The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The first three Tom Swift series were produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book packager that hired writers to complete manuscripts based on a title, story outline, and cast of characters. Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930) established this literary agency around 1904 to purchase existing stories and create new stories to be completed by hired writers. Many of the policies he used were similar to the “story paper” industry, in which Stratemeyer had been a writer and editor, including the use of pseudonyms, continuing characters, and a flat fee paid to writers for all rights to a story.

One of Stratemeyer’s close friends was Howard Garis (1873-1962), a newspaper reporter for the Newark Evening News and author of the Uncle Wiggily stories about a rheumatic gentleman rabbit. Garis had written many volumes in the Motor Boys series, the Baseball Joe series, the Bobbsey Twins series, and the Great Marvel series for Stratemeyer before he wrote nearly all the first thirty-five or thirty-six Tom Swift stories. He was paid $75 to write each of the first two volumes in the series. Garis continued to work with the syndicate after Stratemeyer’s death but apparently left by early 1933 because of disagreements with Stratemeyer’s daughters Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (1892-1982) and Edna C. Squier (1895-1974).

Harriet and Edna began to run the syndicate after Stratemeyer’s death, at the request of the publishers. Harriet, who was graduated from Wellesley, became the head of the syndicate. She wrote many of the later volumes in the Nancy Drew series. The remaining employees of the syndicate sold the organization and its literary properties to Simon and Schuster in 1984. Anne Greenberg, the senior editor of the juvenile division of Simon and Schuster Pocket Books, supervised the fourth Tom Swift series.

The first series (1910-1941) describes how Tom Swift invented or improved a wide range of vehicles and devices, many of which were preceded or followed by a real invention with a similar function. In the first five books (all published in 1910), Tom purchases a motorcycle and a motorboat and makes minor improvements to them. The third and fourth books show how Tom helps an adult with an airship and a submarine. It...

(The entire section is 919 words.)