The publishing giant Little, Brown and Company has its origins in one of the country’s first bookstores, a shop owned by the Revolutionary War veteran Ebenezer Battelle. Founded in the mid-1780s, Battelle sold imported books, as well as American titles; a 1784 ad in the Massachusetts Centinel also advertised stationary, psalmody, and “musick.” The shop changed hands several times, beginning a printing enterprise in the late 1790s. Early in the 19th century, it was acquired by William Hillard, who hired the clerks Charles Coffin Little, previously of a shipping house, and James Brown, a former servant in the home of Harvard Professor Levi Hedge (not to be confused with the singer of “I Got You”). The firm rotated through several owners, eventually dividing in the 1830s, when half of the business was acquired the partners Little and Brown. With the addition of Augustus Flagg—who served as manager after Charles Little’s death—the name was changed to Little, Brown & Co.
A 1903 article in the Cambridge Tribune described Little, Brown & Co. as “the leading publishing firm of law books in America.” In addition, it had garnered fame for printing dictionaries and grammar books, works of history, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, collections of letters—notably those of John Adams—American editions of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in its six-volume entirety. Later, Little, Brown & Co. would expand to publish Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Little Men, as well as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and Jr., Emily Dickinson, and a series of British poets including William Wordsworth and Geoffrey Chaucer.
In 1909, Little, Brown & Co. moved to 34 Beacon Street. The house, constructed in 1825 on land originally belonging to John Hancock, had once been owned by the family of Ogden Codman, a Beaux-Arts architect and interior designer who worked with Edith Wharton on the design treatise The Decoration of Houses. As Little, Brown & Co. grew, it came to occupy three different Boston locations. Eventually, the majority of operations were moved to New York.
Today, Little, Brown & Co. publishes authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Edith Hamilton, Carl Jung, Henry Kissinger, Norman Mailer, Nelson Mandela, Ogden Nash, Thomas Pynchon, J.D. Salinger, David Sedaris, Gore Vidal, David Foster Wallace, and Evelyn Waugh. In 2006, Hachette, one of the “Big Five” of publishing, acquired Little, Brown.