Biography and History

Frank Nelson Doubleday

Frank Nelson Doubleday was born on January 8, 1862, in Brooklyn, New York, to William Edwards Doubleday and Ellen M. Dickinson. Although ultimately becoming one of the most famous and respected publishers in the United States, Doubleday’s formal education was hardly extensive. He attended a public primary school in Brooklyn, and then went to the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute for two to three years, until his father’s hat-manufacturing business failed, forcing the teenager to seek employment.

He began his career at Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1877 and worked there for twenty years, rising through the ranks and leading many important projects, including the revival of the Book-Buyer magazine and the leadership of Scribner’s Magazine in 1887.

Doubleday married Neltje DeGraff in 1886 and had one son, Nelson, and one daughter by her. The couple also adopted Doubleday’s nephew, Felix.

In 1897, Doubleday began his first independent firm, Doubleday and McClure Company. He ended the partnership with McClure in 1900 and began Doubleday, Page & Company, partnering with Walter Page. Doubleday’s many acquisitions of other publishing firms led to multiple reincarnations of Doubleday, Page & Company, including Doubleday, Doran & Company, and various subsidiaries in England and the United States.

Doubleday, Doran & Company became one of the leading publishing houses in the United States, with an impressive stable of writers, such as Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, T. E. Lawrence, and Jack London, and many popular periodicals, including Country Life, American Home, and World’s Work.

Doubleday revolutionized the publishing industry by considering publishing a business, instead of a literary pursuit. As a result he launched such innovative projects as collected sets of authors’ works, book subscriptions, and extensive advertising and publicity campaigns. He also established a publishing plant in Garden City, Long Island, which was one of the first day-lit factories and included a small hospital and dentist’s office for employees. His employees also had health insurance and life insurance. Doubleday believed that happy workers increase productivity and quality. Photographs of the plant and its workers can be found in this collection.

Doubleday also figured prominently in American society, counting among his friends Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. He and his second wife, Florence Van Wyck, engaged in many philanthropic activities and were well-known and respected in New York society.

Doubleday died in 1934 after a heart attack. He was succeeded as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Doubleday, Doran & Company by his son, Nelson Doubleday.

Nelson Doubleday

Nelson Doubleday, the son of Frank Nelson and Neltje De Graff Doubleday, was born on June 16, 1889, in Brooklyn, New York. He was educated at the Friends School of New York and Holbrook Military Academy. His education was difficult because of extended illness as a child, but was supplemented by overseas travel with his family. Doubleday also completed two years at New York University before leaving to enter publishing.

Publishing was a passion for Nelson Doubleday which began at a young age. As a child he wrote to Rudyard Kipling, asking him to write a set of practical animal stories, which were ultimately published as the Just So Stories. The young Nelson also had an early instinct for business, negotiating a deal with his father, the publisher of the volume, to collect a penny of royalties for every copy sold, due to his involvement in the conception of the work. He collected this royalty for his lifetime.

Doubleday founded his independent publishing firm, Nelson Doubleday, Inc., in 1912. This company sold half-price magazine subscriptions of month-old magazines, and was profitable. Doubleday stopped the magazine sales when the post office increased its rates, but used the profits from the company to publish books, including an etiquette guide and reprints of nonfiction volumes.

Doubleday married Martha J. Nicholson in 1916, but the union ended in divorce in 1931. He then married Ellen McCarter Violett in 1932, who had two children from a previous marriage, and later had two more children with Doubleday. Ellen was a philanthropist and active participant in many causes, including the Parent Teacher Association.

Doubleday also enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War I but never served overseas. Following his service, he started at his father’s company in 1918 as a junior partner. He became vice-president and then president of the company, helping it survive the Depression by selling recently acquired British publishing houses and all of Doubleday’s magazines.

Nelson Doubleday also started various book clubs to introduce lower-priced books to the masses. He was very successful in this endeavor, with popular book clubs including the Literary Guild, of which he became the sole owner in 1934, the Young People's Division of the Literary Guild, the Junior Literary Guild, the Crime Club, the Doubleday One Dollar Book Club, the Family Reading Corporation, the Home Book Club, the Dollar Mystery Guild, and Book Club Associates. Doubleday published books for these clubs under separate imprints, including many lower-priced options.

Doubleday also controlled and maintained the business through the Depression by being quick to terminate projects that appeared unprofitable. His keen business sense also contributed to his success expanding the Doubleday house. He acquired a medical textbook publishing division and opened a second manufacturing plant in Hanover, Pennsylvania. He also established editorial and business offices in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Canada, in addition to the existing offices in New York and London.

Ultimately, Nelson Doubleday accomplished his father’s goal of making Doubleday the largest publishing house in America. Nelson Doubleday died of cancer in January 1949. He left a large publishing empire as well as an important legacy of providing books and literature to the common man.

Source: From the finding aid for C0162

  • Frank N. Doubleday and Nelson Doubleday Collection. 1734-1966 (inclusive), 1890s-1940s (bulk).

    Call Number: C0162

    Consists primarily of papers of Frank Nelson Doubleday and his son, Nelson, relating to their personal and business relationships with prominent authors and artists published under the Doubleday imprint, such as Joseph Conrad, A. B. Frost, Rudyard Kipling, T. E. Lawrence, and W. Someset Maugham.

  • Ellen McCarter Doubleday Papers. 1930s-1978 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0747

    Ellen McCarter Doubleday was the wife of Nelson Doubleday (1889-1949), president of the publishing firm Doubleday & Company, and daughter of Thomas N. McCarter (Princeton Class of 1888), president of the Public Service Co. of New Jersey and a Princeton University benefactor. After her husband’s death, she served on the board of directors of Doubleday until she moved to Hawaii in 1965. Papers consist of personal and business correspondence of Ellen McCarter Doubleday.