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The Minister Who Invented Camping in America

William H. H. Murray was a wealthy Congregationalist minister and an outdoors enthusiast. Every summer he went to the Adirondack Mountains, often with his wife, sometimes with several friends, to enjoy hunting, fishing, canoeing, and commmuning with nature. He also kept a journal, writing humorous and informative essays on his experiences.

Murray never intended his “narrative exercises” for publication—but when a good friend encouraged him in 1869 to publish a book on any subject with the prestigious Boston publisher of Osgood, Fields, and Company, Murray, who liked the idea but did not have a manuscript, bundled the exercises with an introductory chapter and submitted them. Initially publisher James T. Fields declined Murray’s manuscript, but not wanting to embarrass the minister, he reluctantly agreed to read the submission. Two days later, he called Murray to his office with exciting news: He wanted to publish Murray’s book that spring. “Your method of interpreting nature and your humor are unlike anything that we have ever seen, ” Fields said. “This little book, I am confident, is destined to a great career.”

Adventures in the Wilderness was met with mixed reviews. The Overland Monthly dismissed Murray’s writing as “gorgeous French, badly translated” while The Nation found his practical advice to be “sensible and worth taking.” Nonetheless, the book was immediately popular with the public and a tremendous commercial success, making Murray both famous and wealthy by June. We do not know exactly how many copies were sold, but the numbers probably rose into the tens, and perhaps hundreds, of thousands. The book was in its tenth printing by July 7. Years later, Murray recalled that for a long time Adventures had sold at a rate of approximately 500 per week.

The Adirondacks saw a boom in camping immediately after the publication of Murray's book. It wasn't just Murray's inspiration. His book was the catalyst of many factors that led Americans to go outdoors and camp in the 1860s. Read about how and why camping gained its popularity at Smithsonian.  -via Strange Company


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