Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation

A Short History of the Publishing House

“Wealthy business man, age 31, married, Ph.D. (German Literature) is seeking a relationship which may lead to an active partnership or the taking over of a well-known publishing company.”

In 1894, this ad was published in the book industry trade journal, Börsenblatt and successfully accomplished in 1919 Walter de Gruyter’s (1862 - 1923) carefully-worded desire, allowing him to form a well-renowned scientific publishing house out of five separate companies. This prudent businessman formed the Vereinigung wissenschaftlicher Verleger, Walter de Gruyter & Co., combining the publishing companies of Georg Reimer Publishers, the G. J. Göschen'sche Verlagshandlung, the J. Guttentag Verlagsbuchhandlung, Veit & Comp. Publishers, as well as, Karl. J. Trübner Publishers. Since 1923, the company has carried the name of its founder, Walter de Gruyter & Co. and in 1998, the name of the company was changed to Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG.

The history of Walter de Gruyter’s oldest part dates back to the days of Georg Reimer and his publishing enterprise. In 1801, Georg Andreas Reimer took over the bookstore of the Königlichen Realschule in Berlin. The bookstore had been given the royal privilege to print books by King Friedrich II in 1749. Over the years, Georg Reimer turned the publishing company into the most influential and important publisher in the German Romantic Literary Movement. He published the most important German philosophers and writers of his time: Heinrich von Kleist, Ernst Moritz Arndt, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, Jean Paul, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Ludwig Tieck, August Wilhelm Schlegel, Achim von Arnim, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, and Wilhelm von Humboldt. Walter de Gruyter joined the company in 1894 as a volunteer and bought the publishing house in 1897.

In 1785, Georg Joachim Göschen (1752-1828) founded the G. J Göschen'sche Verlagshandlung in Leipzig. Georg Joachim Göschen had a special interest in typography and earned respectability and wide recognition for the trade. He published the most important German classical authors of the period, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Christoph Martin Wieland, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. After Göschen’s death, the company had a number of owners until, finally, Walter de Gruyter was able to purchase it in 1919.

A renowned publisher of law literature, J. Guttentag Verlagsbuchhandlung published commentaries and collections of the codified law. In 1898, Walter de Gruyter joined the company as CEO and in 1919, integrated the J. Guttentag Verlagsbuchhandlung into his Vereinigung wissenschaftlicher Verleger, Walter de Gruyter & Co.

In 1834, Moritz Veit founded the publishing company Veit & Comp. in Berlin. Veit & Comp. published a list of titles that were predominantly scientific, covering the natural sciences, medicine, and mathematics, at the same time, bringing out books about law and chess. In 1919, Veit & Comp. was made part of Vereinigung wissenschaftlicher Verleger, Walter de Gruyter & Co.

The publisher with the shortest history in Walter de Gruyter’s original group of scientific publishers was Karl J. Trübner. Founded in 1872 by Karl J. Trübner, the company was partially bought by Walter de Gruyter in 1906 and turned over completely to Walter de Gruyter in 1907. The main focus of this publishing enterprise was linguistics, literary studies, and early Germanic history.

After the death of Walter de Gruyter in 1923, his son-in-law Herbert Cram (1890-1967) took over the management of the modern-style publishing house. Then, in 1939, Wolf Meinhard von Staa (died 1969) joined the company as managing director, working side by side with Herbert Cram.
Up until World War II, Walter de Gruyter’s policy of acquiring publishing houses continued. In 1927, A. Markus & E. Webers, Bonn was bought. In 1929, Friedrichsen, de Gruyter & Co. (since 1945: Cram, de Gruyter & Co.). In 1935, Alfred Töpelmann, Gießen, specializing in theology and religious studies, was acquired. In 1937, Technische Verlag M. Krayn (later renamed Technischer Verlag Herbert Cram) was bought. And in 1939, shares were purchased in J. Schweitzer’s Verlag, which published the Staudingers Kommentar zum BGB, the most important commentary to German codified law (nowadays published by Dr. Arthur L. Sellier & Co. - Walter de Gruyter GmbH).

Under the joint management of Kurt-Georg Cram and Kurt Lubasch, Walter de Gruyter & Co. consolidated its international standing. More English titles were published and in 1971, the American subsidiary Walter de Gruyter Inc., New York was founded. Moreover, in 1977, de Gruyter acquired Mouton Publishers in Den Haag, known especially for its linguistic publications. In 2004, de Gruyter separated from the social scientific imprint Aldine Publishing Company located in Hawthorne, New York, which it had acquired in 1978.

In August 2006, De Gruyter successfully has acquired the publishing houses K.G. Saur and Max Niemeyer, thus becoming one of the largest European publishers in the humanities.

The publishing house of Max Niemeyer was founded in Halle/Saale in 1870. It is one of the most renowned publishers for the humanities, with the main emphasis on Germanic and Romance Studies (literature and languages). The publisher’s reputation was established by Hermann Paul’s "German Dictionary", by leading journals ("Anglia", "Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur" [Papers on the History of German Language and Literature], "Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie" [Journal of Romance Philology]), and by Martin Heidegger’s principal work "Sein und Zeit" [Being and Time] which has been published by Max Niemeyer since its first edition in 1927.

K. G. Saur, is known throughout the world as one of the leading publishers of biographical and bibliographical reference titles serving the library and academic community.

In 2011 De Gruyter opened a representative office in Beijing in order to initiate and coordinate partnerships with publishers in China, the world's largest book market.

In January 2012 De Gruyter became the world's third-largest Open Access publisher with the purchase of VERSITA, a Polish publishing house, now running as the imprint De Gruyter Open. In the same year De Gruyter also acquired Birkhäuser, one the world's most respected publishers in the fields of architecture, design, and landscaping. Based in Basel, Switzerland, Birkhäuser is home to renowned authors and architects such as Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, Andrea Deplazes, Herzog & de Meuron, and Peter Zumthor.

Additional recent strategic acquisitions by the De Gruyter Group include the purchase of the philosophy publisher Ontos as well as the publishing houses of Oldenbourg and Akademie in 2013. Akademie publishes a range of works with a long-standing tradition, include the Marx and Engels Complete Edition (MEGA). Oldenbourg has been a distinguished member of the publishing industry for over 150 years, and has a strong reputation in the fields of history, economics, informatics, and engineering (for the German-speaking market).

2014 Birkhäuser acquired the Austrian publisher AMBRA which was founded in 2013 from the art-and architectural program of Springer Wien New York.

De Gruyter's executive board consists of Dr. Sven Fund (CEO), Dr. Anke Beck (President of Publishing), and Carsten Buhr (CFO) comprising all imprints De Gruyter Akademie Forschung, Birkhäuser, De Gruyter Mouton, De Gruyter Open, De Gruyter Oldenbourg, and De Gruyter Saur.