John Bartlett was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on June 14, 1820, the son of William Bartlett and Susan Thacher. As a teenager, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he worked for a bookbinding company; he later owned the University Book Store, which was associated with Harvard College professors and students. He published his collection of quotations in 1855 as A Collection of Familiar Quotations. During the Civil War, he served as a paymaster for the United States Navy. In 1863, he began working for Little, Brown and Company, later becoming a well-known editor. Bartlett and Hannah Stanifield Willard married in 1851; they had no children. John Bartlett died on December 3, 1905.
George Nichols (1809-1882) was born in Salem, Massachusetts. He received a bachelor's degree from Harvard College in 1828 and a divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1831; he later taught mathematics at Harvard. In 1833, he and James Munroe bought the University Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts; in 1842, he became part-owner of the local university press.