristically American spellings were invented by Noah Webster. He was very influential in popularizing certain spellings in America, but he did not originate them. Rather [...] he chose already existing options such as center, color and check on such grounds as simplicity, analogy or etymology". In William Shakespeare's first folios, for example, spellings such as center and color are the most common. He spent the next two decades working to expand his dictionary.
First edition 1828
In 1828, at the age of 70, Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in two quarto volumes containing 70,000 entries, as against the 58,000 of any previous dictionary. There were 2,500 copies printed, at $20 for the two volumes. At first the set sold poorly. When he lowered the price to $15, its sales improved, and by 1836 that edition was exhausted. Not all copies were bound at the same time; the book also appeared in publisher's boards; other original bindings of a later date are not unknown.