The firm originated in 1836, when the London bookseller George Routledge published an unsuccessful guidebook, The Beauties of Gilsland, with his brother-in-law W. H. (William Henry) Warne as assistant. In 1848, the pair entered the booming market for selling inexpensive imprints of works of fiction to rail travellers, in the style of the German Tauchnitz family, which became known as the "Railway Library".
The venture was a success as railway usage grew, and it eventually led to Routledge, along with W H Warne's brother Frederick Warne, to found the company, George Routledge & Co. in 1851.
The following year in 1852, the company gained lucrative business through selling reprints of Uncle Tom's Cabin, (in the public domain in the UK) which in turn enabled it to pay author Edward Bulwer-Lytton £20,000 for a 10-year lease allowing sole rights to print all 35 of his works including 19 of his novels to be sold cheaply as part of their "Railway Library" series.
The company was restyled in 1858 as Routledge, Warne & Routledge when George Routledge's son, Robert Warne Routledge, entered the partnership. Frederick Warne eventually left the company after the death of his brother W. H. Warne in May 1859 (died aged 37). Gaining rights to some titles, he founded Frederick Warne & Co. in 1865, which became known for its Beatrix Potter books. In July 1865, George Routledge's son Edmund Routledge became a partner, and the firm became George Routledge & Sons.
These early 20th-century acquisitions brought with them lists of notable scholarly titles, and from 1912 onward, the company became increasingly concentrated in the academic and scholarly publishing business under the imprint "Kegan Paul Trench Trubner", as well as reference, fiction and mysticism. In 1947, George Routledge and Sons finally merged with Kegan Paul Trench Trubner (the umlaut had been quietly dropped in the First World War) under the name of Routledge & Kegan Paul. Using C. K. Ogden and later Karl Mannheim as advisers the company was soon particularly known for its titles in philosophy, psychology and the social sciences.
In 1985, Routledge & Kegan Paul joined with Associated Book Publishers (ABP), which was later acquired by International Thomson in 1987. Under Thomson's ownership, Routledge's name and operations were retained, with the additions of backlists from Methuen, Tavistock Publications, Croom Helm and Unwin Hyman. In 1996, a management buyout financed by the European private equity firm Cinven saw Routledge operating as an independent company once again. In 1997, Cinven acquired journals publisher Carfax and book publisher Spon. In 1998, Cinven and Routledge's directors accepted a deal for Routledge's acquisition by Taylor & Francis Group (T&F), with the Routledge name being retained as an imprint and subdivision.
In 2004, T&F became a division within Informa plc after a merger. Routledge continues as a primary publishing unit and imprint within Informa's 'academic publishing' division, publishing academic humanities and social science books, journals, reference works and digital products. Routledge has grown considerably as a result of organic growth and acquisitions of other publishing companies and other publishers' titles by its parent company. Humanities and social sciences titles acquired by T&F from other publishers are rebranded under the Routledge imprint.
Routledge is a signatory of the SDG Publishers Compact, and has taken steps to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include achieving CarbonNeutral® publication certification for their print books and journals, under the Natural Capital Partners' CarbonNeutral Protocol.
Many of Routledge's reference works are published in print and electronic formats as Routledge Handbooks and have their own dedicated website: Routledge Handbooks Online. The company also publishes several online encyclopedias and collections of digital content such as Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy,Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Routledge Performance Archive, and South Asia Archive.
Routledge Worlds series consisted of 66 books as of July 2023, which the publisher described as "magisterial surveys of key historical epochs". Included in the series are The Sikh World, The Pentecostal World, published in 2023, The Quaker World, The Ancient Israelite World, and The Sámi World published in 2022.
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Clark, Giles N.; Angus Phillips (2008). Inside Book Publishing. Taylor & Francis-Library collection (4th ed.). Abingdon, England; New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-34154-4. OCLC 182573667.
Cope, Nigel (5 November 1998). "Books merger yields windfall of £6m" (online edition). The Independent. London: Independent News & Media. Archived from the original on 15 April 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2009.
Franklin, Norman (1986). Routledge & Kegan Paul: 150 years of Great Publishing. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Sutherland, John (2009). The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (2nd ed.). Abingdon, England; New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-1408203903.
Whipp, Richard (1992). "Human Resource Management, Competition and Strategy: Some Productive Tensions". In Paul Blyton; Peter Turnbull (eds.). Reassessing Human Resource Management. London: SAGE Publications. pp. 33–55. ISBN 0-8039-8697-1. OCLC 28325927.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Routledge.
History of Routledge
Routledge Revivals: Reprints from humanities and social sciences publications, from the backlists of Routledge imprints.
Routledge & Kegan Paul Archives: Ledgers, authors' agreements, printed catalogues and other papers 1853–1973, University College London.
Records of Routledge & Kegan Paul: Correspondence files covering the period 1935 to 1990, as well as review files 1950s–1990s, Special Collections, University of Reading Library.
Archives of George Routledge & Company 1853-1902, Chadwyck-Healey Ltd, 1973. 6 reels of microfilm and printed index. (Available from ProQuest)
Archives of Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Henry S. King 1858-1912, Chadwyck-Healey Ltd,1973. 27 reels of microfilm with index on microfiche. (Available from Proquest)