Ragtime flourished from the mid 1890’s until around 1920. It was predominently sheet written music and was distributed before the days of recording. Pianos were as common as TVs are today so sheet music sales were huge.
I play “Classical Ragtime”, a structured style developed by several composers including Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, Tom Turpin and James Scott.
Although not the first rag written or published, Maple Leaf Rag did become the first instrumental piece to sell over one million copies The rag was named after the Maple Leaf Club in Sedalia, Missouri.
Sales of Maple Leaf and subsequent rags earned Joplin his “King of Ragtime” reputation, and enabled the publisher John Stark to move his company to St. Louis, then later New York.
Scott Joplin was the most famous ragtime composer. Scott Joplin lived from 1868-1917. He wrote many rags, marches, waltzes and even an opera.
His music was featured in the 1973 movie “The Sting” including the song “The Entertainer” as well as many others.
Ragtime is an American musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1899 and 1918. It has had several periods of revival since then and is still being composed today. Ragtime was the first truly American musical genre, predating jazz. It began as dance music in popular music settings years before being published as popular sheet music for piano.
[Source and more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragtime]