At the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, McLoughlin Brothers displayed a large glass-front case of its goods which was described by one reporter as full of “their popular toy-books, in brilliant color plates and with chromo bindings, card games and blocks and games . . .” Ten million visitors streamed through the exhibition that year, and those that took a moment to peer into the case would have seen some of the firm’s steady sellers—books like Robinson Crusoe and Cinderella that the brothers sold consistently over decades, as well as nursery rhymes and religious stories that were always in demand. These books formed the backbone of the inventory of McLoughlin Brothers and, while constantly updated and refreshed, came to be expected by the firm’s customer base.
McLoughlin Brothers published an enormous quantity of books for children—scholars estimate about 1,000 titles appeared in over 150 different series—using its experience and talents to feed the demand for affordable books for children while also anticipating market trends. Once a book was established as a steady seller, the company continued to reissue it, reformat it, dress it up or down, and promote it across formats from penny books to deluxe editions, on card games and board games, or as paper dolls. They also kept up with fads and trends, featuring prominent illustrators such as Thomas Nast, and introducing up-to-date novelty games and popular amusements.
The bookselling business became more competitive as the end of the nineteenth century approached. Hundreds of independent bookshops opened across the country to serve the demands of a growing population. Thirty-eight million people lived in the United States in 1870. By 1900 that number had nearly doubled to 76.2 million, and most of these were readers. In 1870, 20 percent of Americans over the age of 14 could not read. By 1900, that figure had dropped to 10 percent. McLoughlin Brothers consistently offered a steady supply of fairytales, easy readers, and holiday books to help meet the demand of a more literate and growing populace.