The series was initially conceived by Constance Lindsay Skinner, who was also the first series editor. Skinner wrote an essay that was included in early volumes of the series in which she describes the series as follows:
"This is to be a literary and not a historical series. The authors of these books will be novelists and poets. On them, now in America, as in all lands and times, rests the real responsibility of interpretation. If the average American is less informed about his country than any other national, knows and cares less about its past and about its present in all sections but the one where he resides, it is because books prepared for his instruction were not written by artists."
Skinner's unique vision extend to twenty-four volumes, but the series proved so popular that sixty-five volumes were eventually published over a 37 year period.
The publisher, Farrar & Rinehart, shepherded the project through four editors, and the publisher's evolution to Rinehart & Company and later Holt, Rinehart and Winston. The editors of the series were Constance Lindsay Skinner, who died at her desk editing the sixth volume in the series, Carl Carmer, who wrote the sixth volume in the series, Stephen Vincent Benet, and Hervey Allen. Associate editors were Elizabeth L. Gilman and Jean Crawford; and the art editors were Ruth E. Anderson, Faith Ball, Benjamin Feder, Philip Fiorello and Lawrence S. Kamp.
The sixty-five books included in the series represent a wide cross section of writers and illustrators. The Series editors sought out poets, novelists, historians and illustrators to produce a product that would be a literary sketch rather than a historical tome. For the most part, the editors were successful in bringing the folk life of America alive through the lens of the flowing of America's rivers.
The series includes the first book illustrated by Andrew Wyeth, The Brandywine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas' The Everglades: River of Grass which successfully focused public attention on the plight of the Everglades, Paul Horgan's Great River: The Rio Grande in America History, considered the definitive study of the early southwest, and poet Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology) The Sangamon.
The series represents one of the finest long term efforts by a publisher to blend the talents of both writers and artists to present a tribute to the rivers which played such a vital role in the development of America. A testament to the editors outstanding work is the fact that many of these volumes continue to be reprinted and the original editions are now considered highly collectible.
On April 9th & 10th, 1997, a group of Rivers of America authors and illustrators were brought together by the Library of Congress to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Series. An Information Bulletin highlighting the celebration was published by the Library of Congress on June 7, 1997.
The first edition, first printings of the series were denoted by a colophon on the copyright page until 1960. The colophon consisted of either FR (1937 - 1946) or R (1946 - 1959) in a circle or diamond. After 1960, "First Edition" was printed on the copyright page.
Special signed and numbered limited editions were also produced, though not for every volume in the Series, and sometimes in very limited print runs. The signed and numbered editions of the Series generally included only the author's signature, though sometimes the illustrator's signature was included as well. Where known, these limited editions are included in the list below.
A set of War Editions were published between 1942 and 1945. These editions used a lesser quality of paper and a smaller font size to meet war time restrictions.
There were also a series of Armed Services editions, denoted: "Overseas edition for the Armed Forces. Distributed by the Special Services Division, A.S.F., for the Army, and by the Bureau of Naval Personnel for the Navy. U.S. Government property. Not for sale. Published by Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., a non-profit organization established by the Council on Books in Wartime" (Note: This example is from the cover of the St Lawrence)
Several books in the Series were revised and/or expanded either in the work itself, or in the illustrations. Where known, these revised editions are included in the list below.
6. The Hudson Carl Carmer 1939; Illustrated by Stow Wengenroth
11. The Illinois James Gray 1940;
22. Songs of the Rivers of America Carl Carmer 1942;
23. The Twin Rivers: Raritan & Passiac Harry Emerson Wildes 1943;
27. The Missouri Stanley Vestal 1945;
28. The Salinas Anne B. Fisher 1945;
31. The Colorado Frank Waters 1946;
32. The Tennessee: the Old River David Donaldson 1946;
33. The Connecticut Walter Hard 1946;
35. The Tennessee: the New River David Donaldson 1948;
36. The Chagres: River of Westward Passage John Easter Minter 1948;
38. The MacKenzie Leslie Roberts 1949;
39. The Winooski: Heartway of Vermont Ralph Nading Hill 1949;
40. The Ohio R.E. Banta 1949;
42. The Saskatchewan Marjorie Wilkins Campbell 1950;
43. The Fraser Bruce Hutchison 1950;
45. The Gila Edwin Corle 1951;
46. Salt Rivers of the Massachusetts Shore Henry Howe 1951;
47. The Monongahela Richard Bissell 1952;
48. The Yazoo Frank E. Smith 1954;
49. Great River: the Rio Grande Paul Horgan 1954;
50. The Susquehanna Carl Carmer 1955;
52. The Columbia Stewart H. Holbrook 1956;
56. The Genesee Henry Clune 1963;
57. The Cape Fear Malcom Ross 1965;
61. The Allagash Lew Dietz 1968;