Thomas Harvey was born on November 18, 1821, in New London, New Hampshire. In 1833, his family moved to Concord Township in Ohio. Unhappy with farming life, at the age of fifteen, Harvey left home and moved to Painesville. He took a job in a publisher's office, learning the publishing trade over the next six years. While working for the publisher, Harvey developed a love of learning, and in 1842, he enrolled in the Western Reserve Teachers' Seminary in Kirtland, Ohio. Upon graduation in 1844, Harvey established Geauga High School in Chardon, Ohio. In 1848, he accepted a position at Republic, Ohio, serving as principal of a private academy. In 1851, he became superintendent of Massillon, Ohio schools, a position he held for fourteen years before becoming the superintendent of Painesville's schools. In 1871, Governor Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Harvey as the Ohio State Commissioner of Public Schools. Harvey held this position for the next three years. Upon completion of his term, he returned to Painesville and assumed his position as superintendent, although the city governments of both Cleveland and Columbus asked him to supervise their school districts. During his career, Harvey also helped establish the Ohio State Teachers' Association and the Northeastern Ohio Teachers' Association.
Harvey is best remembered for his contributions to textbooks during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. He revised William McGuffey's readers. He also authored several grammar books himself, including Harvey's English Grammar in 1868 and The Graded School Primary Speller in 1875. Harvey died in 1892.