Radiant With Color

Home > Explore Exhibit

Explore Exhibit


The exhibit is divided into sections, chronicling the development of children's book publishing in early America, the rise and golden age of the McLoughlin Brothers firm, and finally the end of firm in the early 20th century.

A note about searching: the search bar at the top will search across the entire exhibit, but cannot search words less than three letters, or words that appear too often. To perform an advanced search of the items in the exhibit, click here and use the "search for keywords" box.

Be kind to the needy

Early History of Picture Books in America

What did American children’s books look like before the era of McLoughlin Brothers? Drab and infrequent illustrations in the eighteenth century gave way to more pictures and color images by 1840.



Be kind to the needy

Children's Book Publishing in New York

Examples in this section illustrate the fact that New York City was a hub of printing and publishing activity when the McLoughlin Brothers firm was formed in the 1850s and books for children were starting to become widely available.


Pied piper

Early Days of McLoughlin Brothers

From the beginning, the McLoughlin brothers decided to focus exclusively on the children’s market, a unique strategy. They also issued many titles in series at widely different price points, from one penny to two dollars. This allowed them to reach a wide variety of consumers.


Be kind to the needy

Illustrators at McLoughlin Brothers

For decades, McLoughlin Brothers maintained a large stable of artists, using their varied and distinct talents to illustrate picture books. Examples of original watercolors and drawings are shown here with final products.


Fun from the flowery land

The Difficulties of Nineteenth-Century Humor

While many McLoughlin Brothers books contain silly rhymes and jokes or are full of ridiculous scenes designed to make children laugh, other titles in this genre can be viewed today as representative of a society desperately attempting to maintain its status quo by attacking or mocking minority populations. Although considered controversial today, titles in this section were popular with the firm’s nineteenth-century customer base and provide a unique view into the cultural norms of the times.


John Gilpin

McLoughlin Brothers and its Competitors

The McLoughlin brothers used many tactics to stay ahead of their competition, not all of them admirable. They blatantly copied designs, pursued legal action, bought out rival firms, and negotiated deals to suit their own bottom line, all actions which are illustrated in this section.


Santa Claus

Steady Sellers

Once a book was established as a steady seller, McLoughlin Brothers continued to reissue it, reformat it, dress it up or down, and promote it across formats from penny books to deluxe editions. The firm kept up with popular fads and trends and introduced novelty games and amusements designed to appeal to children.




The Golden Age of McLoughlin Brothers

Starting around 1880, the firm entered an era of production and expansion that made it the largest and arguably the most significant distributor of children’s literature in the nation. The elaborate colorful books and toys from this period are highly sought by collectors today.


Paper dolls

The End of an Era

After fifty years of expansion and experimentation, McLoughlin Brothers began to flounder in the years following World War I. This section includes late productions of books and games that show the various ways the firm attempted to adapt before eventually being sold to Milton Bradley in 1920.