Houghton Mifflin Harcourt traces its origins to the well-known nineteenth-century Boston publishing firm Ticknor & Fields, founded by William Ticknor in 1832, where the leading lights of 19th century literature found a home. HMH also has origins in the Riverside Press, a printing company founded by Henry Oscar Houghton in 1852, which branched out into book publishing in 1864, later acquiring the successor to Ticknor & Fields along with several educational publishers becoming Houghton Mifflin in 1880. The third important branch of our legacy begins in New York City in 1919 when Alfred Harcourt and Donald Brace founded their publishing company with the goal of bringing modern books to the modern world, publishing notable British and American authors of the 20th century. Our founders laid down a solid foundation on which we operate today: inspiring readers, nurturing curiosity, and supporting students and teachers.
William Ticknor and John Allen establish their publishing and bookselling business in the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston. Ticknor and his young clerk, James Fields, greeted customers and encouraged authors who dropped in with manuscripts. Even in our earliest days, we kept our eyes peeled for trailblazing writers.
Lydia Maria Child writes the first book to call for the abolition of slavery in America: An Appeal in Favor of that Class of American called African. Child takes her New England neighbors to task for not supporting full equal rights as well as freedom for those who are enslaved.
Henry O. Houghton starts his own printing company in an old building on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and calls it the Riverside Press, earning a reputation for quality printing and establishing relationships with the major publishers in the Boston area.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau is published by Ticknor & Fields. Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson are the first of dozens of authors whose commitment to nature and the environment HMH has been proud to present to the world.
Henry O. Houghton partners with New York-based editor Melancthon Hurd and forms Hurd & Houghton. In 1876 they purchase Crocker & Brewster, publisher of books for schools, establishing themselves in the education market. In 1878 Houghton acquires Osgood & Co., the successor to Ticknor & Fields. When Hurd retires, they change the name of the firm to Houghton & Osgood.
The partnership with Osgood dissolves, George Mifflin is elevated to full partner, and Houghton, Mifflin & Co. is established. In May they move into 4 Park Street, the first of the row of buildings along Park Street in Boston that Houghton Mifflin inhabits until 1992.
Houghton Mifflin introduces the Riverside Literature Series for use by schools. At the time most literature studied was classical: Shakespeare, Homer, Milton, and others. But the editors at Houghton Mifflin wanted an American education to include American literature, so they introduced this compact and inexpensive series. They established a separate department dedicated to the education market to meet increasing school attendance and standards.
While it may be true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, the book cover designs by Sarah Wyman Whitman not only are works of art themselves, they always reveal something intrinsic about the book inside. Whitman was the chief cover designer for Houghton Mifflin from 1884 to 1903 and the first woman designer hired by any publishing firm. She was also a painter and a stained glass artist.
In response to the rapidly expanding school-age population of the Progressive Era, along with the rise of college degree programs in teaching and education in the country, Houghton Mifflin introduced Riverside Education Monographs for teacher training.
The first of Willa Cather’s prairie novels, O Pioneers!, is published. Cather follows it with The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Antonia (1918).
The anthology The Best American Short Stories is issued for the first time and has been issued annually each year since, presenting the work of established and emerging writers. The series has been expanded to include the best in essays, nature writing, sports writing, and more, and there are now ten additional titles in The Best American Series.
Alfred Harcourt and Donald Brace open their own publishing company in New York City. Harcourt wrote that he wanted to start the company in order “to publish books dealing with the new ideas with which the world was seething.” Their first big success was John Maynard Keynes’s book The Economic Consequences of the Peace in 1920 followed soon after by Sinclair Lewis’s novel Main Street.
Beginning in 1921 with her story collection Monday or Tuesday, all of Virginia Woolf’s books are published in the United States by Harcourt Brace with their original cover designs by Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell.
A Field Guide to the Birds by Roger Tory Peterson changed the way field guides were written and designed. Peterson was an artist in addition to being a naturalist, and his schematic approach set a new standard for how field guides were written.
W. E. B. DuBois publishes his groundbreaking work, Black Reconstruction, which is the first work to fundamentally challenge the prevailing academic view of the Reconstruction Era in US history. DuBois emphasized the agency of Black Americans during Reconstruction and framed it as a period where a worker-ruled democracy replaced a slavery-based plantation economy.
Everyone’s favorite monkey makes his first appearance when H. A. Rey and his wife Margret escape Paris just before the Nazi invasion and bring their manuscript to New York City and the offices of Houghton Mifflin.
Harcourt, Brace acquires Reynal & Hitchcock, publisher of Mary Poppins and The Little Prince.
The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is published by Houghton Mifflin. The Two Towers follows in 1955, and The Return of the King in 1956. When she received the manuscript of the first book, editor Anne Barrett famously said: ”Who will read 423 pages about an unfinished journey undertaken by mythical creatures with confusing names? Probably no one, but I still say it is wonderful and—with my heart in my mouth—publish.”
Helen & Kurt Wolff join Harcourt, Brace & World and lead their own imprint, Helen & Kurt Wolff books, the first at a US publishing company, and bring with them such European writers as Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and José Saramago.
It’s a rare book that can be called revolutionary but Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is truly one; it changed the way we think about how chemicals affect the environment. Her eloquent writing and painstaking research resulted in a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, as well as passage of the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
The first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary is published by Houghton Mifflin. It’s the first dictionary to employ a word usage panel and include prescriptive information (how language should be used) and descriptive information (how it actually is used).
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishes The Color Purple by Alice Walker and it goes on to win the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award as well as be turned into a movie and Broadway musical.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg is published by Houghton Mifflin and instantly becomes a Christmas classic.
Heinemann publishes Guided Reading by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. It quickly becomes the definitive educator resource for small group reading instruction. The two go on to create a comprehensive literacy system including intervention, assessment, and professional learning.
Heinemann releases the first edition of Lucy Calkins's Units of Study curriculum. The premier voice in reading, writing, and phonics instruction, Calkins was an early proponent of Writers Workshop, first described in her 1985 book The Art of Teaching Writing.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? The super sleuth joined HMH along with Reader Rabbit and The Oregon Trail when Irish company Riverdeep acquires Houghton Mifflin.
Houghton Mifflin acquires Harcourt Education, Harcourt Trade, and Heinemann from Reed Elsevier, and changes its name to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH).
HMH furthered its commitment to consumer publishing with the acquisition of Wiley & Son's reference division, gaining many exciting cookbooks.
HMH establishes leadership in the K-12 intervention and assessment space with the acquisition of Scholastic's EdTech division and the digital curricula READ 180, MATH 180, and System 44, all of which use a blend of teacher-led instruction and adaptive technology to personalize instruction and accelerate growth.
Versify, an imprint with the mission to present books that electrify, edify, and exemplify the lives of all children, is launched. The books from its inaugural list win many awards and honors, including a Caldecott and Newbery Honor for The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, HMH rose to the challenge. It quickly pivoted, providing online resources for families and teachers and online book tours for authors—leading the way toward a new era of connected learning.