Twain first wrote the title short story at the request of his friend Artemus Ward, for inclusion in an upcoming book. Twain worked on two versions, but neither was satisfactory to him—neither got around to describing the jumping frog contest. Ward pressed him again, but by the time Twain devised a version he was willing to submit, that book was already nearing publication, so Ward sent it instead to The New York Saturday Press, where it appeared in the November 18, 1865 edition as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog". Twain's colorful story was immensely popular, and was soon printed in many different magazines and newspapers. Twain developed the idea further, and Bret Harte published this version in The Californian on December 16, 1865; this time titled "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", and Smiley's name was changed to Greeley.
Further popularity of the tale led Twain to use the story to anchor his own first book, which appeared in 1867 with a first issue run of only 1,000 copies. The first edition was issued in seven colors (with no priority): blue, brown, green, lavender, plum, red, and terra-cotta, and is sought after by book collectors, as it fetches thousands of dollars at auctions. In the book version, Twain changed Greeley back to Smiley.