Harper and Brothers evolved from J. and J. Harper, a printing company founded by brothers James and John Harper in New York in 1817. By the time the firm became Harper and Brothers in 1833, two other brothers, Joseph and Fletcher, had joined, and the company was the largest book printer in America. The management of Harper and Brothers included members of the Harper family until the end of the nineteenth century.
Technologically innovative and publishing fine quality illustrated volumes, Harper and Brothers relied on reprints of the work of notable English authors. In 1853, when a fire destroyed the company's many presses, it was probably the largest publisher in America. Harper and Brothers survived the effects of the fire, and the Civil War, and various financial crises, by relying on its school text series, and the popularity of its magazines, including Harper's New Monthly Magazine, begun in 1850, and Harper's Weekly, begun in 1857. The lavishly illustrated magazines published serialised novels, at first almost exclusively from English writers, but progressively including original works by American writers. From the 1890s the company experienced financial and management difficulties and began to lose its dominant position, but continued a strong publishing program which from 1926 included a comprehensive children's list, and from the 1950s several paperback reprint series, including Harper Torchbooks, Perennial Classics, and Colophon Books. In 1962 Harper and Brothers merged with Row, Peterson and Company to form Harper and Row. Harper and Row joined in 1962 with William Collins and Angus and Robertson to form HarperCollins Australia.