The earliest printed reference to the Maharal's Golem appeared in B. Auerbach, Spinoza, Sttugart, 1837, vol. 2, pp. 2-3. Kieval's claim (in Pursuing the Golem of Prague," p. 7; . . . that the first such reference appeared in 1841 needs to be revised accordingly: Two printed references (and the first by a non-Jew) to the Maharal's Golem appeared in 1841. For the non-Jewish reference, see F. Klutschak's Der Golam [sic] des Rabbi Löw," Panorama des Universums 8 (1841), pp. 75ff; reprinted in Kieval, "Pursuing the Golem," pp. 21-23. For the Jewish reference, see G. Philippson, "Der Golem," Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums 5 (1841), number 44, pp. 629-631.
לענ"ד I have found a reference from 1836.
What you see is page 368 of the Oesterreiche Zeitschrift für Geschichts und Staatsunde, 92, 16 November 1836:
By the 1840s everyone knows about it so there's almost no point giving additional sources (unless one is striving for comprehensiveness). Nevertheless, here's an 1843 review of the Altneu Schule in Prague in the Archives israélites 4:
By 1845 you've even got a poem about it.
And in 1846 it's in a Jewish history book:
Dr. Leiman's reference to the first printed source is to the 1837 book Spinoza by Berthold Auerbach. Here is what the passage looks like in the 1854 edition:
And you can read the entire thing in English translation, from 1882:
It should be noted, by the way, that another Golem legend seems to have spread, namely that Rabbi Yudl Rosenberg more or less invented the legend. Here seems like a good place to repudiate this misconception. No one makes this impossible claim, and the articles dealing with him make it clear that the legend was not created by him, and they cite earlier sources, such as some of the ones mentioned in this post (but not my 1836 source!). Rather, the claim is that he is the first (and only) source which claimed that the legend was written many hundreds of years earlier, namely by someone he claimed was the Maharal's son-in-law, and in a manuscript from 1590 which only he had seen (and found in a library which didn't exist). The story only exploded in popularity after his book, which means that he helped to popularize it. In addition, stories in the legend come solely from his book (see, e.g., the Jewish Press's weekly cartoon about the Golem, which has looped for decades).
But it was sufficiently a part of pop culture that the following, from 1884, appears. It was part of an article called Legends of the Synagogue in the journal All the year round, founded by Charles Dickens. This piece is written by his son, Charles Dickens, Jr.:
According to this piece from a 1938 Life the statue in Prague was erected in 1905:
In any case, why is any of this on my mind at all? I happened to come across a fascinating and charming article of 90 pages written in 1896 called A Glossary of Jewish Terms by Joseph Jacobs. It was published by him in the 1899 edition of the Jewish Yearbook. This list contains a fascinating mix of folklore, history, modern scholarly conjectures (some of which are pretty wild) and also "Amhaaretsuth," to use his spelling.
Here is how the list begins (note the strange claim; either wild conjecture or Amhaaretsuth) at the very end:
Here is his entry on Golem:
This particular list is a real pleasure to read; I strongly urge everyone to print it up (here it is). In fact, I could probably do ten posts just about the list. There's an entry on "Fried Fish" (where it calls cholent "Shalet," a "favorite [Sabbath] dish of the Continental Jews), and one on "Froom," which is what "pious Jews are said to be."
To give an indication of how long ago it really was, in the entry on Court Jews ("Hofjude") it remarks that the father of the recently departed Baron de Hirsch was one. It informs us that Sir Moses Montefiore belonged to a Chevra Kadisha ("Lavadorea" in the Spanish-Sepharadic parlance) and often performed taharas on the deceased. It also includes many terms which were evidently in common parlance at the time, but not so much anymore. For example, I don't know if in a list like this today there would be an entry for "Hamechuna" or even "Hatarath Hora'ah" (given that it's vulgarly called "semicha" these days). He has an entry on "Din," which seems to have fallen by the wayside and is mostly called "halacha" these days. Actually, I should qualify that: my reading seems to indicate that British Jews preferred and perhaps still prefer the term "din." He also preserves minhagim. For example, in his entry on the priestly blessing he notes that it is not performed on the Sabbath. While there are still some places which do not do this, in my experience this is today rare. Actually, in the view of some that minhag is "Amhaaretsuth." Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff tells a story about Rabbi Soloveitchik opposing this custom in his first rabbinic position in Boston, forcing his viewpoint (i.e., making the kohanim duchan against their will) and making enemies out of his congregants. He later realized that he should not have opposed this custom until he had formed alliances and taught the halacha properly to receptive ears. Only then should he have insisted that his change in their longstanding practice be instituted.
Josephs also refers to his own book The Jews of Angevin England: documents and records from Latin and Hebrew in his entry on Charoseth:
Getting back to golems, here are some 19th century Hebrew references:
Fuenn's Kiryah Ne'emanah (1860):
An 1874 edition of the Sefer Yetzirah:
An essential part of the dictionary entry for גולם, by 1880:
Here's the Maharal's headstone inscription referred to in Kiryah Ne'emanah; this is from Gal 'Ed (1856):
Putting aside the Maharal's alleged golem, what about golems in general? By the 183os it had sufficiently entered European popular culture, that a character in a German book is a golem. Here is from a review of that book, from 1836:
Here's an entry in a English-Welsh dictionary from 1756:
And in a very strange book containing much material trying to connect Hebrew with English, from 1766:
Read what Jonathan Swift had to say about this sort of philology:
All eggs under the grate!
By the way, if I'm behind the curve and this 1836 source for the golem has already been discovered, please let me know.