The Harper Brothers
Founders of Harper Brothers Publishing

Grandsons of Phoebe Denton, daughter of
Joseph and Mary Seaman Denton

nast3.jpg (39272 bytes)

Santa Claus as we now know him appeared first in Harpers,
as did the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey!

Below are a time-line and a few vignettes from the
lives of the Harper Brothers

Harper Publishing Company

Harper Brothers, printers and members of a distinguished American publishing firm which exerted a significant influence on letters and politics throughout the 19th century.

The name of their company, Harper & Brothers, was adopted in 1833.  Harper & Brothers went into periodical publishing with the establishment of Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1850. Harper's Weekly followed in 1857 and Harper's Bazar-later Bazaar-in 1867. The New Monthly Magazine serialized many novels and carried articles by leading American writers. In 1925 it became Harper's Magazine. Harper's Weekly attracted readers by printing outstanding illustrations, including Thomas Nast's cartoons, and by crusading for political and civic reforms. The firm faced a financial crisis in 1899 but was rescued by the financier J. Pierpont Morgan. In 1900 the business passed out of the family's hands.

1817 James & John Harper open print shop.

1833 With addition of Joseph, Wesley, and Fletcher to the business, they change their name to Harper & Brothers, and their function from printer to publisher. They are in the book business.

1837 Publication of Edgar Allen Poe's "Pym on Nantucket."

1840 Publication of Richard Henry Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast."

1840 Publication of Washington Irving's "Life of Oliver Goldsmith."

1844 James Harper elected Mayor of the City of New York.

1848 Publication of Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" and Bronte sisters' "Wuthering Heights" and, "Jane Eyre."

1850 Harper's Magazine founded - in 6 months, circulation grew to 50,000.

1851 Publication of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick."

1853 Publication of Charles Dicken's "Bleak House."

1857 Harper's Weekly Magazine founded, promising that neither labor nor expense would be spared to make it the best family newspaper in the world. Sold to the McClure Company in 1913, which resold it to the Independent in 1916, which resold the name back to the Harper family by 1922.

1867 Harper's "Bazar" founded with tasteful fashions and patterns as well as fiction and culture. Eventually sold to William Randolph Hearst for $10,000 in 1913. He kept the name but added an extra "a" to "Bazaar."

1869 Henry Mills Alden becomes editor of Harper's Magazine. 1879 Harper's Young People, a weekly magazine. It later became known as the Harper's Round Table, after 1893 it became a monthly, and eventually ceased publication in 1899.

1885 Publication of William Dean Howell's masterpiece "The Rise of Silas Lapham."

1892 Publication of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles."  1895 Contract with Samuel Clemens for Harper to publish "Mark Twain" books.

1901 Publication of Woodrow Wilson's "A History of the American People."

1901 Publication of Henry James "The Ambassadors."

1917 Publication of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Renascence and Other Poems."

1939 Publication of Thomas Wolfe "The Web and the Rock."

1962 Merger of Harper & Brothers with Row, Peterson & Company = Harper & Row.

1976 Lewis H. Lapham becomes editor of Harper's Magazine. 

1980 Harper's Magazine rescued by John R. MacArthur. The Harper's Magazine Foundation is established to publish the magazine.

1982 John R. MacArthur becomes president of Harper's Magazine Foundation and publisher of Harper's Magazine.

1984 Harper's Magazine redesigned for the modern reader by Lewis H. Lapham and John R. MacArthur.

1988 Harper's Magazine wins National Magazine Award for Essays & Criticism.

1989 Harper's Magazine wins National Magazine Award for Essays & Criticism.

1990 Harper & Row merges with William Collins Ltd. (U.K.) to become HarperCollins, one of the
world's largest English-language publishers.

1991 Harper's Magazine founds Franklin Square Press, a book-publishing company devoted to reprints and anthologies from the magazine's rich past.

1994 Harper's Magazine wins 3 National Magazine Awards. 1995 Harper's Magazine wins National Magazine Award for Essays & Criticism.

1996 Harper's Magazine wins National Magazine Award for Fiction.

Santa Claus as we now know him appeared first in Harpers!

In 1862, Thomas Nast was in a quandary with a deadline fast approaching. The editor of Harper's Weekly, Fletcher Harper, at the request of President Lincoln, wanted Nast to draw "a special Christmas picture" for the newspaper's front page, a scene that linked holiday celebrations to the ongoing war effort. Nast, however, had a serious case of illustrator's block and had no idea what to draw. He discussed his predicament with his sister Bertha, a New York City schoolteacher who was visiting at his house. They reminisced about their early childhood holidays in their native Germany and talked about the differences between the German Pelznickel and the American Santa Claus. Bertha mentioned that her class loved to prepare for Christmas each year by reading Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." The conversation inspired Nast. After his sister went home, he worked feverishly through the night. The next morning, he delivered the finished drawings to the newspaper. The Christmas edition of Harper's Weekly hit the streets on January 3, 1863. The front page showed Santa Claus, dressed in a patriotic Stars and Stripes outfit, visiting soldiers in camp to distribute Christmas gifts from his sleigh. A flurry of activity surrounds Nast's Santa. A soldier opens his Christmas box to find a fully loaded stocking, while a comrade behind him gets a meerschaum pipe. In the foreground, a sprung jack-in-the-box surprises 2 drummer boys. In the background, soldiers chase a greased pig while others climb a greased pole to reach a cash purse nailed to the top. Some play football; others prepare company Christmas dinners. The fort on the hilltop pays tribute to Santa's arrival with an artillery salute. An article inside the issue titled "Santa Claus Among Our Soldiers" explained the images on the cover as well as those in "Christmas Eve," Nast's illustration on the center spread. "Children," the article cautioned, "you mustn't think that Santa Claus comes to you alone." In a blatant product promotion, the piece tells how Santa Claus has brought a stack of Harper's Weeklys for the soldiers, "so that they, as well as you little folks, may have a peep at the Christmas number."

So it was that Harper's readers got their first look at what would become a Yuletide institution. An inspiring creation, it was called "one of the most demoralizing moments for the Confederate army." The next year, Nast illustrated Moore's verse for a book of children's poems, giving the world a softer, kinder Santa who was still old but appeared less stern than the ecclesiastical St. Nicholas. He dressed him in red, endowed him with human characteristics, and gave him a home at the North Pole. And every year until his departure from Harper's in 1886, Nast created an elaborate Christmas drawing to delight children and adults alike. Nast added other unique elements each year of his tenure, such as Santa poring over a list of naughty and nice children, crafting toys in his North Pole workshop, whisking away in his reindeer-drawn sleigh, and smoking a pipe. He would standardize the basic image of Santa Claus that we relish to this day.

A History of Harpers

Harper’s Monthly Magazine, the first of the greater illustrated magazines, was established in 1850 by Harper and Brothers, publishers, of New York. It was founded, as a member of the firm said, as a tender to the publishing business. At first the contents were taken from English journals. The prospectus, issued in 1850, announced:

The Publishers of the New Monthly Magazine intend  to place everything of the periodical literature of the day, which has permanent value and commanding interest, in the hands of all who have the slightest desire to become acquainted with it. The magazine will transfer to its pages as rapidly as they may be issued all the continuous tales of Dickens, Bulwer, Croly, Lever, Warren, and other distinguished contributors to British Periodicals: articles of commanding interest from all the leading Quarterly Reviews of both Great Britain and the United States: Critical Notices of the current publications of the day: Speeches and Addresses…. A carefully prepared Fashion Plate, and other pictorial illustrations will also accompany each number.

Borrowings were for a time credited to their original sources, but soon this credit was omitted. In a business way the venture was immediately successful, the circulation being given as fifty thousand after six months, and one hundred and thirty thousand after three years. Other magazines, especially those which published chiefly the work of American authors, resented this new competition and the attitude of Harper and Brothers toward international copyright. The American Whig Review for July, 1852, prints a long Letter to the Publishers of Harper’s Magazine signed “An American Writer,” which expresses with some show of temper sentiments that were not infrequently uttered. After asking, “Is such a publication calculated to benefit American literature? and secondly, is it just?” the writer continues:

Your publication, gentlemen, with all others of the same nature, is simply a monstrosity; and the more widely it is diffused, the more clearly is its moral ugliness revealed. It is an ever-present, ever-living insult to the brains of Americans, and its indignity is every day increasing in intensity. Heading a select band of English republications, it comes into our literary market month by month, offering a show of matter which no other magazine could present were it fairly paid for, and effectually shutting out the attempts of American publishers from even the chances of a sale. Its contents are often attractive, although, considering the unbounded range of your pillage, I have wondered that they were not better; it displays a large number of well-printed pages, and generally boasts a few thievings from Punch hardly up to the style of that very amusing sheet; and it pleases the economical tastes of its readers. As a scheme for making money, I cannot too highly commend your enterprise. It is a manifest improvement of the shopkeeper’s maxim of buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest, for you do not buy in the market at all. You walk through the array of literary wares which the English nation spreads before you, taking what you please, and giving neither money nor thanks in return. You reproduce what you have so cheaply obtained, and are thus enabled to undersell your more scrupulous competitors. By this process of appropriation and sale, you prove your right to the enviable title of sharp business men, but you also show yourselves utterly destitute of regard for the literary talent of your own countrymen, and for those national opinions and sentiments which are only partially disseminated by the newspapers, and which it is the peculiar province of English literature to supplant and destroy.


  In time Harper’s came more and more to take the work of Americans, and it has long made a practice of printing only original contributions. If during its early career it sinned by ignoring and discouraging American authors, it seemed at a later date almost to sin in the opposite direction. At times it has published so many contributions from a young author of growing popularity as to raise the question whether it was not encouraging hasty and ill-considered writing. Among writers of tales whom it exploited in this way were Richard Harding Davis, Mary E. Wilkins, and Stephen Crane.


  The first editor of Harper’s Monthly was Henry J. Raymond. Henry M. Alden, his successor, was editor for fifty years (1869–1919). Fletcher Harper, a member of the firm, habitually contracted for the serials and for much other fiction, and a great share in determining the contents of the magazine. Of the special departments which are distinctive of Harper’s Magazine the most important is “The Editor’s Easy Chair.” George William Curtis assumed control of this in 1853, and his essays which appeared under this head are among the most delightful of his works. The most distinguished of Curtis’s successors in the “Easy Chair” is its present occupant, William Dean Howells. Another department, “The Editor’s Study,” has been conducted at different times by William Dean Howells and Charles Dudley Warner. Among the men in charge of “The Editor’s Drawer” have been Lewis Gaylord Clark and John Kendrick Bangs.

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Harper Brothers

Harper and Brothers In October 1903, Harper's became Twain's exclusive American publisher. Published Joan of Arc in 1895, Tom Sawyer Abroad; Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Other Stories in 1896; Captain Stormfield in 1909. Held exclusive rights to Twain's books until the copyrights expired.
Harper's Weekly New York literary magazine, founded in 1857 by Fletcher Harper, of Harper and Brothers, and known for the high quality of their illustrations. Twain published more than ten pieces in Harper's Weekly during the 1900s, including: The $30,000 Bequest.
Harper's Magazine New York monthly, founded in 1850 by Fletcher Harper, of Harper and Brothers. Twain considered Harper's one of the most important forums for his work. He published more than 30 pieces here, including stories, essays, and serialized novels, from 1866 until the 1900s. Some of the more famous works included: Joan of Arc and Tom Sawyer, Detective, both in serialized format, Concerning the Jews, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, A Double-Barrelled Detective Story, Eve's Diary, and Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. The Mysterious Stranger was published posthumously here in 1916.