The inventions described in the books in the first series were based on descriptions of existing and planned devices and vehicles in Scientific American, National Geographic, and other popular science journals of the time. Thus, when Tom sees a mysterious group of men manufacturing diamonds in the Rocky Mountains, the story can be traced to rumors in Scientific American about people who had claimed the ability to create artificial diamonds as good as natural ones. Production of synthetic diamonds came much later, from General Electric.
Although many of the real historical inventions did not realize the potential of Tom Swift’s, the similarities are impressive. Some of the more significant inventions in the series include a combined aeroplane and dirigible balloon (1910), synthetic diamonds (1911), an electric rifle (1911), a photo telephone (1914), an improved war tank (1918), cross-country passenger airline service (1926), an attachment to radios to let listeners see actors on the stage (1928), a house on wheels (1929), a mid-Atlantic “ocean airport” (1934), and a mountaintop telescope (1939).
Like Jules Verne’s stories, the Tom Swift books inspired readers to enter careers in science, technology, and aviation. Stratemeyer stressed this desirable effect in an early advertisement. Many young readers answered the call.
None of the major inventions of the second series has entered reality, despite...
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