Open Court was founded in 1887 by Edward Hegeler of the Matthiessen-Hegeler Zinc Company, at one time the largest producer of zinc in the United States. Its first managing editor was Paul Carus, Hegeler's son-in-law. Open Court specializes in philosophy, science, and religion, and was one of the first academic presses in the country. It also published the journals Open Court and The Monist—the latter is still being published as of 2007.
One of Open Court Publishing's best-selling series is its semi-annual Popular Culture & Philosophy series, under the editorship of George Reisch. Volumes on the philosophy underpinning such television shows as Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer propelled the series into the limelight, and have invited many imitators since, including The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series and The University Press of Kentucky's own Philosophy titles.