Henry Oscar Houghton

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Henry Oscar Houghton
File:1846 HenryOscarHoughton.png
H.O. Houghton, 1846
Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts
In office
January 1872 – January 1873
Preceded by Hamlin R. Harding
Succeeded by Isaac Bradford
Personal details
Born (1823-04-30)April 30, 1823
Sutton, Vermont
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Alma mater University of Vermont
Occupation Publisher

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


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, he took on full responsibility. In 1852 Houghton moved the business to beside the Charles River, renaming it the Riverside Press.

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 formed a partnership with Melancthon M. Hurd, a New York publisher. Hurd & Houghton was a quick success, and within three years the company increased its workforce from 90 to 300 employees. George Harrison Mifflin became partner in 1872, and when Houghton became mayor of Cambridge, Mifflin succeeded him as lead partner. In 1878, when Hurd retired, Houghton joined with James R. Osgood (formerly of Ticknor and Fields) to make Houghton, Osgood and Company. Lawson Valentine would become the third partner and provide $200,000 in fresh capital. The firm was plagued by personal debts from Osgood. The firm dissolved and in 1880 Houghton and Mifflin formed Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

He died on August 25, 1895. He had four children.[1]


Political offices
Preceded by
Hamlin R. Harding
Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts
January 1872 – January 1873
Succeeded by
Isaac Bradford