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Henry Oscar Houghton (April 30, 1823 – August 25, 1895) was an American publisher, co-founder of Houghton Mifflin, and a mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Henry Oscar Houghton
1846 HenryOscarHoughton.png
H.O. Houghton, 1846
Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts
In office
January 1872 – January 1873
Preceded byHamlin R. Harding
Succeeded byIsaac Bradford
Personal details
Born(1823-04-30)April 30, 1823
Sutton, Vermont, US
DiedAugust 25, 1895(1895-08-25) (aged 72)
Alma materUniversity of Vermont


Houghton was born into a poor family in Sutton, Vermont. At age thirteen, he started working as an apprentice at The Burlington Free Press, where he became a typesetter. After graduation from the University of Vermont, he moved to Boston to work first as a reporter, then proofreader. He then joined a small Cambridge firm, Freeman & Bolles, that typeset and printed books for Little, Brown and Company. At age 25, he became a partner, and in 1849, the company was renamed Bolles and Houghton. After Bolles left in 1851, Houghton briefly entered a partnership with his cousin, Rufus Haywood, then with Edmund Hatch Bennett, before taking on full responsibility in 1855.[1] In 1852, Houghton moved the business to a property beside the Charles River, renaming it the Riverside Press.[2]

Before the Riverside Press, American books had generally been printed with poor ink on cheap paper. Houghton insisted on much higher quality; his motto was "Do it well or not at all". The result was very successful. He became the main printer for publishers Ticknor and Fields, and, in 1863, was engaged by G. & C. Merriam Company to print and bind their new dictionary.

In 1864, Houghton entered the publishing business and formed a partnership with a New York publisher, Melancthon M. Hurd, who obtained half interest in the Riverside Press.[3] Within three years, the company increased its workforce from 90 to 300 employees.[citation needed] Hurd & Houghton struggled initially as a publisher, contending especially with lackluster periodical sales, and would not turn a profit until 1870. The Riverside Press continued to operate successfully, however, and Houghton purchased the property it occupied in 1867.[4] George Harrison Mifflin (1845–1921) became a partner in 1872[5], the same year that Houghton served as mayor of Cambridge.[6] In 1878, when Hurd retired, Houghton joined with James R. Osgood of Ticknor and Fields, merging their firms to create Houghton, Osgood and Company. The firm was plagued by debts brought in by Osgood, and dissolved in 1880 when Osgood left the partnership. Houghton and Mifflin then formed Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Lawson Valentine, who became a partner and provided $200,000 in fresh capital, helped to mitigate their debts.[7] Houghton's firm also retained the right to the Tickner and Fields backlist, from which it could freely benefit.[8]

Houghton died on August 25, 1895. He had one son and three daughters.[9] In his 1891 will, he appointed daughter Elizabeth Harris Houghton "representative to nominate a patient for the free bed the testator established in the Cambridge hospital".[9]


  1. ^ Ballou, Ellen B. (1970). The Building of the House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 27–29.
  2. ^ Ballou 1970, pp. 27-29.
  3. ^ Ballou 1970, pp. 55-57.
  4. ^ Ballou 1970, pp. 96-98.
  5. ^ "George H. Mifflin". Cambridge Tribune. April 9, 1921.
      "Cambridge Tribune, Volume XLIV, Number 6, 9 April 1921". Cambridge Public Library ( Retrieved 2016-09-20.
  6. ^ Scudder 1897, p. 131.
  7. ^ Ballou 1970, pp. 247, 276-278.
  8. ^ Winship, Michael (1995). American Literary Publishing in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: The Business of Ticknor and Fields. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 23. ISBN 0521454697.
  9. ^ a b "The Will of Henry O. Houghton". Cambridge Chronicle. September 14, 1895.
      "Cambridge Chronicle, Volume L, Number 37, 14 September 1895". Cambridge Public Library ( Retrieved 2016-02-03.
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Political offices
Preceded by
Hamlin R. Harding
Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts
January 1872 – January 1873
Succeeded by
Isaac Bradford