Sir William Johnston (1802-1888) founded the firm of W & A. K Johnston. He started as a printer in 1825 in 6 Hill Square, Edinburgh. He moved in 1826 to 160 High Street, in 1837 to St Andrew Square and in 1879 to Edina Works, Easter Road. Alexander Keith Johnston (1804-1871) was a younger brother of William. He joined the family business in 1826 and quickly developed the geographical side. He styled himself Geographer at Edinburgh in Ordinary to the Queen. Thomas Bramby Johnston joined the firm at the end of the century and the firm took over the business of Bacon & Co (another large publisher of maps and atlases), in 1941.
The firm of Johnston published a National Atlas in 1844, 1846 and 1854; and the first edition of the Royal Atlas of Modern Geography in 1861, with 48 maps. The atlas went through 12 editions and became Johnston’s Hand Royal Atlas of Modern Geography with 61 colour lithographed maps and an index of 84 pages. While Bartholomew’s Citizens Atlas sold more copies being half the price, Johnston’s Royal Atlas became the standard library atlas through the British Empire.