The firm was founded by George Bartholomew who at the age of 13 was apprenticed to the map publishers W&D Lizars. His son John opened his own engraving premises in 1826 at 59 York Place, Edinburgh, and worked for A&C Black and WH Lizars. In turn his son John (jun) learned his trade under Augustus Petermann in the famous firm of Justus Perthes in Gotha. There he acquired the arts of map compilation and lithographic printing. In 1860 he went into partnership with his father, the firm taking the new title of John Bartholomew & Son.
In 1888 John George, the fourth in succession, took over sole control of the business at the age of 28. He had introduced layer colouring into maps in 1880, a process revolutionising map printing. It was used for the first time in a map illustrating Baddeley’s Guide to the English Lake District. From 1888 John George was in partnership with Thomas Nelson, the latter dying in 1892. John George took his cousin Andrew G Scott into partnership which lasted till 1919. During this period the firm was known as John Bartholomew and Co. In 1919 the title changed to John Bartholomew & Son Ltd. He produced in 1895 the survey Atlas of Scotland, in 1891 the Citizens Atlas, and in 1899 the Atlas of Meteorology and he finally prepared the maps for the Times Survey Atlas of the World in 1922. He was one of the founders of the Scottish Geographical Society in 1884, and he held the appointment of Geographer and Cartographer to HM King George V.