The 12 volume Universal Cyclopaedia was edited by Charles Kendall Adams, and was published by D. Appleton & Company in 1900. The name was changed to Universal Cyclopaedia and Atlas in 1902, with editor Rossiter Johnson.
D. Appleton & Company acquired the rights to Johnson's Universal Cyclopaedia, and the imprints of both companies appeared on volumes of Johnson's Universal Cyclopaedia and on the 1900 edition of the Universal Cyclopaedia. From 1901 only Appleton's imprint appeared, and the set was often referred to as Appleton's Universal Cyclopaedia.
Johnson's Universal Cyclopaedia in turn was a revision of the 1876 Johnson's New Universal Cyclopaedia, which was published in 4 volumes by Alvin J. Johnson & Co., and edited by Frederick Barnard and Arnold Guyot. The 4 volumes were split to produce an 8 volume edition in 1884.
In the Publisher's Announcement in Volume I, A. J. Johnson stated that Horace Greeley suggested the plan for the work and urged its publication, and was a primary advisor. Greeley is listed as an associate editor. One of Greeley's requirements was that the cyclopaedia "be pre-eminently a book of facts, and to a very limited extent, if at all, a volume of discussions or of critical opinions."
There was some protest against the depiction of Catholic doctrine and practices in the Universal Cyclopaedia and Atlas.
- Wynne, John J., 1859-1948. "A chapter of errors in Appleton's universal cyclopaedia and atlas; an article entitled "Poisoning the wells" reprinted from The Messenger". New York: The Messenger (1900).