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Title: A History of the McGuffey Readers

Author: Henry H. Vail

Release Date: April 7, 2005 [EBook #15577]
[Last updated: December 7, 2020]

Language: English

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William H. McGuffey
William H. McGuffey




New Edition.


Copyright, 1911, by Henry H. Vail.

[Transcriber's Note: At the top of each page in the original is a header line briefly describing the content on each page. In this document, these header lines have been removed from the text flow, but are visible if the mouse is hovered over the page number markers on the right side of the document.]


A History of the McGuffey Readers


Before me are four small books roughly bound in boards, the sides covered with paper. On the reverse of the title pages, two bear a copyright entry in the year 1836; the others were entered in 1837. They are the earliest editions of McGuffey's Eclectic Readers that have been found in a search lasting forty years.

They represent the first efforts in an educational and business enterprise that has for three-quarters of a century called for the best exertions of many skilled men, and in their several forms these books have taken a conspicuous part in the education of millions of the citizens of this country.

But what interest can the history of the McGuffey Eclectic Readers have to those who did not use these books in their school career? Their story differs from that of other readers since in successive forms, adjusted more or less perfectly to the changing demands of the schools, they attained a wider and more prolonged use than has been accorded to any other series.


By custom and under sanction of law certain studies are pursued in the common schools of every state. Spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, grammar, civics and physiology are the subjects usually taught. The school authorities select the textbooks which shall be used in each subject. The readers are the only texts used in all schools affording opportunity for distinct ethical teaching. The history of our country should give ideas of patriotism; the civics should contain the primary notions of government; the physiologies should instruct the pupils in the laws of health; but the reader should cover the whole field of morals and manners and in language that will impress their teaching indelibly upon the mind of every pupil. While the chief aim of the school readers must be to teach the child to apprehend thought from the printed page and convey this thought to the attentive listener with precision, these efforts should be exerted upon thoughts that have permanent value. No other texts used in the school room bear directly and positively upon the formation of character in the pupils. The school readers are the proper and indispensable texts for teaching true patriotism, integrity, honesty, industry, temperance, courage, politeness, and all other moral and intellectual virtues. In these books every lesson should have a distinct purpose in view, and the final aim should be to establish in the pupils high moral principles which are at the foundation of character.


The literature of the English language is rich in material suited to this intent; no other language is better endowed. This material is fresh to every pupil, no matter how familiar it may be to teacher or parent. Although some of it has been in print for three centuries, it is true and beautiful today.

President Eliot has said, "When we teach a child to read, our primary aim is not to enable it to decipher a way-bill or a receipt, but to kindle its imagination, enlarge its vision and open for it the avenues of knowledge." Knowledge gives power, which may be exerted for good or for evil. Character gives direction to power. Power is the engine which may force the steamer through the water, character is the helm which renders the power serviceable for good.

Readers which have been recognized as formers of good habits of action, thought, and speech for three-quarters of a century, which have taught a sound morality to millions of children without giving offense to the most violent sectarian, which have opened the doors of pure literature to all their users, are surely worthy of study as to their origin, their successive changes, and their subsequent career.

The story of these readers is told in the specimens of the several editions, in the long treasured and time-worn contracts, in the books of accounts kept by the successive publishers, and in the traditions which have been passed down from white haired men who gossiped of the early days in the schoolbook [4] business. Valuable information has also been furnished by descendants of the McGuffey family, and by the educational institutions with which each of the authors of the readers was connected.

For half a century the present writer has had personal knowledge of the readers. At first, as a teacher, using them daily in the class room; but soon, as an editor, directing the literary work of the publishers and owners. It therefore falls to him to narrate a story "quorum pars minima fui."

For more than seventy years the McGuffey Readers have held high rank as text-books for use in the elementary schools, especially throughout the West and South. But during this time these books have been revised five times and adjusted to the changed conditions in the schools. In each one of these revisions the marked characteristics of the original series have been most scrupulously retained, and the continued success of the series is doubtless owing to this fact. There has been a continuity of spirit.

The First and Second Readers were first published in 1836. In 1837 the Third and Fourth Readers were printed. For reasons elsewhere explained these books were "improved and enlarged" in 1838. In 1841 a higher reader was added to the series which was then named McGuffey's Rhetorical Guide. In the years 1843 and 1844 the four books then constituting the series were thoroughly remodeled and on the title pages were placed the words "Newly Revised" and the Rhetorical Guide was annexed as [5] the Fifth Reader. Ten years later the entire series was made over and issued in six books. These were then called the New Readers. From 1853 until 1878 the books remained substantially unchanged; but in the latter year they were renewed largely in substance and improved in form. These readers as copyrighted in 1879 were extensively used for more than a quarter of a century. Changing conditions in the school room called for another revision in 1901. This latest form now in extensive use is called The New McGuffey Readers.

Each of these revisions has constituted practically a new series although the changes have never included the entire contents. In the higher readers will be found today many selections which appeared in the original books. The reason for retaining such selections is clear. No one has been able to write in the English language selections that are better for school use than some written by Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, and other early writers. The literature of the English language has not all been written in the present decade nor in the last century.

As at first published, the lower books of the McGuffey Readers had no trace of the modern methods now used in teaching the mastery of words—even the alphabet was not given in orderly form; but the alphabetic method of teaching the art of reading was then the only one used. The pupil at first spelled each word by naming the letters and then pronounced each syllable and then the word.


The following stanza is copied from page 61 of the edition of 1844 to illustrate the method of presenting words:

I like to see a lit-tle dog,

And pat him on the head;

So pret-ti-ly he wags his tail

When-ev-er he is fed.

The First Reader was mostly in words of one syllable. In this book we find the story of the lame dog that, when cured, brought another lame dog to be doctored: of the kind boy who freed his caged bird; of the cruel boy who drowned the cat and pulled wings and legs from flies; of Peter Pindar the story teller, and the "snow dog" of Mount St. Bernard; of Mr. Post who adopted and reared Mary; of the boy who told a lie and repented after he was found out; of the chimney sweep who was tempted to steal a gold watch but put it back and was thereafter educated by its owner; of the whisky boy; and of the mischievous boy who played ghost and made another boy insane. Nearly every lesson has a moral clearly stated in formal didactic words at its close.

In the Second Reader we find the story of the idle boy who talked with the bees, dogs, and horses, and having found them all busy, reformed himself; of the kind girl who shared her cake with a dog and an old man; of the mischievous boys who tied the grass across the path and thus upset not only the milk-maid but the messenger running for a doctor [7] to come to their father; of the wise lark who knew that the farmer's grain would not be cut until he resolved to cut it himself; of the wild and ravenous bear that treed a boy and hung suspended by his boot; and of another bear that traveled as a passenger by night in a stage coach; of the quarrelsome cocks, pictured in a clearly English farm yard, that were both eaten up by the fox that had been brought in by the defeated cock; of the honest boy and the thief who was judiciously kicked by the horse that carried oranges in baskets; of George Washington and his historic hatchet and the mutilated cherry-tree; and of the garden that was planted with seeds in lines spelling Washington's name which removed all doubt as to an intelligent Creator. There were also some lessons on such animals as beavers, whales, peacocks and lions.

The Third Reader will be remembered first because of the picture, on the cover, of Napoleon on his rearing charger. This book contained five selections from the Bible; Croly's "Conflagration of the Ampitheatre at Rome;" "How a Fly Walks on the Ceiling;" "The Child's Inquiry;" "How big was Alexander, Pa;" Irving's "Description of Pompey's Pillar;" Woodworth's "Old Oaken Bucket;" Miss Gould's "The Winter King;" and Scott's "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps," commencing "'Is the route practicable?' said Bonaparte. 'It is barely possible to pass,' replied the engineer. 'Let us set forward, then,' said Napoleon." The rearing steed facing a [8] precipitous slope in the picture gave emphasis to the words. There were also in this reader several pieces about Indians and bears, which indicate that Dr. McGuffey never forgot the stories told at the fireside by his father of his adventures as an Indian scout and hunter.

In the Fourth Reader there were seventeen selections from the Bible; William Wirt's "Description of the Blind Preacher;" Phillip's "Character of Napoleon Bonaparte;" Bacon's "Essay on Studies;" Nott's "Speech on the Death of Alexander Hamilton;" Addison's "Westminster Abbey;" Irving's "Alhambra;" Rogers's "Genevra;" Willis's "Parrhasius;" Montgomery's "Make Way for Liberty;" two extracts from Milton and two from Shakespeare, and no less than fourteen selections from the writings of the men and women who lectured before the College of Teachers in Cincinnati. The story of the widow of the Pine Cottage sharing her last smoked herring with a strange traveler who revealed himself as her long-lost son, returning rich from the Indies, was anonymous, but it will be remembered by those who read it.

These selections were the most noteworthy ones in the first editions of these readers.

The First and Second Readers of the McGuffey Series were substantially made new at each revision. A comparison of the original Third Reader with an edition copyrighted in 1847, shows that the latter book was increased about one-third in size. [9] Of the sixty-six selections in the early edition only forty-seven were retained, while thirty new ones were inserted. Among the latter were "Harry and his Dog Frisk" that brought to him, punished by being sent to bed, a Windsor pear; "Perseverance," a tale of kite-flying followed by the poem, "Try, try again;" the "Little Philosopher," named Peter Hurdle, who caught Mr. Lenox's runaway horse and on examination seemed to lack nothing but an Eclectic spelling book, a reader and a Testament—which were promised him; "The Colonists," in which men of various callings offered their services, and while even the dancing master was accepted as of some possible use, the gentleman was scornfully rejected; "Things by Their Right Names," in which a battle was described as wholesale murder; "Little Victories," in which Hugh's mother consoled him for the loss of a leg by telling him of the lives of men who became celebrated under even greater adversities; "The Wonderful Instrument," which turned out to be the eye; "Metaphysics," a ludicrous description of a colonial salt-box in affected terms of exactness designed to ridicule some forms of reasoning. Those who used this edition of the third reader will surely remember some of these selections.

In the Fourth Reader printed in 1844 there were thirty new selections—less than one-third of the book; but some of these were such as will be remembered by those who read them in school. There was "Respect for the Sabbath Rewarded," in which [10] a barber of Bath had become so poor because he would not shave his customers on Sunday, that he borrowed a half-penny to buy a candle Saturday night to give light for a late customer, and was thus discovered to be the long-lost William Reed of Taunton, heir to many thousand pounds; "The Just Judge," who disguised himself as a miller and, obtaining a place on the jury, received only five guineas as a bribe when the others got ten, and who revealed himself as Lord Chief Justice Hale and tried the case over in his miller's clothing; Hawthorne's "The Town Pump;" Mrs. Southey's "April Day."

"All day the low-hung clouds have dropped

Their garnered fullness down.

All day a soft gray mist hath wrapped

Hill, valley, grove and town."

Bryant's "Death of the Flowers;" Campbell's "Lochiel's Warning;" and the trial scene from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. All these became favorite reading exercises in later years.

As late as 1840 the Bible was read daily in all the schools of the West. Although sectarian or denominational teaching was not permitted, religious instruction was desired by the great majority of school patrons.

Even up to the opening of the Civil War, whatever the faith or the practice of the adult inhabitants of the country, the Bible story and the Bible diction [11] were familiar to all. The speeches of the popular orators of that day were filled with distinct allusions to the Bible and these were quickly and clearly apprehended by the people. It may be questioned whether popular speeches of the present day would have equal force if based on the assumption that everybody knows the Biblical stories. Indeed it is a common remark made by professors of English in the higher institutions of learning that pupils know little of the Bible as a distinctly formative and conservative element in English literature. In the texts authorized for the study of English classics, Biblical allusions are very common. These have little meaning to pupils who have not read the Bible, unless the passage is pointed out and hunted up.

From the pages of these readers the pupils learned to master the printed word and obtain the thought of the authors. Without conscious effort they received moral instruction and incentives toward right living. Without intent they treasured in their memories such extracts from the authors of the best English Literature as gave them a desire to read more.

In one of his sermons Dr. David Swing of Chicago said: "Much as you may have studied the languages or the sciences, that which most affected you was the moral lessons in the series of McGuffey. And yet the reading class was filed out only once a day to read for a few moments, and then we were all sent to our seats to spend two hours in learning [12] how to bound New Hampshire or Connecticut, or how long it would take a greyhound to overtake a fox or a hare if the spring of each was so and so, and the poor fugitive had such and such a start. That was perhaps well, but we have forgotten how to bound Connecticut, and how to solve the equation of the field and thicket; but up out of the far-off years come all the blessed lessons in virtue and righteousness which those reading books taught; and when we now remember, how even these moral memories have faded I cannot but wish the teachers had made us bound the States less, and solve fewer puzzles in 'position' and the 'cube root' and made us commit to memory the whole series of the McGuffey Eclectic Readers. The memory that comes from these far-away pages is full of the best wisdom of time or the timeless land. In these books we were indeed led by a schoolmaster, from beautiful maxims for children up to the best thoughts of a long line of sages, and poets, and naturalists. There we all first learned the awful weakness of the duel that took away a Hamilton; there we saw the grandeur of the Blind Preacher of William Wirt; there we saw the emptiness of the ambition of Alexander, and there we heard even the infidel say, 'Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ like a God.'"

This public recognition of the influence of these readers upon the mind and character of this great preacher is again noted in Rev. Joseph Fort Newton's [13] biography of David Swing in which the books which influenced that life are named as "The Bible, Calvin's Institutes, Fox's Book of Martyrs and the McGuffey Readers;" and the author quotes David Swing as saying that "The Institutes were rather large reading for a boy, but to the end of his life he held that McGuffey's Sixth Reader was a great book. For Swing, as for many a boy in the older West, its varied and wise selections from the best English authors were the very gates of literature ajar."

One of the most eminent political leaders of the present day attributes his power in the use of English largely to the study of McGuffey's Sixth Reader in the common schools of Ohio.

At a dinner lately given in New York to Marquis Ito of Japan, the marquis responded to the toast of his health returning thanks in English. He then continued his remarks in Japanese for some eight minutes. At its close Mr. Tsudjuki, who was then the minister of Education in Japan, traveling with Marquis Ito as his friend and companion, and who had taken shorthand notes of the Japanese speech, rose and translated the speech readily and fluently into good English. One of the guests asked how he had learned to speak English so correctly. He replied that he had done so in the public schools of Japan and added, "I learned my English from McGuffey's Readers, with which you are no doubt familiar."

It is not unusual to see in the literary columns of [14] a daily newspaper inquiries as to where certain poems may be found of which a single stanza is faintly recalled. Many of these prove to be fragments of pieces that are found in the McGuffey Readers. Quite lately Theodore Roosevelt made the public statement that he did not propose to become a "Meddlesome Matty." This allusion was perfectly clear to the millions of people who used the McGuffey Readers at any time after 1853.

When the Fourth Reader was issued in 1837 it contained a preface of three closely printed pages setting forth and defending the plan of McGuffey's books. In this he said: "In conclusion, the author begs leave to state, that the whole series of Eclectic Readers is his own. In the preparation of the rules, etc., for the present volume he has had the assistance of a very distinguished Teacher, whose judgment and zeal in promoting the cause of education have often been commended by the American people. In the arrangement of the series generally, he is indebted to many of his friends for valuable suggestions, and he takes this opportunity of tendering them his thanks for the lively interest they have manifested for the success of his undertaking."

The sole author of the four readers first issued as the Eclectic Readers was William Holmes McGuffey. He was responsible for the marked qualities in these books which met with such astonishing popular approval in all these years. What these qualities are [15] is well known to those who have used the books and the users are numbered by millions.

The Rhetorical Guide was prepared by Mr. A.H. McGuffey, and his name alone was on the early editions. In 1844 the book was revised by the author and Dr. Pinneo, and was given the alternate title "or Fifth Reader of the Eclectic Series." The work of revision occupied two years. The title page carried the name of its author until, for reasons of his own, he asked to have it removed.

As usual when revisions of schoolbooks are made, the older edition was continued in publication so long as a distinct demand for it existed. But the issuance of a revised edition always suggests the question of change, which competing publishers promptly seek to bring about. The publishers of the "Newly Revised McGuffey Readers," therefore, sought to replace the older edition wherever it was in use and to displace competing books wherever possible. The edition of 1843 acquired large sales over a very wide territory in the central West and South. It is the edition generally known by the grandfathers of the school boys of the present day.

It may be interesting to name some of the selections in this Rhetorical Guide issued in 1844 since in modified form the work has been the highest reader of the series.

As a guide toward rhetorical reading the book contained a carefully prepared collection of rules and directions with examples for practice in Articulation. [16] Inflection, Accent and Emphasis, Reading Verse, for the Management of the Voice and Gesture. These pages were intended for drill work, and in those days the teachers were not content with the dull monotonous utterance of the words or with mere mastery of thought, to be tested by multitudinous questioning. If the pupil obtained from the printed page the very thought the author intended to convey, the pupil was expected to read orally so as to express that thought to all hearers. If the correct thought was thus heard, no questions were needed. The test of reading orally is the communication of thought by the reader to the intelligent and attentive hearer, and the words of the author carry this message more accurately than can any other words the pupil may select.

The selections in the Rhetorical Guide were made, first of all, to teach the art of reading. There was therefore great variety. Second, to inculcate a love for literature. Therefore the selections were taken from the great writers,—poets, orators, essayists, historians, and preachers. The extracts are wonderfully complete in themselves,—one does not need to read the whole of Byron's Don Juan to appreciate the six stanzas that describe the thunder-storm on the Alps. Of the poetical extracts all the users of this book will remember Southey's "Cataract of Lodore" with its exacting drill on the ending,—"ing," Longfellow's "Village Blacksmith" and the "Reaper and the Flowers;" Bryant's "Thanatopsis" [17] and "Song of the Stars;" Wolfe's "Burial of Sir John Moore;" Gray's "Elegy;" Mrs. Hemans's "Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers;" Cowper's "My Mother's Picture;" Jones's "What Constitutes a State;" Scott's "Lochinvar;" Halleck's "Marco Bozzaris;" Drake's "American Flag;" and Mrs. Thrale's "Three Warnings." As an introduction to the thought, imagery and diction of Shakespeare, there were "Hamlet's Soliloquy," "Speech of Henry Fifth to his Troops," "Othello's Apology," "The Fall of Cardinal Wolsey" and his death, the "Quarrel of Brutus and Cassius" (often committed to memory and spoken) and Antony's Oration over dead Caesar. The extracts from orations were chosen largely for their relation to great events in history. There were Patrick Henry's "Speech before the Virginia Convention," Walpole's "Reproof of Mr. Pitt," and Pitt's reply. Who cannot remember "The atrocious crime of being a young man," and go on with the context? There were extracts from Hayne's "Speech on South Carolina," and Webster's reply defending Massachusetts; a part of Burke's long speech on the Trial of Warren Hastings prefaced by Macaulay's description of the scene; Webster's "Speech on the Trial of a Murderer," ending with "It must be confessed, it will be confessed; there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession;" Webster's speech on the Importance of the Union with its concluding sentiment, "Liberty and Union, now and forever; one and inseparable." There was [18] also Fox's "Political Pause" with its wonderful requirements of inflection to express irony; Sprague's "American Indians," "Not many generations ago, where you now sit, encircled with all that exalts and embellishes civilized life, the rank thistle nodded in the wind, and the wild fox dug his hole unscared." Did you not commit it to memory and speak it? Then there was Webster's Speech in which he supplied John Adams from his own fervid imagination that favorite of all patriotic boys, "Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish; I give my hand and my heart to this vote." At its close, "it is my living sentiment, and, by the blessing of God, it shall be my dying sentiment; independence now, and independence forever."

From the essayists there was Lamb's "Eulogy on Candle Light;" that delightful "Eulogy on Debt" from an unknown author; Addison's "Allegory on Discontent," and "Westminster Abbey;" and Jane Taylor's "Discontented Pendulum." Only seven selections were taken from the Bible; but one of these was Paul's Defense before Agrippa. There were, however, quite a number of articles of strongly religious tendency, like Dr. Spring's "Observance of the Sabbath."

The book contained two hundred and thirty-five selections and of this number nearly one-half appeared in all subsequent revisions.

This Rhetorical Guide or Fifth Reader is the book that by its careful selection of specimens of the best [19] English literature in prose and verse contributed most to the training of its readers toward the appreciation of true beauty in literature. It contained many pieces of solid and continuous worth,—many that relate closely to the great historical eras of the United States.

In the latest revision of the highest reader, made in 1879, one hundred and thirty-eight selections composed the book. Of this number sixty-one were in the original book as prepared by Mr. A.H. McGuffey.

It was an admirable collection of much material that is still prized and which, when carefully read by pupils hungry for thoughtful language, made a deep and lasting impression. In many cases the inmost thought of the author may not have been at once fully apprehended by the young readers; but with advancing years and wider experience in life the stored words became instinct with thought and feeling.


Dr. William Holmes McGuffey was born September 28, 1800, on the southern border of Washington county, Pa. The family descended from William and Anna (McKittrick) McGuffey who came from Scotland, and landed at Philadelphia. They made a home in the southern part of York county, at [20] which, during the Revolution, General Washington often stopped to refresh himself. In 1789 this family removed to Washington county, Pa.

Alexander McGuffey, the father of Dr. McGuffey, was six years old when the family came to America in August, 1774. In 1790, when he was twenty-two years of age, he and his friend, Duncan McArthur, afterward a governor of Ohio, were selected from five young men who volunteered to act as scouts against the Indians in Ohio who were then threatening the frontier settlements in the western part of Virginia and Pennsylvania. These two young men were selected after tests by Samuel Brady to find which could run the fastest, shoot most accurately, and were least afraid of Indians. Alexander McGuffey served in the army three years, venturing his life with small bodies of scouts in the Indian country. He took part in several fights with the Indians. When General St. Clair in 1792 marched north from Cincinnati to meet the Indians, this body of scouts was one day concealed in a swamp near the spring of Castalia, Ohio. There they saw great numbers of Indians passing to meet General St. Clair, and three of the scouts hastened through the Indian country to inform the general. They traveled only at night and hid during the day. One night they marched forty miles. They told General St. Clair what they had seen and again went out to watch the collecting Indians. Three days later St. Clair was defeated. These scouts were then twelve miles away [21] but the retreating soldiers soon overtook them and then the "woods were alive with Indians." The scouts turned eastward and in due time reached Logstown, near Wheeling.

The next year McArthur, McGuffey and George Sutherland were again sent out by General Wayne to spy the Indians. When only seven or eight miles from Wheeling and west of the Ohio river, they came upon a trail which led to a deer lick. Just at dusk McGuffey, who was leading the party, saw in the path the gaily decorated head-dress of an Indian. It had been placed there by the Indians who were in ambush close by and were ready to shoot any white man who should stop to pick it up. McGuffey saw through the stratagem instantly; without halting, he gave it a kick and shouted "Indians!" Several Indians fired at once and one of the balls smashed McGuffey's powder horn, and passed through his clothing, but did not wound him. The three scouts retreated in safety, and the Indians did not follow them.

The wars with the Indians in that region closed in 1794, and Alexander McGuffey then married Anna Holmes, of Washington county, and became a settler. His eldest son was William Holmes McGuffey. When this son was but two years old the family moved to Trumbull county, Ohio. Here, in the care of a pious mother and father, he spent the years of childhood and of early manhood, performing the labors falling upon the eldest son in a large family [22] of children dwelling in a log cabin on the frontier. From the heavy forest, fields were cleared, fenced and cultivated, roads were made and bridges were built, and in all these labors the sturdy son of the famous Indian scout took part.

During the first eighteen years of W.H. McGuffey's life he had no opportunities for education other than those afforded by the brief winter schools supported by the voluntary subscriptions of the parents in the neighborhood.

In 1802 Rev. Thos. Hughes, a Presbyterian clergyman, built at Darlington, Pa., the "Old Stone Academy" for the education of young men, having obtained the necessary funds by traveling on horseback throughout Pennsylvania and eastward even to Newburyport, Mass.

This seminary of learning was conducted on lines of the utmost economy to meet the needs of the boys living on the frontier. The tuition was only three dollars a year and the charge for board was seventy-five cents a week. The food was simple. For breakfast, bread, butter, and coffee; for dinner, bread, meat, and sauce; for supper, bread and milk. The only variation allowed in this bill of fare was the occasional omission of sauce or coffee.

At the close of a summer day in 1818, Thomas Hughes was riding horseback through Trumbull county. The dust on the highway deadened the sound of his horse's feet. While passing a log cabin, half hidden from the road by intervening trees and [23] shrubs, he heard the plaintive voice of a woman who was in the garden, out of sight. The clergyman stopped his horse and listened. He heard the woman earnestly praying that some way might be opened for her children to obtain such education as should fit them for the duties of life. Riding on, the clergyman inquired at the next house regarding the inmates of the log cabin. He was informed that a Mr. McGuffey lived there. Turning back he sought the prayerful mother and learned from her the circumstances of the family. The doors of the "Old Stone Academy" were opened to William H. McGuffey and he there obtained his first start in a preparation for college. But his labor could not be wholly spared on the farm so lately won from the surrounding forest. He worked in the fields in summer, continuing his studies and walked many miles once a week to recite his lessons to a kindly clergyman.

W.H. McGuffey's father was too poor to aid his son in obtaining a collegiate education, and the latter soon turned to teaching as a means of obtaining money to support himself in college. When prepared for college he went back to his native county and entered Washington College. He was in his twenty-sixth year when he graduated with distinguished honors from that institution.

It was at Washington College that W.H. McGuffey first met with a great teacher and former of character,—Dr. Andrew Wylie, then the president. It was considered by Dr. McGuffey one of the most [24] fortunate events of his life that he came at that time under the influence of Dr. Wylie's forceful mind and elevated character.

Dr. McGuffey was obliged to suspend his collegiate course for a year to earn more money for his support. He taught a private school at Paris, Ky., in 1823 and 1824. There he met Dr. Robert H. Bishop, the president of Miami University at Oxford, Ohio. Dr. Bishop was so impressed with the character and mental power of the young teacher that on March 29, 1826, even before McGuffey received his bachelor's degree from Washington College, he received his appointment as professor of Ancient Languages at Miami University.

He graduated in 1826 and began his labor at Oxford, Ohio, at the opening of the fall session. He at once took high rank in a faculty consisting of strong men, and, young as he was, won the respect and homage of the students. In 1832 he was transferred to the chair of Mental Philosophy. To make this subject interesting and valuable to beginners requires, on the part of the teacher, wide reading, clearness of thought, and simplicity and directness of speech. These qualities Dr. McGuffey had. He had become well read in philosophy, especially of the Scottish school, Brown being his favorite author. But he had fully assimilated the matter and had thought independently. He also had a fund of fresh and suggestive illustrations coming within the daily experience of men, which brought his lectures [25] close to the minds of the students. Whatever positions of honor or of trust his pupils held in their later careers, they never ceased to feel the impulse which came from Dr. McGuffey as a teacher.

On March 29, 1829, he was licensed as a preacher in the Presbyterian church, and from that date he became a frequent public speaker. He never had charge of a parish as minister, but usually preached on Sunday in the college chapel to the students and to such of the public as could obtain space to sit or to stand. The preacher's unassuming manner, the clearness of his thought, and the simplicity of his language produced impressions that were enduring. He never wrote his sermons. He simply thought them out rigorously, and his mind worked so logically and in such definite lines that he could repeat on request a sermon, preached years before, in a form recognized by his hearers as substantially the same.

After ten years spent in teaching and preaching at Miami University, Dr. McGuffey resigned, August 26, 1836, and accepted the presidency of Cincinnati College.

This institution was chartered in the winter of 1818-1819 by the legislature of Ohio, largely at the solicitation of Dr. Daniel Drake. It was partially endowed by the gifts of the public-spirited citizens of Cincinnati. But its collegiate functions had been allowed to drop, although a school on the Lancastrian system was maintained.


The election of Dr. McGuffey as president of this college was a result of renewed activity on the part of the leading men in the city to found a genuine college of high character in that city. They believed that if well conducted such an institution would bring to its doors students enough to support the college by their fees.

A medical department was organized in June, 1835, with eight competent professors, a law department with three professors, and a faculty of arts with seven teachers. In this faculty, William H. McGuffey was president and professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, O.M. Mitchell was professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, and Edward D. Mansfield was professor of Constitutional Law and History. Dr. McGuffey accepted the presidency with a full knowledge that the work was experimental. A trial of three years demonstrated that a college could not be sustained without an invested endowment. Cincinnati College "was endowed with genius, and nothing else."

In 1839, Dr. McGuffey accepted the presidency of the Ohio University at Athens, Ohio, which office he held for four years. During these years his faculties were at their fullest development. He had become an experienced, scholarly teacher and a popular speaker on religious and educational subjects. The students at Athens held him in the highest esteem, and the influence of his teaching became deeper [27] as years rolled by and experience emphasized his lessons.

In 1839 he was honored with the degree of Doctor of Laws conferred upon him by the Indiana University, of which his former teacher and friend, Dr. Wylie, was then president.

The income of the Ohio University came chiefly from the rents of two entire townships of land which had been given it for an endowment. This land was lawfully revalued at the end of ten years. The revaluation was contested in the courts by the tenants. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the university; but the farmers induced the legislature in 1843 to pass a law which fixed the income of the university from these lands at a sum so low as to cause the doors of the institution to be closed for five years.

Dr. McGuffey returned to Cincinnati and was for two years a professor in Woodward College, now Woodward High School.

In 1845 he was appointed professor of Natural and Moral Philosophy in the University of Virginia. This position he filled with credit to himself and with great acceptance to the students in that institution for more than a quarter of a century and until his death on May 4, 1873.

Dr. McGuffey's classes in the University of Virginia were well attended. His lectures were delivered extempore, in language exactly expressing his thoughts. His illustrations were most apt. He [28] taught "with the simplicity of a child, with the precision of a mathematician, and with the authority of truth."

A portion of the lecture hour was given to questioning the members of the class. In this he used the Socratic method, leading the pupil by a series of questions to the discovery of the incorrectness of his reasoning or the falsity of his grounds. By this process the students were led to question their own reasoning, to think clearly and to express their thoughts accurately.

Dr. McGuffey once told a pupil that he had preached three thousand sermons and had never written one. Until late in life he had never written his lectures. Shortly before his death he began the preparation of a book on Mental Philosophy. This was never completed.

Dr. McGuffey was twice married. By his first wife. Miss Harriet Spinning of Dayton, he had several children. One daughter, Mary, married Dr. William W. Stewart of Dayton; another, Henrietta, married Professor A. D. Hepburn who was for a time president of Miami University. Professor Hepburn's son, in turn inheriting his grandfather's faculty of teaching, is a professor in the University of Indiana.

In 1837 Professor Calvin E. Stowe went to Europe to investigate the organization and method of elementary schools. On his return he published, in 1838, his report on the Prussian system. Subsequently [29] Dr. McGuffey labored in Ohio with Samuel Lewis and other public-spirited men for the passage of the general school law under which the common schools of Ohio were first organized. He carried to Virginia the same zeal for the education of all the children of the state to prepare them for the duties of life. One of his first acts on assuming the duties of his professorship in the university was to make a tour of the state advocating the introduction of a public school system in Virginia. To this first appeal for common schools, open alike to rich and poor, there was then but a feeble response; but, twenty-five years later, Dr. McGuffey had the satisfaction of seeing the public schools organized with one of his own friends and a former pupil at its head,—Hon. W.H. Ruffner.

Dr. McGuffey was a man of medium stature and compact figure. His forehead was broad and full; his eyes clear and expressive. His features were of the strongly marked rugged Scotch type. He was a ready speaker, a popular lecturer on educational topics, and an able preacher. He was admirable in conversation. His observation of men was accurate, and his study of character close.

After the Civil War and while the reconstruction was in progress it was extremely difficult in the North to obtain a correct view of the situation in the South. State governments had been established in which "carpet-baggers" had more or less control. Nearly all the whites in the South had taken part [30] in the war. They were largely disfranchised and their former servants often became the legal rulers. The Klu Klux Klan had begun their unlawful work, of which the papers gave contradictory reports.

As business men, the publishers of McGuffey's Readers desired to learn the truth about the situation of the South and its probable future. They asked Dr. McGuffey to take a trip through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi and make report to them at Cincinnati. This he did, visiting all the larger towns where he was usually the honored guest of some graduate of the university. He saw the legislatures in session, met the governors, and studied the whole situation. He then came to Cincinnati and told his story. He had made no notes, but he never hesitated for a name. He repeated conversations with unquestioned accuracy and described with humor the gross ignorance and brutality of some of the southern legislators, the looting of the capitol at the end of the session, the indirect robbery that was under way, the reversal of all the conditions of life, and the growing unrest of the men who had heretofore been the rulers.

It was such a picture as at that time no Northern paper would have dared to print—it was the truth. For days he held his listeners captive with the story—the writer never heard a more interesting one.

While Dr. McGuffey was still at Oxford, Ohio, he took part in the formation of probably the first extended Teachers' Association formed in the West. [31] There had been a previous association of Cincinnati teachers organized for mutual aid and improvement. This was about to be given up; but at their first anniversary on June 20, 1831, Mr. Albert Pickett, principal of a private school in Cincinnati, proposed a plan for organizing in one body the instructors in public and private schools and the friends of education. Circulars were sent out and the first meeting of the College of Teachers was held October 3, 1832. A great number of teachers from many states of the West and South attended these meetings and took part in the proceedings. Throughout its continuance Dr. McGuffey took an active part in the work. In the years 1832-1836 fifty-seven addresses were delivered to the College by thirty-nine speakers. Of this number Dr. McGuffey prepared and delivered three.

The proceedings of the College of Teachers were published in annual pamphlets which together formed two large octavo volumes. The topics which were then under discussion are best shown by the titles of a few of the addresses, with the name of the speaker and the year of delivery:

On Introducing the Bible into Schools, Rev. B.P. Aydelott, 1836; Importance of making the business of Teaching a Profession, Lyman Beecher, D.D., 1833; The Kind of Education Adapted to the West, Professor Bradford, 1833; Qualifications of Teachers, Mr. Mann Butler, 1832; Physical Education, Dr. Daniel Drake, 1833; On Popular Education, John P. [32] Harrison, M.D., 1836; On the Study and Nature of Ancient Languages, A. Kinmont, 1832; On Common Schools, Samuel Lewis, Esq., 1835; On the Qualifications of Teachers, E.D. Mansfield, Esq., 1836; Reciprocal Duties of Parents and Teachers, Rev. W.H. McGuffey, A.M., 1835; General Duties of Teachers, Albert Pickett, 1835; Philosophy of the Human Mind, Bishop Purcell, 1836; Utility of Cabinets of Natural Science, Joseph Ray, 1836; Agriculture as a Branch of Education, Rev. E. Slack, 1836; Education of Emigrants, Professor Calvin Stowe, 1835; Best Method of Teaching Composition, D.L. Talbott, 1835; Manual Labor in the Schools, Milo G. Williams.

Some of these topics are still engrossing the attention of teachers at their annual meetings for the discussion of live educational questions.

While Dr. McGuffey was at Oxford, teaching mental philosophy to the pupils in Miami University, he prepared the manuscript for the two lower readers of the graded series which bore his name. To test his work while in progress, he collected in his own house a number of small children whom he taught to read by the use of his lessons.

It is evident that these readers were prepared at the solicitation of the publishers and on such a general plan as to number and size as was desired by the publishers. Dr. McGuffey was selected by them as the most competent teacher known to them for the preparation of successful books. He did not prepare the manuscripts and search for a publisher.


On April 28, 1836, he made a contract with Truman & Smith, publishers of Cincinnati, for the preparation and publication of a graded series of readers to consist of four books. The First and Second readers were then in manuscript, the Third and Fourth readers were to be completed within eighteen months. They were both issued in 1837. Dr. Benjamin Chidlaw, then a student in college, aided the author by copying the indicated selections and preparing them for the printer. He received for this work five dollars and thought himself well paid.

These four books constituted the original series of the Eclectic Readers by W.H. McGuffey which in all the subsequent revisions have borne his name and retained the impress of his mind.

The First Reader made a thin 18mo book of seventy-two pages, having green paper covered sides; the Second Reader contained one hundred and sixty-four pages of the same size. The Third Reader had a larger page and was printed as a duodecimo of one hundred and sixty-five pages. The fourth Reader ranked in size with the Third and contained three hundred and twenty-four printed pages. Each was printed from the type, which was distributed when the required number for the edition came from the press.

By the terms of the contract the publishers paid a royalty of ten per cent on all copies sold until the copyright should reach the sum of one thousand dollars, after which the Readers became the absolute [34] property of the publishers. It must be remembered that in those days this sum of money seemed much larger than it would at the present time, and it may be questioned whether this newly organized firm of publishers commanded as much as a thousand dollars in their entire business. At any rate the contract was mutually satisfactory and remained so to the end of the author's life. Right here it seems proper to remark that although the McGuffey readers became the property of the publishers when the royalties reached one thousand dollars. Dr. McGuffey was employed by the publishers in connection with important revisions so long as he lived and the contracts specify a "satisfactory consideration" in each case.

When, after the Civil War, these readers attained a sale which became very profitable to the firm then owning the copyrights, the partners, without suggestion or solicitation, fixed upon an annuity which was paid Dr. McGuffey each year so long as he lived. This was a voluntary recognition of their esteem for the man and of the continued value of his work.

Before Dr. McGuffey completed the manuscripts of the Third and Fourth readers he left Oxford and went to Cincinnati. Here he found himself in close touch with a community fully alive to the claims of education. Cincinnati, in 1837, was the largest city in the West excepting New Orleans and was the great educational center of the West. The early settlers of Cincinnati were generally well educated [35] men and they had a keen sense of the value of learning. The public schools of Cincinnati were then more highly developed than those of any other city in the West. Woodward High School had been endowed and Dr. Joseph Ray, the author of the well known arithmetics, was the professor of mathematics there. The Cincinnati College was then bright with the promise of future usefulness. Lane Seminary was founded and Dr. Lyman Beecher was inducted professor of Theology on December 26, 1832, and became the first president. He went to Cincinnati with his brilliant family. His eldest daughter, Catherine, had already won a high reputation as a teacher, acting as principal of the Hartford (Conn.) Female Institute. His younger daughter, Harriet, married, in January, 1836, Calvin E. Stowe, then one of the professors in Lane Seminary. It was while in Cincinnati that she gathered material and formed opinions which she later embodied in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." In 1834 Henry Ward Beecher graduated at Amherst College. He and his brother, Charles, then went to Cincinnati to study theology under their father. While pursuing his studies Henry Ward Beecher devoted his surplus energies to editorial work on the Cincinnati Daily Journal. These were some of the people of Cincinnati interested in the problem of education who took part with Dr. McGuffey in the discussions of the College of Teachers and labored zealously for the promotion of education in every department. While president of Lane Seminary. [36] Dr. Beecher was also the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati where W.B. Smith was an attendant.

Dr. McGuffey left Cincinnati in 1839, and when the publisher, Mr. Winthrop B. Smith, found it necessary to add to the four McGuffey's Readers another more advanced book, he employed for its preparation, Mr. Alexander H. McGuffey, a younger brother of Dr. McGuffey. Mr. Alexander H. McGuffey had, in 1837, prepared for Messrs. Truman & Smith the manuscript of McGuffey's Eclectic Spelling Book, and although the nature of this task was very different from the preparation of a reader for the highest grades in the elementary schools, the result showed that the publishers judged wisely in selecting a man competent to prepare a selection from English literature.

Alexander H. McGuffey
Alexander H. McGuffey

Mr. Alexander Hamilton McGuffey was born August 13, 1816, in Trumbull County, Ohio. He was sixteen years younger than his brother, William, and when only ten years of age was placed under charge of his brother at Oxford, Ohio. There he studied Hebrew before he had any knowledge of the grammar of his mother tongue. He was a brilliant student, and he graduated from Miami University at the age of sixteen. Soon after graduation he was appointed Professor of Belles Lettres at Woodward College. In this field of labor his knowledge of English literature was broadened and he acquired a love for the classic English writers that [37] lasted through life. But Mr. McGuffey determined to become a lawyer and, while still teaching English literature in Woodward College, he read law. He was admitted to the bar as soon as he reached his twenty-first year, and became a noted and wise counsellor. His labor for his clients was in keeping them out of the courts by clearly expressed contracts and prudent action. He was seldom engaged in jury trials; but was expert in cases involving contracts and wills. In such suits his knowledge of the principles of law and his power of close reasoning were valuable. He was often placed in positions of trust, and was for more than fifty years the watchful guardian of the interests of the Cincinnati College.

He prepared the manuscript of the Rhetorical Guide after the close of his labor as a teacher. The work probably occupied his leisure time in a law office before he acquired remunerative practice in his profession.

The contract between Mr. A.H. McGuffey and W.B. Smith, dated September 30, 1841, provided for the preparation within eighteen months, of the manuscript of a book to be called McGuffey's Rhetorical Reader, or by any other appropriate name which Mr. Smith might select. It was to contain not less than three hundred and twenty-four duodecimo pages nor more than four hundred and eighty. Mr. Smith paid five hundred dollars for it, in three notes payable in three, twelve, and eighteen months after the [38] delivery of the manuscript. The book was issued in 1844 as McGuffey's Rhetorical Guide. Its material, revised by its author, later became, in modified form, the Fifth Reader in the five-book series, and again much of the same material was used in the Sixth Reader published first in 1855.

Mr. A.H. McGuffey died at his home on Mt. Auburn, Cincinnati, on June 3, 1896. He was twice married. His first wife, married in 1839, was Miss Elizabeth M. Drake, daughter of the eminent Dr. Daniel Drake. After her death he married Miss Caroline V. Rich of Boston. He had a large family. A son, Charles D. McGuffey. Esq., lives at Chattanooga, Tenn.

Mr. A.H. McGuffey was a noteworthy figure in any assemblage of men. He was tall, slender and erect. His manner was urbane and reserved. He served on many charitable and educational boards and was attentive to his trusts. He was an active member of the Episcopalian Church, being many years a warden in his parish, and frequently a delegate to the Diocesan Convention, where he was a recognized authority on Ecclesiastical Law.

In a life of nearly eighty years in which he was active in many educational and beneficent enterprises his early work in the preparation of the Rhetorical Guide probably exercised the widest, the best, and the most enduring influence. Many of the newspapers in all parts of the country published notices of his death, recognizing in kindly terms the service [39] that had been rendered the writers by the schoolbook of which he was the author.


Since the McGuffey Readers became at an early day the absolute property of their publishers, they became responsible for all subsequent revisions and corrections of the books.

The firm of Truman & Smith was organized about 1834 by William B. Truman and Winthrop B. Smith. Both had had some experience in the business of selling books. It is highly probable that this firm became for a short time the Western agent for some schoolbooks made in the East. But Mr. Smith soon perceived a distinct demand for a series adapted to the Western market and supplied near at hand. He had the courage to follow his convictions.

Mr. Winthrop B. Smith was born in Stamford, Conn., September 28, 1808, the son of Anthony and Rebecca (Clarke) Smith. He was, in his youth, an employee in a book-house in New Haven. At the age of eighteen he went to Cincinnati, declaring that he would not return to his home until he was independent. He labored there fourteen years before he returned, not rich, but established in an independent career. He often declared that until 1840, he was "insolvent, but no one knew it."

Before entering business, Mr. Smith received a sound common school education. This, grounded on a nature well endowed with common sense, great [40] energy, and strong determination, qualified him for success in business. He became a man of great originality, clear-headed and far-sighted. Toward his employees he was just, but exacting. He was a good judge of the character and qualities of other men, and was thus able to bring to his aid competent assistants who were loyal and effective.

Mr. Smith married in Cincinnati on November 4th, 1834, Mary Sargent. He died in Philadelphia, December 5th, 1885, in his 78th year. Of his family, one son is a banker in Philadelphia.

The firm of Truman & Smith published several miscellaneous books, mostly reprints of standard works likely to have a steady sale. Their first venture in a copyrighted book was "The Child's Bible with Plates; by a lady of Cincinnati," which was entered on June 2, 1834. On June 21st of the same year the firm entered the titles of three books: "Mason's Sacred Harp," a collection of church music by Lowell Mason of Boston, and Timothy B. Mason of Cincinnati; "Introduction to Ray's Eclectic Arithmetic," by Dr. Joseph Ray; and "English Grammar on the Productive System," by Roswell C. Smith. Of these four books the arithmetic was issued on July 4, 1834. It was the firm's first schoolbook. In revised and enlarged form it later became the first book in the successful series of "Ray's Arithmetics."

W. B. Smith
W. B. Smith
W. B. Smith

But even in those early days, books would not sell themselves unless their qualities were made known to the public. Agents had to be employed—and at [41] first Mr. Smith was his own best agent. There were expenses for travel and for sample books, for advertising, as well as for printing and binding.

The Truman and Smith team did not always pull together. Mr. Truman was not versed in the schoolbook business. Mr. Smith was.

It is said that Mr. Smith went early one morning to their humble shop on the second floor of No. 150 Main street, and made two piles of sample books. In one he put all the miscellaneous publications of the firm, big and little—the Child's Bible and Sacred Harp among them—and on top of the pile placed all the cash the firm possessed; in the other, were half a dozen small text books, including the four McGuffey Readers. When Mr. Truman arrived, Mr. Smith expressed the desire to dissolve the partnership, showed the two piles and offered Mr. Truman his choice. He pounced on the cash and the larger pile and left the insignificant schoolbooks for Mr. Smith, who thereupon became the sole owner of McGuffey's Readers.

This separation of the partnership took place in 1841 and although there is no documentary evidence of the exact method in which it was brought about, the division of assets was in accord with the spirit of the incident as handed down by tradition.

Mr. Truman's apparent disgust with the schoolbook business may have come in part from a lawsuit in which his firm was made a defendant. Sooner or later, publishers are quite likely to obtain some [42] elementary instructions as to the meaning and intent of the copyright law through action taken in court. Messrs. Truman & Smith took a lesson in 1838.

On October 1st of that year Benjamin F. Copeland and Samuel Worcester brought suit in the court of the United States against Truman & Smith and William H. McGuffey for infringement of copyright, alleging that material had been copied from Worcester's Second, Third, and Fourth Readers and that even the plan of the two latter readers had been pirated.

A temporary injunction was issued December 25, 1838; but before that date the McGuffey Readers had been carefully compared with the Worcester Readers and every selection was removed that seemed in the slightest degree an invasion of the previous copyright of the Worcester Readers. As these McGuffey books were still not stereotyped, it cost no more to set up new matter than to reset the old. On the title page of each book appeared the words, "Revised and Improved Edition," and two pages in explanation and defense were inserted. In these the publishers stated that certain compilers of schoolbooks, in New England, felt themselves aggrieved that the McGuffey books contained a portion of matter similar to their own which was considered common property, and had instituted legal proceedings against them with a view to the immediate suppression of the McGuffey books and in the meantime had [43] provided supplies of the Worcester books to meet the demand of the West.

No objection was raised to meeting these compilers on their own grounds; but for both parties there was another tribunal than the law. "The public never choose schoolbooks to please compilers." They stated that to place themselves entirely in the right and remove every cause for cavil or complaint they had expunged everything claimed as original, and substituted other matter, which, both for its fitness and variety would add to the value of the Eclectic Readers. Throughout this preface, after stating the facts regarding the suit, there was a strong claim for the support of Western enterprise.

Although in this appeal the publishers stated that the correspondences between the two series were "few and immaterial," a careful comparison of the early edition of the Second Reader with the "Revised and Improved Edition" shows that Mr. Smith took out seventeen selections and inserted in their places new matter. To an unprejudiced examiner it appears that the new matter was better than the old. The old marked copy of Worcester's Second Reader, preserved for all these years, shows ten pieces that were used in both books. It thus appears that the publisher took this opportunity to improve the books as well as to make them unassailable under the copyright law. In three months between the bringing of the suit and the granting of an injunction, [44] Mr. Smith had made his improved edition safe and rendered the injunction practically void.

The court proceeded in the usual manner and appointed a master to examine the books and make report to ascertain what damage had been inflicted on the owners of the Worcester Readers. But Mr. Smith was an attendant in church and doubtless had heard Dr. Beecher read, "Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison," and he had no desire to remain there until he had "paid the uttermost farthing."

When the master, in the leisurely execution of his duty, made his report nearly two years later, the court found that the defendants had removed from their books the pirated parts and that the suit had been settled by paying the plaintiffs two thousand dollars. There was no further contest about the plan of the two books.

The Worcester Readers had a short and inconspicuous life. When this suit was brought, their publishers were Richardson, Lord and Holbrook of Boston. In 1836 Charles J. Hendee published them, and in 1854 they appeared with the name of Jenks, Hickling & Swan of Boston. These several publishers were probably gobbled up by some imaginary Book Trust sixty years ago.

Dr. McGuffey undoubtedly inserted these selections [45] innocent of any wrong intent and supposed them to be in common use.

As early as 1848 the success of the Eclectic Readers was sufficient to excite imitation and in the First Reader of that year Mr. Smith printed four preliminary pages warning his patrons not to be deceived by "Newman's Southern Eclectic Readers."

In the first century after the settlement of this country the New England Primer had a history which in some respects resembles that of the McGuffey Readers. In that case, the settlers were widely removed from the source of supply which had in past years served their needs. The Primer was strongly religious and fully in accord with the faith of the people. It served as a first book in reading and was followed by the Bible. This Primer was not protected by copyright and any enterprising bookseller or printer in a remote town could manufacture an edition to supply the local demand. The excessive cost of transportation was thus avoided.

Somewhat similar causes contributed to the widespread use and long-continued demands for Webster's Spelling Book, which was copyrighted. This book had the support of the authority of Webster's Dictionary—an original American work; and it soon became a staple article of merchandise which was kept in stock in every country store. It supplanted the New England Primer and became the first book in the hands of every pupil. Less marked in its religious instruction, the speller spread through the [46] South and into regions where the people were not trained in the Puritan doctrines. The wonderful sales of Webster's Spelling Book remained for many years after the War; but have now dropped to insignificance. It is not probable that other books will under present conditions repeat the history of these books. There is now no wide region of fertile country rapidly filling with settlers and separated from their former sources of supply by great distance and by mountain ranges unprovided with passable roads. Even the more newly settled regions of the country are reached by railroads and the parts early settled are covered by a network of railroads, of telegraph and telephone wires which bring the consumer and the producer near together.

In the manufacture of books as with most other articles, machinery has taken the place of hand work. When W.B. Smith carried on his business in the second story over a small shop on Main street, Cincinnati, nearly every process in the manufacture of a book was mere hand labor. The tools employed were of the simplest character. Now a book-factory is filled with heavy machines of the most complicated kind, which in many cases feed themselves from stocks of material placed upon them. New machines are constantly being invented to cheapen and perfect the manufacture. Thus a very large investment of capital is now required to set up and maintain a plant which can produce books economically and with perfect finish in every part. Books [47] are seldom manufactured in places remote from the large cities and very few of the publishers of schoolbooks make the books which they sell. They contract for them with printers and binders.

The first four editions of McGuffey's Readers were printed from the actual type, as all books were once printed; but before 1840 the readers were produced from stereotyped plates. The use of such plates enabled the publisher to secure greater accuracy in the work and also enabled him to present books that in successive editions should be exactly the same in substance as those already in use. Since that date electrotype plates have displaced stereotypes, as they afford a sharper, clearer impression and endure more wear.

In a First Reader printed in the fall of 1841 there are two pages of advertising matter in which Truman & Smith claimed to have sold 700,000 of the Eclectic Series. This book is bound with board sides and a muslin back and a careful defense of this binding is made, claiming that the muslin is "much more durable than the thin tender leather usually put upon books of this class." This statement was unquestionably true. The leather referred to was of sheepskin and of very little strength, but it took very many years to convince the public of the untruth of the saying, "There is nothing like leather."

It is said that Mr. Smith, in the early days of his career as a publisher, himself made the changes and corrections which experience showed were needed; [48] but, about 1843, he employed Dr. Timothy Stone Pinneo to act under his direction in literary matters.

Dr. Pinneo was the eldest son of the Rev. Bezaleel Pinneo, an early graduate of Dartmouth College, who was for more than half a century pastor of the First Congregational Church in Milford, Conn. Dr. Pinneo was born at Milford in February, 1804. His mother was a woman of culture, Mary, only daughter of the Rev. Timothy Stone of Lebanon, Conn., a graduate of Yale College. Dr. Pinneo graduated at Yale in the class of 1824. A severe illness in the winter after his graduation made it necessary for him to spend his winters in the South until his health was sufficiently restored to enable him to pursue the study of medicine. He taught for a time in the Charlotte Hall Institute, Maryland, and then removed to Ohio. He acted one year as professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Marietta College. He studied medicine in Cincinnati and received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the Ohio Medical College in 1843. On June 1, 1848, he married Jeanette Linsley, daughter of Rev. Dr. Joel H. Linsley, at one time president of Marietta College. Dr. Pinneo was for eighteen years a resident in Cincinnati. In 1862 he went to Greenwich, Conn., where he was occupied in literary work and in the conduct of a boys' boarding school. In 1885, after his wife's death, he removed to Norwalk, Conn., where he died August 2, 1893. Two daughters and a son survived him. [49] Dr. Pinneo contributed materially to the revisions of McGuffey's Readers made in 1843 and in 1853; but both these revisions passed through the hands of Dr. McGuffey, then at the University of Virginia, and were approved by him. It does not appear that Dr. Pinneo exercised any personal authority over the readers. He was employed, for moderate amounts, to prepare revisions which were satisfactory to both publisher and author. In the revision of 1843, his work was confined to the Third and Fourth readers. The First and Second readers were remade by Daniel G. Mason, then a teacher in the schools of Cincinnati. In the revision of 1853 the entire series passed through Dr. Pinneo's hands. He probably corrected the proof sheets. Dr. Pinneo's latest work on the McGuffey Readers was done in 1856.

After leaving Cincinnati, Dr. Pinneo prepared, and Mr. Smith published, a series of grammars—the Analytical, issued in 1850, and the Primary, in 1854. He was also the author of a High School Reader and of Hemans's Young Ladies' Readers. These books had for some years a considerable sale.

As early as 1853 Mr. Obed J. Wilson was in the office of Mr. Smith as an employee. Mr. Wilson was born in Bingham, Maine, in 1826, and earned his first money as an axman in the pine forests which were in that day near his native town. He obtained, in the common schools, sufficient education to become a teacher and he never ceased to [50] be a student, thus acquiring a broad acquaintance with English literature. He taught in the schools of Cincinnati when he first went West. There his abilities soon attracted the attention of Mr. Smith, who employed him. For some years he traveled as an agent, chiefly in Indiana and Wisconsin, introducing the books of the Eclectic Series. He gradually became Mr. Smith's trusted assistant, particularly in the direction of the work of agents and in the selection of new books, and their adaptation to the demands of the field. He married Miss Amanda Landrum, who was also a skilled teacher in the Cincinnati schools. Mrs. Wilson was responsible for a revision of the McGuffey First Reader made in 1863. She also at that time corrected the plates of the higher numbers of the series. For many years thereafter Mr. Wilson was the chief authority for Mr. Smith and his successors in literary matters, and few men excelled him in breadth of reading and in discriminating taste.

Mr. Wilson lives in his home near Cincinnati which is filled with the choice books which he has read and studied so faithfully, and he still has the companionship of the wife who has been his constant helpmate for more than half a century.

Mr. Winthrop B. Smith was the sole proprietor of the McGuffey Readers and his other publications from 1841 until about 1852. He then admitted as partners, Edward Sargent and Daniel Bartow Sargent, [51] his wife's brothers, and the firm name became W.B. Smith & Co.

While books could be manufactured in the West even in the early years cheaper than they could be delivered in the West from the better organized establishments in the older cities of the East, it was not possible to deliver books in New York from Cincinnati so cheaply as the books could be made in the East. The cost of transportation constituted a very considerable element in the price of schoolbooks. Mr. Smith therefore made an arrangement with Clark, Austin & Smith, of New York, to become the Eastern publishers of the McGuffey Readers and other books, and a duplicate set of plates was sent to New York. From these plates, editions of the readers were manufactured, largely at Claremont, N.H., bearing on the title page the imprint of Clark, Austin & Smith, New York.

The Smith of this firm was Cornelius Smith, a brother of Winthrop B. Smith. Cornelius Smith withdrew from this firm before 1861. In that year the war broke out, and this New York firm, which as booksellers and stationers had a large trade in the South, lost not only their custom in that section, but were unable to collect large amounts due them for goods. Clark, Austin, Maynard & Co. failed and Mr. W.B. Smith bought, in 1862, all their assets for the sum of $6,000, placed Mr. W.B. Thalheimer in charge of the business and resumed control of the duplicate plates of the McGuffey Readers.


From the location of Cincinnati on the Ohio river, then affording the cheapest means of distributing goods to all parts of the South, Mr. Smith had obtained, before 1860, a very considerable part of the schoolbook trade in the Southern states of the Mississippi Valley. The opening of the Civil War swept this trade away and left on the books of the firm in Cincinnati many accounts not then collectible. The continuance of the war and the constant fluctuations in the price of materials, due to the use of paper money, joined to advancing age and ill health, all combined to lead Mr. Smith to withdraw from business.

A new firm, Sargent, Wilson & Hinkle, was organized April 20, 1863, with Edward Sargent, Obed J. Wilson and Anthony H. Hinkle as general partners, and with W.B. Smith and D.B. Sargent as special partners.

These active partners had long been in this business, Mr. Sargent as a partner and bookkeeper, Mr. Wilson as literary editor of skill and judgment and also a forceful manager of agents, Mr. Hinkle as a thoroughly skilled binder and manufacturer.

Winthrop B. Smith and D.B. Sargent remained as special partners, furnishing capital but taking no part in the direction of the business.

The Confederate States, at the opening of the War, had within their limits no publisher of schoolbooks which had extensive sales. Nearly all of the schoolbooks used in the South were printed in the [53] North. But there were printing offices and binderies in the South. The children continued to go to school, and the demand for schoolbooks soon became urgent. To meet this demand, a few new schoolbooks were made and copyrighted under the laws of the Confederacy; but others were reprints of Northern books such as were in general use. The Methodist Book Concern of Nashville, Tenn., reprinted the McGuffey Readers and supplied the region south and west of Nashville until the Federal line swept past that city. This action on the part of the Methodist Book Concern had the effect of preserving the market for these readers, so that as soon as any part of the South was strongly occupied by the Federal forces, orders came to the Cincinnati publishers for fresh supplies of the McGuffey Readers. This unexpected preservation of trade was of great benefit to the firm of Sargent, Wilson & Hinkle.

In 1866 the special interests were closed out, and Mr. Lewis Van Antwerp was admitted as a partner. On April 20, 1868, the firm of Sargent, Wilson & Hinkle was dissolved. Mr. Sargent retired and the new firm, Wilson, Hinkle & Co., bought all the assets. At this date Mr. Robert Quincy Beer became a partner. Mr. Beer had long been a trusted and successful agent and he was put in charge of the agency department. Under this partnership the business gradually became systematized in departments. One partner had in charge the reading of manuscripts [54] and the placing of accepted works in book form, one had charge of the manufacture of books from plates provided by the first, and one of finding a market for the books. At the first organization of the firm of Wilson, Hinkle & Co., Mr. Wilson was the literary manager as well as the director of agency work. Mr. Hinkle was the manufacturer, having control of the printing and binding, and Mr. Van Antwerp had charge of the accounts. Mr. Beer was brought in to relieve Mr. Wilson in the direction of agents. But Mr. Beer died suddenly, January 3, 1870, and the surviving partners soon sought for another competent and experienced man to take his place.

Mr. Caleb S. Bragg had for years acted as the agent for a list of books selected by him from the publications of two or three publishers and was a partner in the firm of Ingham & Bragg, booksellers of Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Bragg sold his interest in the business in Cleveland and became a partner in Wilson, Hinkle & Co., on April 20, 1871; and at the same time Henry H. Vail and Robert F. Leaman, who had for some years been employees, were each given an interest in the profits although not admitted as full partners until three years later. Mr. Hinkle's eldest son, A. Howard Hinkle, was brought up in the business, and the contract for 1874 provided that he should be admitted as a partner, with his father's interest and in his place, when that contract expired in 1877. The contract of 1874 was preparatory to the [55] voluntary retirement of both Mr. Wilson and Mr. Hinkle. Consequently, on April 20, 1877, the firm of Wilson, Hinkle & Co. was dissolved and the business was purchased by the new firm. Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co., of which Lewis Van Antwerp, Caleb S. Bragg, Henry H. Vail, Robert F. Leaman, A. Howard Hinkle, and Harry T. Ambrose were the partners. This firm continued unchanged until January 1, 1892, except for the untimely death of Mr. Leaman on December 12, 1887, and the retirement of Mr. Van Antwerp, January 2, 1890, just previous to the sale of the copyrights and plates owned by the firm to the American Book Company.

This sale, completed May 15, 1890, did not then include the printing office and bindery belonging to the firm. These were used by the firm of Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. until January 1, 1892, in manufacturing books ordered by the American Book Company. The American Book Company became, on May 15, 1890, the owners, by purchase, of all the copyrights and plates formerly owned by Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. The four active partners in that firm, each of whom had then been in the schoolbook business some twenty-five or thirty years, entered the employ of the American Book Company. Mr. Bragg and Mr. Hinkle remained in charge of the Cincinnati business, Mr. Vail and Mr. Ambrose went to New York; the former as editor in chief, the latter was at first treasurer, but later became the president.


Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. issued many new and successful books and remade many, including the McGuffey Readers and Speller, Ray's Arithmetics and Harvey's Grammars. Most of these met with acceptance and this was so full and universal throughout the central West as to give opportunity to the competing agents of other houses to honor Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. with such titles as "Octopus" and "Monopoly," names that were used before "Trusts" were invented. They also called the firm in chosen companies, "Van Anteup, Grabb & Co." These were mere playful or humorous titles in recognition of the fact that this firm had, by its industry, skill and energy, captured a larger share of the patronage of the people than was agreeable to its competitors, and they, in despair of success by fair means, resorted to the old-fashioned method of calling their antagonist bad names. The best books, if pressed vigorously and intelligently, were sure to win in the end, and the people who used the books cared little what name appeared at the foot of the title-page.

In all important book contests the firm that holds possession of the field is much in the situation of the tallest man in a Kilkenny Fair. His head sticks up above the crowd and therefore gets the most knocks.

The latest revision of the McGuffey Readers, five books, was prepared and published by the American Book Company in 1901, under the same general direction as the revision of 1878; but the actual work [57] was done by Dr. James Baldwin who was the author of the Harper Readers and of Baldwin's Readers. Even in this latest edition there are in the higher books many selections that appeared in the earliest. Care was taken to maintain the high moral tone that so clearly marked Dr. McGuffey's work and to bring in from later literature some valuable new material to displace that which had proved less interesting and less instructive. These books acquired at once a large sale, and the sales of the previous editions are still remunerative.

Of the men connected with these successive owners of these copyrights it seems proper to name those who directed the revisions which took place. It is evident that none were undertaken without long and anxious discussions as to the need of revision and of its nature. In such decisions all partners would take part; but finally the actual direction must come into the hands of some one partner whose experience and qualification best fitted him for literary work.

As has been seen, Mr. Winthrop B. Smith was for a few years, while the business was still in its infancy, the sole owner and the manager of every part of his business. Mr. Pinneo contributed aid from 1843 to 1856; but even before his work was finished Mr. O.J. Wilson's skill became recognized and his mind was dominant in literary matters so long as he remained a partner—until 1877. But in the meantime he had carefully trained a successor in the editorial work, and from 1877 until 1907 the responsibility fell upon him.


The story of the revisions of 1843 and 1853 has been told. The books were apparently in satisfactory use in a large part of the West; but about 1874 the firm thought it wise to exploit a new series. At its request Mr. Thomas W. Harvey prepared a series consisting of five books. This series was published in 1875; but the experience of a few years with the Harvey Readers showed that the people still preferred the McGuffey Readers and after long discussion and hesitation it was agreed that these should again be revised. This determination was hastened by the publication of the Appleton Readers in 1877, and by the incoming of a number of skilled agents pushing these books in the field that had for many years been held so strongly for the McGuffey Readers as to baffle the best endeavors of two or three Eastern publishers who had tested the market.

The Appleton Readers were prepared by Mr. Andrew J. Rickoff, then superintendent of the Cleveland schools; Mr. William T. Harris, then superintendent of the St. Louis schools, and Professor Mark Bailey of Yale College. They were largely aided in the lower readers by Mrs. Rickoff. These books, with this array of scholarly and well-known authors, illustrated with carefully prepared engravings, well printed and well bound, became at once formidable competitors for patronage and went into use in many places where the McGuffey Readers had served at least two generations of pupils. The Harvey Readers stood no chance in this competition.


On April 9, 1878, the firm of Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. determined upon making a new series of readers bearing the well-recognized title of McGuffey's Eclectic Readers and distinguished as a "Revised Edition." Some details of the plan as presented by the partner having literary matters in charge were agreed to. The method of teaching in the first reader was to be adjusted to a phonic-word method, and the gradation was to be improved. The selections of the older books were to be retained except where they could be improved.

In accordance with this resolution the editor invited four persons to aid, during the summer, in this work. These were Thomas W. Harvey of Painesville, Ohio; Robert W. Stevenson, of Columbus; Edwin C. Hewett, of Bloomington, Ill.; and Miss Amanda Funnelle, of Terre Haute, Indiana. Each was a teacher of wide experience.

To these assistants assembled in Cincinnati the plan of revision was fully explained and the work was alloted. Miss Funnelle and Mr. Stevenson took charge of the first three readers, Mr. Harvey and Dr. Hewett of the three higher books. All were perfectly familiar with the old books and in a few days substantial agreement was reached as to the changes needed. By two months of constant and intelligent labor the manuscripts assumed approximate form. The opening of the schools called the assistants back to their homes and the editor of the firm shaped the manuscripts for the text and procured [60] the necessary illustrations. These were made, regardless of cost, by the best artists and engravers to be found in the country. When the plates were finished, the publishers printed several hundred copies of each of the three smaller books and distributed them as proofs to selected teachers in many states, asking them for criticisms and suggestions. The answers made were of great value. The First Reader was entirely re-written by the editor and the plates of other readers were made more perfect. In this revision the three lower books were almost entirely new. The Fourth was largely new matter, while in the Fifth and Sixth such matter as could not be improved from the entire field of literature, was retained. The Fifth and Sixth readers furnished brief biographies of each author and contained notes explanatory of the text. These were new features and they proved valuable at that date.

As soon as these books were completed, large editions were printed and they were most vigorously exploited not only to take the place of the older edition of McGuffey Readers, but to supplant the newly introduced Appleton Readers.

This book-fight was a long and bitter one. Every device known to the agency managers of the houses engaged was employed. Even exchanges of books became common. It was war; and like every war was carried on for victory and not for profit. It is perhaps fortunate that such contests cannot in the nature of things last long. In the long run business [61] must show a profit or fail. Contrary to popular opinion, a book war is not profitable in itself; but it is a form of competition that has existed for fully a century. It presents no novelties even now.

The two chief combatants at length withdrew with one accord. Neither firm could claim entire victory; but the McGuffey readers came through with much the larger sales and these increased for years. By this contest the firm of Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. won a reputation as fighters that protected them in after years from ill-considered attacks by its competitors.

The revised edition of the McGuffey Readers, having no author's name on the title page, designed and compiled under the direction of the publishers, but retaining the moral excellences and literary qualities that had been affixed to the series from its origin, attained the largest sales that have as yet been accorded by the public to a single series of books. Of the Sixth Reader, which must have the least sale, over a million copies have been distributed, as shown by the edition number. Of the First Reader more than eight million copies have been used.

At no time in the history of these readers have they been without formidable competition. Pickett's Readers were published in Cincinnati as early as 1832. Albert Pickett was at one time president of the College of Teachers and his books were published by John W. Pickett, who was probably his [62] brother. Later some additional books were prepared by John W. Pickett, M.D., LL.D., and published by U.P. James in 1841, and by J. Earnst in 1845. These readers were vigorously pushed into the market for several years, but in the end were unsuccessful.

The Goodrich Readers published by Morton & Griswold in Louisville, Ky., were perhaps the most constant competitors with the McGuffey Readers in the early years throughout the states of the Mississippi Valley. These were prepared by S.G. Goodrich, the author of the then popular "Peter Parley Tales." The readers were originally published in Boston and some copies bear the imprint of Otis, Broaders & Co. They were first copyrighted in 1839 and were frequently revised. They finally became the property of the Louisville publisher. Mr. Smith and Mr. Morton kept up a most vigorous schoolbook war, especially in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky in the years from 1845 to 1860. Cobb's Readers, copyrighted in 1845, were published for some time in Cincinnati by B. Davenport. These were once widely introduced but soon went out of use.

It was very much the custom in those early days, before the railroads made transportation quick and cheap for Eastern publishers to furnish a set of plates to some enterprising bookseller in the West or to print an edition for him with his imprint.

Ebenezer Porter's Rhetorical Reader copyrighted in 1835 was sold largely in the western market by William H. Moore, of Cincinnati, and in 1848 the [63] books bore his imprint. Thus there was ample competition for the market even at this early date. The Pickett Readers, Cobb Readers, Goodrich Readers, and even the excellent Rhetorical Reader of Ebenezer Porter were all swept out of the schools by the superior qualities of the McGuffey Readers and the persistent energies of their publishers.

In these books the publishers found space for a little advertising of their wares. In Pickett's Readers there is printed conspicuously at the top of a page a warm commendation of Pickett's Readers, written in 1835 by William H. McGuffey, Professor at Miami University, in which he "considers them superior to any other works I have seen." That was before he made his own readers. Mr. Smith responded by publishing a strong commendation of one of his books signed by Mr. Albert Pickett. Life is seldom devoid of the lesser amenities.

The Willson Readers, published by the Harper Brothers, were vigorously pushed into the schools of Ohio and Indiana about 1867. The first supply was usually sold to the school authorities by agents who operated on the commission plan. Thus the agents had an interest in the introduction sales, but cared nothing about the continuance of sales in after years. Booksellers, meanwhile, kept the McGuffey Readers in stock, and whenever new readers were desired these were easily obtained. In a few years the Willson Readers were out of the schools. Of course, there was no lack of traveling agents and [64] of circulars which freely criticised these Willson Readers, which were constructed to teach not only reading but science. After a short time the children wearied of reading about bugs and beetles they had never seen and gladly welcomed the books that had a single aim.

In the eyes of a publisher a good schoolbook is one that can be readily introduced and one that will stay when it is put in use. The officials who adopt a schoolbook are not the users of the book. They are adults long past the school age. Cases have been known when in important adoptions the majority of the adopting board had not seen the inside of a school room for twenty-five years. Of course such men are far behind the schools. They are governed by their own past experience. When the teachers are allowed to have a voice in the way of advice, the real needs of the pupils obtain more consideration. But the final real judge of the merits of a schoolbook is the boy or girl who uses it. If the book is truly pedagogical, adjusted in every part to the average mental development of the child, it becomes a valuable tool in the school room. If on the other hand it is a mere collection of novelties such as catch the eye of inexpert judges and impress merely the imagination, the books may be introduced; but they won't stay.

The McGuffey Readers had staying qualities. Teachers often became so familiar with their contents that they needed no book in their hands to [65] correct the work, but to each child the contents of the book were new and fresh. It is the fashion of the present day to exalt the new at the expense of the old. But the child of today is very much such as Socrates and Plato studied in Greece. The development of the human mind may be more generally understood than it was then; but it may be doubted whether the mass of teachers are today wiser in the results of child-study than were the philosophers of ancient days. Child nature remains the same. At a given stage in his upward progress, he is interested in much the same things. He is led to think for himself in much the same way, and the whole end and aim of education is to lead toward self activity. The readers that deal simply with facts—information readers—may lodge in the minds of children some scraps of encyclopedic information which may in future life become useful. But the readers that rouse the moral sentiments, that touch the imagination, that elevate and establish character by selections chosen from the wisest writers in English in all the centuries that have passed since our language assumed a comparatively fixed literary form, have a much more valuable function to perform. Character is more valuable than knowledge and a taste for pure and ennobling literature is a safeguard for the young that cannot be safely ignored.

The success of the McGuffey Readers was due primarily to their adaptation to the general demand [66] of the schools and secondarily to the energy and skill of their publishers.

The books in their first form were strongly religious in their teaching without being denominational. If a selection taught a moral lesson this was stated in formal words at the close. The pill was not sugared. Thus at the close of a lesson narrating the results of disobedience, the three little girls assembled and "they were talking how happy it made them to keep the Fifth Commandment." There was in the books much direct teaching of moral principles, with "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not." In the later revisions this gradually disappeared. The moral teaching was less direct but more effective. The pupil was left to make his own deduction and the formal "haec fabula docet" was omitted. The author and the publishers were fully justified in their firm belief that the American people are a moral people and that they have a strong desire that their children be taught to become brave, patriotic, honest, self-reliant, temperate, and virtuous citizens.

In some of these books the retail price is printed. In 1844 the retail price of the First Reader was twelve and a half cents. It contained 108 pages. In the same year, the Second Reader of 216 pages was priced at 25 cents. The Fourth Reader cost 75 cents, and contained 336 pages.

These prices were in a market when the day's wage of a laboring man was only fifty cents. Relatively [67] to the cost of other articles, schoolbooks were not nearly so cheap as they are now.

When Truman & Smith began publishing, the copyright law required the deposit of titles and copies of the several books in the office of the Clerk of the District Court. At first such deposits were made in Columbus, Ohio, but later in Cincinnati. When Congress organized the Copyright Bureau in Washington, the several clerks were required to send to the Library of Congress all the sample copies deposited; but these had been carelessly kept and many were lost. A duplicate set was for years required to be sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. These were also passed into the custody of the Librarian of Congress; but this collection had been carelessly preserved and the files of the McGuffey Readers at Washington are now quite defective for the earliest issues. The Library seems to have no copy of any number of the first edition except possibly the Second and Fourth. The copy of the Second was deposited December 12, 1836. The Fourth bears date of July, 1837. All the other early copies found in that library are of later dates and are "Revised and Improved."

It may be well to indicate in a general way the progress that has been made in illustrating schoolbooks. The first editions of the McGuffey Readers as issued in 1836 and 1837 did not contain a single original engraving. All seem to have been copied from English books. The nice little boys wear [68] round-about jackets with wide, white ruffled collars at the neck. The proper little girls have scoop bonnets and conspicuous pantalets. Most of the men wear knee breeches. The houses shown have the thatched roofs of English cottages. In one picture a boy has a regular cricket bat. Other schoolbooks of that date show similar appropriations of English engravings; but even at that time there were a few wood engravers in America. When the second general revision was made in 1843 some original illustrations appeared and in the edition of 1853 notice was given on the title page that the engravings were copyright property that must not be used by others.

As pictures are closely studied by children, some of the users of these early books may remember the cut showing vividly the dangers of "whale catching." Two boats are thrown high in the air by one sweep of the animal's tail and one seaman is shown head downward still in the boat. Another represented Jonah being cast overboard from the ship toward the whale below whose mouth is manifestly large enough to accommodate Jonah.

But the engravings in this edition of 1853 had no considerable artistic quality and they were very coarsely engraved. In 1863 came the first employment of a genuine artist in wood engraving. This was Mr. E.J. Whitney who had made a reputation by work done for New York publishers. His engravings were to take the place of some then in the books and their sizes were precisely determined. The [69] drawings were most carefully made by Mr. Herrick with pencil on the whitened boxwood blocks, and sent to the publisher for examination. These, when approved, were returned to the engraver who followed precisely the lines of the drawing. When the engraving was finished, a carefully rubbed proof on India paper was sent to the publisher. If this was satisfactory, the block was delivered and from it an electrotype was made for printing. The block itself was preserved as an original. Mr. Whitney's work was thoroughly good. He was a wood engraver of the old school.

When the revision of 1878 was decided on, the publishers of the McGuffey Readers realized that much improvement must be made in the illustrations. About this time the magazines were placing great stress upon pictorial work and a new school of engravers came into existence. The wood engravers had already departed from the painful reproduction of each line of a pencil drawing and had become skilled in representing tints of light and shade if placed on the whitened block with a brush. This gave greater freedom of interpretation to the engraver. The next step was to have the drawing made large and reproduced on the block by photography. By this method most of the engravings were made for the edition of 1878. Care was taken to employ artists of reputation and the engravings were usually signed by the artist and by the engraver.

Before the last edition came out in 1901, photo-engraving [70] had nearly supplanted wood engraving. By this process the artist's drawing with the brush is reproduced in fine tints which, when well engraved and carefully printed, produce effective results. Pen and ink drawings are also reproduced in exact facsimile. By this process the hand work of the engraver is nearly eliminated. The blocks are sometimes retouched to produce effects not attained by the process work. The skill of the artist in making the drawing thus becomes all important.

The introduction of color work in the schoolbooks intended for young children resulted from the invention of the three-color plates. From nature, or from a colored painting, three photographs are taken—one excluding all but the yellow rays of light, one for the red rays, and one for the blue. From these photographs three tint blocks are made which to the eye in many cases look exactly alike. From one of these an impression is made with yellow ink, exactly over this the red plate prints with red ink and this is followed by an impression from the blue plate. If the effects of the color screens of the camera are exactly reproduced by the printer's inks and with exactly the right amount of ink, the result is wonderfully satisfactory.

What are the qualities in these McGuffey Eclectic Readers that won for them through three-quarters of a century such wide and constant use?

The best answer to this question may be drawn from the many newspaper articles which appeared in [71] Western and Southern papers after the death of one of the authors. There is general recognition on the part of the writers of these articles that while the books served well their purpose of teaching the art of reading, their greatest value consisted in the choice of masterpieces in literature which by their contents taught morality, and patriotism and by their beauty served as a gateway to pure literature. One editor, who used these books in his school career, said, "Thousands of men and women owe their wholesome views of life, as well as whatever success they may have attained to the wholesome maxims and precepts found on every page of these valuable books. The seed they scattered has yielded a million-fold. All honor to the name and memory of this excellent and useful man."

One of the wise men of the olden time cared not who wrote the laws if he might write their songs. Among a people devoid of books the folk-songs are early lodged firmly in the mind of every child. They influence his whole life. The modern schoolbooks—particularly the readers—furnish the basis of the moral and intellectual training of the youth in every community. The McGuffey Readers, from their own peculiar inherent qualities, retained their hold upon the schools until in some states laws were passed which in their operation caused schoolbooks to be regarded as commodities estimated almost solely upon the cost of paper, printing and binding. The value of these material things can easily be ascertained [72] and compared; but unless the print carries the lessons that help to form a life the paper is wasted and the pupil's most valuable time is misspent. The teaching power of a schoolbook cannot be weighed in the grocer's scales nor measured with a pint cup. In the field open to free and constant competition, the books best suited to the wants of each community will in the end succeed. It was under such conditions that the McGuffey Readers won and held their place in the schools.

End of Project Gutenberg's A History of the McGuffey Readers, by Henry H. Vail


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