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Profiles in Publishing: The Harper Brothers

James and John Harper, the two eldest Harper brothers, founded J & J Harper in 1817. They were joined by their two younger brothers, Joseph Wesley and Fletcher, in the mid-1820s. The house’s name was subsequently changed to Harper & Brothers.

Their breakthrough title was Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures, which detailed the sexual exploitation of a Catholic nun. After the success of this (admittedly, pretty dark) book, the oldest and the youngest Harper finished out their careers extremely differently.

Fletcher Harper

Name: Fletcher Harper 

Birthdate/place: January 31, 1806, Newton, NY

Publisher Associated With: Harper & Brothers (now HarperCollins)

Claim to Fame: After Awful Disclosures cemented the name Harper & Brothers, Fletcher stayed on in the publishing biz. He is credited with founding publications such as Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Magazine, and Harper’s Bazaar. He also collaborated with famed cartoonist Thomas Nast, who published the first modern depiction of Santa Claus in Harper’s Weekly.


James Harper

Name: James Harper

Birthdate/place: April 13, 1795, Newton, NY

Publisher Associated With: J & J Harper, Harper & Brothers (now HarperCollins)

Claim to Fame: Eight years after the publication of Awful Disclosures, James Harper ran for mayor of New York City on a nativist, anti-Catholic, anti-immigration platform, using the text of his house’s breakthrough novel as proof that his views were legitimate. He won, and while in office, implemented crucial changes to the city of New York, such as establishing the first municipal police force (and gave them the first NYPD blue uniforms), banished free-roaming pigs from the streets (always a solid idea), and started the construction of a citywide sanitation system.

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