[This article on the history of the Argosy was published in the December 10, 1932 issue of the Argosy. The occasion was the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine. The author is William DeWart, the owner and publisher of the Argosy. On the occasion of the one hundred and thirtieth anniversary of its beginning, here is the article. After the break.]
The history of the Argosy
FIFTY years ago a young man from Maine came to New York with $40, a grip full of manuscripts, and the undying determination to start a magazine. Frank A. Munsey had too much spirit and ability to be content as a clerk, a telegrapher, or even as manager of Augusta’s Western Union office. He had no magazine experience and no backing — the backer who was to put up $2,500 in cash backed out after Mr. Munsey reached New York. His chief assets were the ambition and hard-working energy of an Alger boy hero.
So it was deeply fitting that his magazine, The Golden Argosy, opened with “Do and Dare, or a Brave Boy’s Fight for Fortune,” a serial by that greatest of boys’ writers, Horatio Alger, Jr.
That first Golden Argosy, dated December 9, 1882, bore the subtitle, “Freighted with Treasures for Boys and Girls”. The treasures included a second serial, “ Nick and Nellie, or God Helps Them That Help Themselves,” by Edward S. Ellis ; “ Brave Bessie, or the Queen’s Ambassador,” by Fred M. Harrison; “ The Dogs of St Bernard,” by W. H. W. Campbell; a puzzle department, exchanges, a department devoted to Amateur Journalism, and brief fact items. It was an eight-page, newspaper shaped weekly of the size and appearance of the late Youth’s Companion.
A Dauntless Struggle
From the start the ARGOSY sailed a stormy course. Difficulties piled on disappointments, while Mr. Munsey carried on his desperate fight to keep the magazine afloat, by acting as editor, publisher, and even as a serial writer. In his own words :
“The Argosy was founded on a definite idea. It has carried straight through on that idea—the publication of decent fiction, good red-blooded fiction for the millions. The ARGOSY had its troubles and its struggles — enough of them to sink the Leviathan. Few publications have ever had so many and pulled through. The reason the Argosy kept on living was because it didn’t know when it was licked, and so it wasn’t licked; just how the Argosy survived its first five years, without capital, without money in the bank, and without experience in its management, is beyond the comprehension of itself and the spirit back of it.”
Among the writers of serials in ten and twenty weekly installments were Horatio Alger, Jr., Frank A. Munsey, Oliver Optic, G. A. Henty, R. H. Titherington, and Matthew White, Jr., who became Argosy’s editor and piloted the magazine for decades.
The magazine soon began appealing to older readers, and its name became The ARGOSY. In 1894 it was changed from newspaper shape to much the present magazine size, Profuse illustrations of famous men and events graced its pages, with informative articles, poems and departments being emphasized as much as fiction.
But a great step in magazine pioneering came in 1896, when The ARGOSY became the first all-fiction magazine. No articles or illustrations—just a rich cargo of entertaining fiction full of adventure and romance. It was printed on the present type of unglazed newsprint or “pulp” paper. The all-fiction ARGOSY enjoyed swift popularity, yet the venture was so novel that for years it had no direct competition.
Around the turn of the century, Upton Sinclair (not yet the famous radical) was writing adventure serials for ARGOSY. Charles G. D. Roberts, William MacLeod Raine, James Branch Cabell, Ellis Parker Butler, Louis Joseph Vance, Sidney Porter (who later wrote under the name of O. Henry), Susan Glaspell, and Mary Roberts Rinehart were among its writers, in many cases trying their wings for the first time, on romance and adventure: For a decade Albert Payson Terhune wrote two or three serials annually.
Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey of the Nick Carter tales, Jesse L. Lasky of motion picture fame, and Channing Pollock, the playwright, were among other contributors.
Meantime two historic magazines had been merged with ARGOSY. When Peterson’s Magazine was started in 1842, it was America’s third magazine, and later it was the leading publication of Civil War days. Mr. Munsey bought it in 1898 and combined it with ARGOSY.
The nation’s first magazine was Godey’s Lady’s Book, founded in 1830. For years it dictated or mirrored fashions and Victorian morality in this country. Under its later name of Godey’s Magazine it was merged with Munsey’s Puritan, then with Junior Munsey, and in 1902 with ARGOSY.
So ARGOSY might, in a far-fetched sense, claim to date back more than a century. But the all-fiction ARGOSY inherited nothing in the way of policies or writers from those two literary landmarks—whereas it did draw much lifeblood in the form of writers and readers from its merger with its companion magazine, the All-Story Weekly, in 1920.
Among the now famous writers who found a welcome in the years before this merger were Frank Condon, Frank Sullivan, Courtney Ryley Cooper, Elmer L. Reizenstein (Elmer Rice), P. G. Wodehouse, Merle W. Crowell, Captain A. E. Dingle, Zane Grey with “The Last of the Duanes,” Arthur Somers Roche, Achmed Abdullah, Edison Marshall, Octavus Roy Cohen, Berton Braley, George F. Worts, Max Brand, Sam Heil¬man, William Slavens McNutt, and Carolyn Wells. .
The Argosy-Allstory Weekly
In the war year of 1917 ARGOSY returned to the weekly field, where its long-standing policy of keeping four or five serials running in every issue proved even more popular than in its monthly appearances. And this popularity doubled after its union with All-Story as ” The Argosy – Allstory Weekly” giving it the position it still holds— the most widely circulated action magazine.
The All-Story Magazine was founded in 1905. Bob Davis, famous discoverer of budding literary genius, edited it. In the All-Story’s fifteen-year career he published such stories as Burroughs’s “ Tarzan of the Apes,” Max Brand’s “The Untamed,” and Mary Roberts Rinehart’s “ The Circular Staircase ” and “ The Man in Lower Ten.” Among its star writers were A. Merritt, John Buchan, Charles Neville Buck, Octavus Roy Cohen, Zane Grey, and E. Phillips Oppenheim.
The Argosy-Allstory Weekly continued under that title until 1929, when it returned to the name ARGOSY. The present number, marking the fiftieth anniversary, is the 1,670th consecutive appearance of ARGOSY; which has never missed an issue.
Today ARGOSY features more than a hundred regular writers of adventure, mystery, and romance. Picking a few at random, one might mention H. Bedford-Jones, Charles Alden Seltzer, T. S. Stribling, Fred Maclsaac, Robert Carse, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Erle Stanley Gardner, Captain Dingle, Frank L. Packard, Johnston McCulley, Max Brand, J. Allan Dunn, A. Merritt, Theodore Roscoe, Ellis Parker Butler, Hulbert Footner, F. V. W. Mason, Lowell Thomas, Ray Cummings, Frank Richardson Pierce, W. Wirt, J, E. Grinstead, Otis Adelbert Kline, W. C. Tuttle, and George F. Worts.
Changes have come through the years in the shape and appearance of the magazine and in the maturity of its reading public. Editors and writers have come and gone. The ownership passed, after the death of Mr. Munsey, to myself.
Throughout the changes of half a century the ARGOSY has held steadfast-to the policy of printing decent fiction, good red- blooded fiction for the millions.” Clean, wholesome entertainment has been ARGOSY’S purpose, and is its reason for existence.
WILLIAM T. DEWART,
Bonus: Here’s a link to a history of the Argosy, published on the 25th anniversary of the magazine. It’s by Frank Munsey, and is as much his story as it is the Argosy’s. Article courtesy PulpGen.
Frank Munsey's inovation in 1882, and determination to publish The Golden Argosy will always be a boon to literature, and reading for the masses.