Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Harper, James
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HARPER, James, founder of a firm of printers and publishers, originally consisting of James, b. 13 April, 1795, d. in New York, 27 March, 1869; John, b. 22 Jan., 1797, d. 22 April, 1875; Joseph Wesley, b. 25 Dec., 1801, d. 14 Feb., 1870; and Fletcher, b. 31 Jan., 1806, d. 29 May, 1877. They were the sons of Joseph Harper, a farmer at Newtown, L. I. James and John came to New York, and James was apprenticed to Paul and Thomas, while John served Jonathan Seymour, printers. Having concluded their apprenticeship, they established themselves in business, at first only printing for booksellers, but soon began to publish on their own account. The first book that the firm printed was “Seneca's Morals,” in 1817, and by a strange coincidence a new edition of this work appeared on the day of the death of the last of the four brothers. The first book that they published on their own account was “Locke on the Human Understanding,” in 1818. The old firm of J. and J. Harper issued about 200 works. Wesley and Fletcher Harper were apprenticed to their elder brothers, and as they became of age were admitted as partners; and the style of the firm was about 1833 changed to “Harper and Brothers.” In 1853 their establishment occupied nine contiguous buildings in Cliff and Pearl streets, filled with costly machinery and books. On 10 Dec. of that year the whole was burned to the ground, in consequence of a workman engaged in repairs having thrown a burning paper into a tank of benzine, which he mistook for water. Most of their stereotype plates were stored in vaults, and were saved; but the loss in buildings, machinery, and books amounted to $1,000,000, upon which there was only $250,000 insurance. The next day they hired temporary premises, and employed the principal printers and binders in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia in reproducing their books. Before the ruins of the fire could be cleared away the plans for their new edifice were prepared. It covers about half an acre of ground, extending from Cliff street to Franklin square in Pearl street, and, including cellars, the structure is seven stories high. It is absolutely fire-proof, and constitutes probably the most complete publishing establishment in the world, all the operations in the preparation and publication of a book being carried on under a single roof, and the regular number of employes in the premises of both sexes being about 1,000. Besides the books published, they issue four illustrated periodicals: “Harper's Magazine,” established in 1850, a monthly, devoted to literature and the arts; “Harper's Weekly,” established in 1857, devoted to literature and topics of the day; “Harper's Bazar,” established in 1867, devoted to the fashions, literature, and social life; and “Harper's Young People,” a children's magazine, established in 1881. James Harper was in 1844 elected mayor of the city of New York for the succeeding year, and he was subsequently put forward for the governorship of the state; but he preferred to conduct the business of the firm rather than enter public life. In March, 1869, while driving in Fifth avenue, his horses took fright, and he was thrown from his carriage; when aid reached him he was insensible, and died two days afterward. Wesley Harper, who for many years had charge of the literary department, died after a long illness, John Harper died 22 April, 1875, and Fletcher Harper, 29 May, 1877; and the firm was reorganized by the admission of several of the sons of the original partners. These, after receiving a careful education, several of them at Columbia college, entered the house, each serving a regular apprenticeship in some branch of the business. The firm now (1891) consists of Joseph Wesley Harper, b. 16 March, 1830; John Wesley, b. 6 May, 1831; Joseph Henry, b. 23 June, 1850; John, b. 13 Aug., 1855; James Thorne. b. 30 Aug., 1855; Horatio R., b. 17 March, 1858. Fletcher Harper. Jr.. a member of the firm, died 22 May, 1890. Fletcher, Jr.'s, wife established in 1878 a summer resort at north Long Branch. N. J., for the working-girls of New York, providing accommodations at actual cost, and since her death this charity has been continued by her daughter, Mrs. Hiram W. Sibley.