The company was founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1844 as S. C. Griggs & Co. It was briefly known as Griggs, Bross & Co. after William Bross was admitted as a partner in 1848; the partnership dissolved after eighteen months. Alexander C. McClurg, a former law student who moved to Chicago to join the mercantile trade, joined the company in 1859. McClurg joined Griggs as a junior partner after he returned a general from the Civil War. The company building was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After the fire, Griggs sold his share of the company and it became Jansen, McClurg & Co. McClurg became senior partner in 1887 and the company took the name of A. C. McClurg & Co. The company was again destroyed in a fire in 1899, but McClurg financed a new building. McClurg died in 1901, but the company retained his name in subsequent decades.
A. C. McClurg revitalized The Dial magazine in 1880 as a platform of politics and literary criticism. Under Francis Fisher Browne, the magazine gained national prominence, but it was sold three years after Browne's death in 1913. In 1913, A. C. McClurg published its first Edgar Rice BurroughsTarzan of the Apes book. McClurg would publish the first ten novels of the series. By 1923, the company's operations focused exclusively on wholesaling. The company remained in business until 1962.