Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared as a 40-week serial in The National Era, an abolitionist periodical, starting with the June 5, 1851, issue. It was originally intended as a shorter narrative that would run for only a few weeks. Stowe expanded the story significantly, however, and it was instantly popular, such that several protests were sent to the Era office when she missed an issue. Because of the story's popularity, the publisher John P. Jewett contacted Stowe about turning the serial into a book. While Stowe questioned if anyone would read Uncle Tom's Cabin in book form, she eventually consented to the request.
Convinced the book would be popular, Jewett made the unusual decision (for the time) to have six full-page illustrations by Hammatt Billings engraved for the first printing. Published in book form on March 20, 1852, the novel sold 3,000 copies on that day alone, and soon sold out its complete print run. A number of other editions were soon printed (including a deluxe edition in 1853, featuring 117 illustrations by Billings).
In the first year of publication, 300,000 copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin were sold. At that point, however, "demand came to an unexpected halt.... No more copies were produced for many years, and if, as is claimed, Abraham Lincoln greeted Stowe in 1862 as 'the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war,' the work had effectively been out of print for many years." Jewett went out of business, and it was not until Ticknor and Fields put the work back in print in November 1862 that demand began again to increase.
The book was translated into all major languages, and in the United States it became the second best-selling book after the Bible. A number of the early editions carried an introduction by Rev James Sherman, a Congregational minister in London noted for his abolitionist views. Uncle Tom's Cabin sold equally well in Britain, with the first London edition appearing in May 1852 and selling 200,000 copies. In a few years over 1.5 million copies of the book were in circulation in Britain, although most of these were infringing copies (a similar situation occurred in the United States).