The firm of Marcus Witmark & Sons was established in New York City in 1886. Father Marcus Witmark was the legal head of the company, but from the beginning it was run by his sons Isadore, Julius, and Jay, who were under legal age when the company started (ranging in age from 17 to 14 years old). The started out publishing their own compositions. They were adept at plugging songs, and within a few years were publishing the works of such composers as Victor Herbert, George M. Cohan, and Ben Harney.
Witmark originated the practice of giving free "professional copies" of their new music to famous and established singers and bands, which proved so successful an advertising method that it was copied by the rest of the music publishers.