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Earliest Members of the Century Association

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William H. Appleton


Centurion, 1847–1899

Full Name William Henry Appleton

Born 27 January 1814 in Haverhill, Massachusetts

Died 19 October 1899 in New York (Bronx), New York

Buried Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York

Proposed by Not recorded

Elected 6 November 1847 at age thirty-three

Archivist’s Note: Brother of Daniel S. Appleton, George S. Appleton, John A. Appleton, and Samuel F. Appleton; brother-in-law of James E. Cooley; father of William W. Appleton; father-in-law of H. Seymour Geary; uncle of Daniel Appleton, D. Sidney Appleton, and Edward D. Appleton; great-grandfather of John J. Appleton and William Appleton

Century Memorials

The name of William H. Appleton is honored wherever the English language is spoken. He was the founder of the great publishing house of D. Appleton & Company, which bore his father’s name as the senior partner in the house, and for more than sixty years he directed its affairs. It grew from small beginnings to one of commanding influence, from the nature of its publications and the character of its members, who have always followed the high standard he established.

He was the friend and associate of Tom Moore, Thackeray, Halleck, Bryant and the elder Murray (the founder of the great publishing house that bears his name), and was loved and respected by all who were honored with his acquaintance, for his charm of manner and his fine intellectual qualities.

He labored assiduously and honorably for international copyright, through conviction of the injustice done to authors by the failure of this country to respect their rights. He was the first president of the American Publishers’ Copyright League, and saw his efforts finally crowned with success.

He filled many places of trust in some of the largest corporations in the city, was for many years the senior warden of St. Bartholomew’s Church, gave liberally to charities, some of which he endowed, and was at the time of his death one of the oldest living members of The Century.

He will be remembered as a fine, courteous, dignified gentle man of the old school, an ornament to the society in which he moved, which was of the best, and an honor to the city where his life was spent.

Henry E. Howland
1900 Century Association Yearbook

William H. Appleton, forty-three years old in 1857, outlived all the other incorporators of the Century, for he died at eighty-five. As his nephew, Centurion Edward D. Appleton, remarked not long ago, William H. “was not tall for an Appleton, being only about five foot eleven.” Henry Holt wrote in 1910 that the active head for more than sixty years of D. Appleton & Co., publishers, “was a financial magnate, at a time when that was an honor. . . . He was a heroic figure—literally one of the finest I ever saw, whose mere presence, not to speak of his character, always lent dignity to his surroundings. I used to see him at the Century Club, where he talked to me about business as freely as if he were teaching me—as indeed he was, and invited me to dinner at his ample, picture-lined house on Madison Square, accepting my modest hospitality in return.” On one occasion at the Club, Holt asserted that Appleton was the greatest publisher in the United States.

In England, Appleton knew Thomas Moore, Byron, Thackeray, the elder Murray, Newman, Manning, Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer.

“For decades he fought for an adequate international copy right law,” said Edward D. Appleton. “In an address to Congress, he said, ‘You give a patent to a man who invents a mouse-trap, but you won’t give a copyright to Herbert Spencer, the greatest philosopher since Socrates.’”

Literature Committee
“Incorporators of the Century, 1857” (1936 pamphlet)