Palmer Cox, the writer and illustrator of the Brownie stories, was born in Granby, Quebec on April 28, 1840. The area was populated by many Scottish people whose folklore would later influence his stories. As a child he showed an interest in drawing and poetry.
Graduating from the Granby Academy in 1858, he moved south finding work finishing the woodwork used in the interior of railroad cars. Later he and his brother Edwin worked as barn framers in Ontario. It is said that Cox drew pictures on barn timbers during rest periods.
Heading west, he walked across the Isthmus of Panama en route arriving in Oakland, California in January 1863. He stayed in California for about 13 years, becoming a United States citizen. After a period building steamboats and railroad cars he moved to San Francisco, a literary center even then. He entered into the citys literary life contributing to several periodicals and in 1874 published his first book Squibs of California, or Everyday Life. The book, based on his diary, contained stories, sketches and poems. It was almost 500 pages and contained 183 illustrations.
In 1875 he relocated to New York in search of a literary career. After initial difficulties he became the chief artist for Uncle Sam: The American Journal of Wit and Humor. Between 1875 and 1878 he published three books, all written in verse and illustrated, and by the early 1880s was writing for Wide Awake, a childrens magazine. His work began to appear regularly in Harpers Young People and St. Nicholas, an important childrens periodical. Childrens literature seemed to be Coxs calling.
The first Brownie story to appear in St. Nicholas was The Brownies Ride in February 1883. Twenty four Brownie stories appeared between 1883 and 1887. In 1887 they were collected and published as The Brownies, Their Book. Palmer Cox was 47 years old when this first Brownie book was published. In 1890 a second series of twelve stories from St. Nicholas were combined with twelve others and published as Another Brownie Book. Cox began writing for the Ladies Home Journal and produced a series called The Brownies Through the Year. In 1893 these were collected into a third book, The Brownies at Home. The Brownie stories were light-hearted and fun for their readers. The Brownies engaged in activities children could relate to and the stories often included current events. In all, twelve Brownie books* were written.
By 1905 Cox had returned to Granby, Quebec living in a turreted house he had planned. The house was called Brownie Castle and was said to be based on a castle he saw while traveling in the British Isles. He died at Brownie Castle on July 24, 1924. His tombstone reads:
IN CREATING THE BROWNIES
HE BESTOWED A PRICELESS
HERITAGE ON CHILDHOOD.
Cox wrote an article, The Origin of the Brownies, for the November 1892 issue of the Ladies Home Journal. That article is reproduced here.
*Brownie books by Palmer Cox:
- The Brownies, Their Book, 1887
- Another Brownie Book, 1890
- The Brownies at Home, 1893
- The Brownies Around the World, 1894
- The Brownies Through the Union, 1895
- Brownie Year Book, 1895
- The Brownies Abroad, 1899
- The Brownies in the Philippines, 1904
- Brownie Clown of Brownie Town, 1908
- The Brownies Latest Adventures, 1910
- The Brownies Many More Nights, 1913
- The Brownies and Prince Florimel or Brownieland, Fairyland and Demonland, 1918
- Roger W. Cummings, Humorous but Wholesome: A History of Palmer Cox and the Brownies, Century House, Americana Publishing, Watkins Glen, NY, 1973
- Charlotte Spivak, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 42, pp. 133-138, Gale Research Company, 1985