Golden Days was published by James Elverson of Philadelphia, with Edward S. Ellis both editor and contributor. Other writers were Harry Castlemon, James Otis, Frank Converse, Oliver Optic and Horatio Alger. It was the longest running weekly boys paper in the United States in the nineteenth century, lasting from 1880 to 1907. It’s chief competitors were The Boys of New York, (1875-1894) Boys Champion, (1881-1883) Sunshine For Youth, (1886-1907) and Harper’s Round Table (1879-1899).
The Salutary in the first issue said;
“Recognizing the fact that our young friends demand Stories, we shall give them warm, interesting and vivid narratives, prepared by the most popular and competent writers- writers who understand childhood, and comprehend their own responsibilities in this respect.
On the other hand, we shall avoid that rigid, unbending strictness which repels the sympathetic nature of childhood, and fails to interest and teach, through a too great eagerness to act as a monitor in all things.”
Although Golden Days believed in church and Sunday schools, the paper was not of the moralizing kind, but tales of the great outdoors, of orphaned boys and inheritances.
The first number was given away “free to all,” a masterful marketing ploy in which over one million copies were distributed.
The first issue of March 6, 1880, opened with a serial by the hugely popular Harry Castlemon (“Related by an Old Frontiersman and Written Out by Harry Castlemon.”) author of The Gunboat and Boy Trapper Series, entitled Two Ways of Becoming a Hunter. Castlemon had this comment to make on the effects of the type of writing to be found in Boys of New York;
“They read stories of wild western adventure that never happened - of fights with Indians, grizzly bears and outlaws such as no man could pass through and live - and their imaginations become excited, and they long to be the heroes of just such impossible exploits. Worse than that, some of them are foolish enough to believe that they can equal the achievements of these imaginary border men; and turning their backs upon their comfortable homes, they go out into the world, all inexperienced as they are, and often with the brand of thief upon their brows, to win a reputation as Indian fighters and hunters. A few days ago, I read in a newspaper of two boys, aged respectively fifteen and sixteen years, who, having stolen money from their fathers to the amount of two hundred dollars, had set out for the plains to become trappers, and put in their spare time in shooting Indians and outlaws. When they were arrested, it was found that they had a trunk full of ammunition, broken revolvers, rusty butcher-knives and worthless steel-traps.
While I was reading about them, some incidents connected with the history of two boys I knew once upon a time were forcibly recalled to my recollection, and I resolved to relate those incidents nearly as they happened, hoping that f the story should chance to fall into the hands of any discontented youth who is tempted to do as one of these boys did, he will take warning and stop before he has gone too far.”
Edward S. Ellis had a serial in the first issue as well, “Fire, Snow, and Water; or, Life In The Lone Land,” a tale of the Hudson Bay. Golden Days had comic strips, puzzles, jokes, and how to articles on archery, building wigwams, and “How Indians Make Shoes,” and even a Golden Days club. Some of the other authors over the years were Lucy Randall Comfort, Frank R. Stockton, George H. Coomes, Frank H. Converse, J. Macdonald Oxley, William O. Stoddard and William Murray Graydon. These stories kept publishers of books like the Saalfield Publishing Company supplied with material for many years. Single-panel and sequential caption strips were a regular feature throughout the magazine’s twenty-seven year run.