Brothers Sir William (1802–1888) and Alexander Keith Johnston (1804–1871) learned their trade apprenticed to Edinburgh engravers Kirkwood & Sons, and engraver of natural history subjects, William Lizars. They established their own publishing business in 1825, as W. & A.K. Johnston, publishing maps, atlases, globes and more. William entered politics in 1828, and eventually became lord provost of Edinburgh. Keith became Geographer –Royal for Scotland.
The Johnstons’ first major cartographical publication was the National Atlas (1843), compiled over five years and with most of the forty-five maps drawn by Johnston himself. However, their most important work was the Physical Atlas (1848), illustrating the geology, hydrography, meteorology, botany, zoology, and ethnology of the world. This was followed by a Dictionary of Geography (1850); The Royal Atlas of Modern Geography (1855); and a variety of other atlases and maps for educational or scientific purposes.
Keith’s son, also Keith (1844–1879), produced various geographical works and papers. Between 1873 and 1875 he was part of a survey of Paraguay. He died in Africa while leading the Royal Geographical Society’s expedition to Lake Nyasa.