Portrait of Edward Stratemeyer, n.d.

Portrait of Edward Stratemeyer, n.d.

Edward Stratemeyer


The son of a 48er immigrant from Germany, Edward Stratemeyer built a career as a writer and a publisher of juvenile literature. At the peak of his career, he presided over a publishing syndicate whose most successful book series, the Rover Boys and Tom Swift, sold millions of copies. Other series created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate – the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys – would make their mark on subsequent generations of readers (and writers).


The listing for Henry J. Stratemeyer, “one of Elizabeth’s oldest business men,” can be found deep in the “Obituary Notes” in the December 24, 1891, edition of the New York Times. In it, Mr. Stratemeyer is described as a native of Hanover, Germany, who came to the United States in 1837.[1] The Times notes that he was one of the “original Forty-niners” who “got tired of the gold craze.” In 1851, he returned to Elizabeth, where he worked as a tobacco and cigar dealer and manufacturer until his death. The listing also mentions that his only daughter (Anna, born in Elizabeth in 1859) was “the wife of Frederick L. Heidritter, one of the largest lumber merchants in New Jersey, President of the Elizabethport Banking Company and the Elizabeth Street Railway.” At the time of Henry Stratemeyer’s death, Anna was indeed his most conventionally successful child. A gifted pianist, she had married into the Heidritter family, whose “trade in coal, lumber and other building materials brought them and their families great wealth and social standing.”[2]

It was another child, however, whose legacy would make the Stratemeyer name famous during the twentieth century and whose creations would still be referenced and published in the twenty-first.[3] At the time of Henry’s death, his son Edward Stratemeyer (born October 4, 1862 in Elizabeth, NJ; died May 10, 1930 in Newark, NJ) was building a career as a writer and a publisher of juvenile literature. His rise within the industry was steady, and before long, he was presiding over a publishing Syndicate whose most successful book series, the Rover Boys and Tom Swift, were selling millions of copies. On May 12, 1930, two days after Edward Stratemeyer’s own death, a New York Times article reported that his Rover Boys series alone “had sales exceeding 5,000,000 copies.”[4] The Newark Evening News of the same date announced: “hundreds of thousands of boys the world over whose youthful minds were stirred by his stories of war and adventure and the struggle for success in life will lament the passing of Mr. Stratemeyer.”[5]

Despite his general avoidance of publicity, Edward Stratemeyer was known nationally for his work; in the “Answer the Question” column of December 3, 1931, published in the Sheboygan Press (WI), a reader asked: “Who is the most prolific writer of juvenile fiction?” The answer was: “Probably Edward Stratemeyer… could have claimed this distinction. During the forty-odd years of his writing life he produced more than 600 juvenile books… Writing under a variety of pen names and with numerous secretaries, this author brought out… the boy’s lives of many great men.”[6] Other series created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate – the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys – would make their mark on subsequent generations of readers (and writers). Even in 2013, Stratemeyer’s works live on. On two consecutive Sundays in February 2013, the New York Times Book Review published articles in which well-known contemporary authors made reference to the Syndicate’s work.[7] Even President Barack Obama has proclaimed himself a Hardy Boys fan.[8]

What was it that made the Stratemeyer Syndicate so successful? Several historical factors contributed to its success. By the 1890s, when Stratemeyer began writing professionally, advances in printing technologies and declining paper prices had significantly lowered the cost of producing books and newspapers, thus increasing their prevalence in American life.[9] At the same time, literacy rates were rising; Carl Kaestle notes, “Free public schooling for whites had been available in most areas for several decades. Schooling and other forms of instruction were sufficient to produce widespread, rudimentary adult literacy in the United States by 1880.”[10] These and other factors combined to produce what Kaestle, Janice Radway, and other scholars call “a culture of print” in the United States – that is, a culture in which printed materials had a robust presence in most aspects of American life. Books and magazines became more affordable than ever for a wide range of households.

Germans and German-Americans were among the inventors of the technologies that drove these cultural changes. The founding principles behind lithography, a technique that eventually revolutionized the printing of images, were discovered in the late 1790s by a German, Alois Senefelder. Friedrich König’s steam-powered cylindrical press, developed for the London Times and first used for the November 28, 1814, edition of that newspaper, would be the first in a long line of innovations that radically increased the speed and capacity of the printing press. Finally, Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German who immigrated to the United States in 1872, invented the Linotype machine, which produced lines of cast type as its operators typed text on a connected keyboard. This machine had a tremendous impact on the production rate of publications, particularly newspapers, and was used well into the twentieth century.[11]

Moreover, books for children and adolescents, or “juveniles” as they were called at the time, provided publishers with a growing and lucrative new market that was separate and distinct from the market for adult books. As historian Sarah Wadsworth explains, multiple factors contributed to the development of this new market:

The movement toward a formal separation of juvenile and adult readerships can be linked to the expansion of the middle class, increasing literacy among young people, improved and extended schooling, the shift from mixed-age classrooms to grade levels structured by age, increasing time for leisure activities, rising levels of spending money among children as well as adults, and, not least, the popularization of a Romantic sensibility that fundamentally reconceived of the nature and status of childhood and the significance of childhood as a uniquely privileged stage of life.”[12]

Under Edward Stratemeyer’s leadership, and that of his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams after his death, the Stratemeyer Syndicate developed book series that appealed to specific groups of children – e.g., younger children and older children, boys and girls – and that spoke to children’s sense of adventure and their love of familiar characters.[13] At prices ranging from $.50-$1.25 ($1.00 in 1920 is approximately $10.90 in 2010), Stratemeyer’s books were affordable.[14] They also provided their readers with models of what it meant to be a young American at the turn of the twentieth century; his characters, for example, are unfailingly hard-working, excited and engaged by the promise of new technology, honest, and fearless. They are also strikingly adherent to the ethnic and socioeconomic biases of their era; early plot points often center on the laziness or dishonesty of blacks, recent immigrants, and members of the lower classes. Later, in the twentieth century, the three major series – the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew – were all revised, in part to eliminate these ethnic and racial stereotypes.[15]

Stratemeyer also clearly saw himself as an American, as defined in Anglo-American terms. During World War I, a pivotal moment for German-American communities, Stratemeyer was personally and professionally on the side of the United States. He was a member, though not an active participant, in the Roseville Home Defense League and donated money to the Liberty War Fund.[16] In late 1917, responding to an appeal from the Newark Sunday Call, he sent Christmas boxes to several young men about to be deployed, writing to one of them, “my heart is with all our boys.”[17] He proposed novels related to the war to his publishers and sent an outline of a proposed American Boys in the Great War series to Warren F. Gregory, his publisher at Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard. Even in correspondence with his sister Annie, he never mentioned any mixed feelings about the war, saying only “the war had put a damper on everything.”[18]

Although he was the son of German immigrants, Stratemeyer set aside his parents' heritage and culture and defined himself in Anglo-American terms. His work promoted a particular vision of American identity that influenced generations of children. The values that Stratemeyer celebrated in his writing as being particularly “American” were indeed exclusively so. Still, the fact that he defined those values as being clearly and firmly “American” and not “German” says a lot about his own values and identity. To be sure, his status as a second-generation immigrant made this kind of redefinition and self-creation easier. By the end of his life (if not earlier), the only “German” thing about Stratemeyer was his last name.

Family Life

Edward Stratemeyer, the youngest child of Henry J. and Anna (Siegel) Stratemeyer, was born on October 4, 1862, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was one of six children, the three oldest of whom were his half brothers. At the time of Henry and Anna’s marriage (his first and her second), Anna already had three sons: Henry Jr. (1851-1917), George (1853-1909), and Maurice (1854-1920). Their father was Henry’s brother George, who had died of cholera in 1854.[19] Henry and Anna went on to have three children together: Louis (1856-1905), Anna (called Annie; 1859-1923), and Edward (1862-1930).

An undated and unsigned biography of Edward Stratemeyer can be found in the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records. It is typed, but the handwritten notes appear to be in Edward’s own hand. Of Anna and Henry Stratemeyer, the biography notes, “Mr. Stratemeyer’s parents came from old and cultured German families whose members for generations had been distinguished as scholars, gentlemen, and musicians.” Education, culture, and learning were clearly important in the Stratemeyer home. Though both Henry and Anna were first generation German immigrants, the Stratemeyer children were educated in English and certainly spoke English amongst themselves. Edward’s later correspondence with his siblings was conducted entirely in English, with little reference to their German heritage.

During Edward’s childhood, his father managed a robust business as a “wholesale and retail dealer in tobacco, segars, snuff, and pipes.”[20] His business was located at 212 Morris Avenue (later 212 Broad Street) in downtown Elizabeth. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service tax assessment lists for 1864, 1865, and 1866, listed Henry Sr. as a “tobacconist.” In 1864, the tax levied on his home and business totaled $11.14 ($159.00 in 2010).

By 1876, the Stratemeyer family had moved from above the store at 212 Morris into a stand-alone home at 24 Palmer Street, a sign of their growing prosperity.[21] Though Henry Jr. and George, the two oldest sons in the family, had already opened up their own tobacco shop, Stratemeyer Brothers at 31 Broad Street, the Merchants Union City Directory for 1876 still listed them as living at home.[22] By the 1880 census, the two older boys had moved out, leaving their younger siblings behind. Morris [sic] (age 25), Louis (age 23), and Edward (age 17) were listed as “segar store” in the column “profession, occupation, or trade of each person, male or female.” Anna was registered as keeping house; Annie (age 21) was listed as “at home.”[23] In 1881, Henry Jr. began to expand the reach of his enterprises and was listed as a notary public and commissioner of deeds.[24] An 1883 city directory shows Maurice and Henry Jr. as having divided and expanded their businesses. Henry Jr. was listed not only as a tobacconist, but also as a notary public, an insurance agent, and a purveyor of U.S. passports, among other things. His storefront address was given as 121 & 123 First at the corner of Livingston Street, with his home just around the corner at 89 Livingston Street. By then, Maurice had expanded the store at 31 Broad Street, and was listed as a dealer in musical instruments. According to the directory, the store, which was described as the “Musician’s Headquarters,” sold only “the best quality Italian and German strings.”[25] In time, Henry and Maurice became prominent citizens of Elizabeth. Their pictures were featured in an 1889 guide to the city; Henry was listed as being the city’s commissioner of streets.[26] Edward’s brother George would eventually move to Hawaii,[27] where he found a position as a deputy collector for the U.S. Customs, making $2,000 a year ($53,600 in 2010).[28] Louis lived with his mother and ran the tobacco store founded by his father until his death in September 1905.[29]

The Stratemeyer family was a musical one. Two song collection books that once belonged to Edward’s father can be found in the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records at the New York Public Library – both consist of sheets of handwritten music and lyrics. The first one, inexpensively bound in leather and marbled paper, is marked “Choral 1832 Heinrich Julius Stratemeyer.” The second, a Liedersammlung with simple blue paper cover, binds together music for choral and instrumental pieces. About halfway through the volume, a page reads “Stendern (a village about halfway between Bremen and Hanover) 20 Januar 1836,” then, “Übungsstücke für Pianoforte”; it is signed J. Stratemeyer. Both books contain hand-copied music and lyrics to a range of songs: “Adelaide,” “Gesellschaftslied,” “Marsch und Wallensteins Lager von Schiller,” the last of which was likely inspired by Friedrich Schiller’s Wallenstein trilogy (1798-99). Given the date on these two volumes, it is probable that Henry Sr. brought them from Germany when he immigrated to the United States in 1837.[30]

Though it is unclear whether the Stratemeyer family connected with German immigrant musical culture in Elizabeth, Henry Sr. certainly instilled a love for music in his children. Annie was a student at Mme. Pupin’s Conservatory in Elizabeth and became an accomplished pianist.[31] Perhaps the most musically inclined of the children, Louis became well established in the Elizabeth community as a musician, bandleader, and composer.[32] As Trudi Abel notes in her 1993 dissertation on Stratemeyer, Edward and Louis collaborated on two comic operettas – Love’s Maze (1888) and The Perfume Prince (1887); the former exists as a typed copy, whereas the latter was published by the printing office of the Elizabeth Freie Presse, a semi-weekly newspaper published mainly in German by J. Schmieg & Ch. H. Schmidt. It is probable that Louis and Edward knew these publishers through their father.[33] In addition, a good deal of Louis’s music is preserved in the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records. These pieces include an orchestral piece and multiple individual songs. After Louis’s death in 1905, Edward attempted to have these pieces published, writing to one publisher, “my late brother had about a score of pieces on the lists of Port, Church Co., etc. but they evidently never pushed the productions and my late brother was too retired in disposition to do so himself.”[34] The existence of these pieces today is partially attributable to Edward’s desire to earn some money from his brother’s musical compositions. Their survival even after his unsuccessful bid to publish them is perhaps indicative of his fond remembrance of the musical atmosphere in which he was raised.

Even as a boy, Edward is reported to have been an engaged reader. The unpublished archival biography of him notes, “after reading the boys’ books of Oliver Optic and Horatio Alger, Jr., he decided that if he could write similar ones he would be, as he afterwards expressed it, ‘the happiest person on earth.’” Certainly, this statement was written well after the fact; however, like many boys of his generation, Edward was clearly inspired by the tales of brave, hardworking, upwardly mobile boys told by Optic and Alger. As for Edward’s formal education, we know that he graduated from Elizabeth Public School No. 3 in 1879, where his principal was W.D. Heyer, who presented him with a volume of Cowper’s works upon graduation and with whom Edward remained in contact.[35] He was valedictorian of his class – a fact often cited by those writing about him – his class, though, numbered only three students. A year later, Edward was listed in the census as working in a “segar store.” He spent much of the 1880s working in his father’s store, where he surely acquired the entrepreneurial skills that made his father and brothers such successful businessmen. As late as 1890, an Elizabeth business directory listed Edward as a clerk who lived in the family home at 24 Palmer Street. Upon his move to Newark that same year, he opened up a stationery store at “427 Broad Street, next to the Morris & Essex Railroad station.”[36] On March 25, 1891, he married Magdalene Van Camp, the daughter of a Newark businessman, and seemed destined for prosperity via a path well known to his family – that of shopkeeper and merchant.[37] His daughter Harriet was born on December 12, 1892, and his daughter Edna followed two years later.

Letters from his young daughters sent during the girls’ 1904 summer vacation testify to their warm relationship with him. Even late in life Harriet recalled the lively atmosphere of her childhood home, noting, “I was fortunate to have a father who could tell an original story at a moment’s notice.”[38] By 1907, the Edward Stratemeyer family had moved to a stately home at 171 N. 7th Street in the Roseville section of Newark; the family kept a cook and a chauffeur.[39] They were wealthy enough to take annual summer vacations; Edward particularly enjoyed the outdoors and wrote to his colleagues about summer trips to the Great Lakes, Lake George, and Lake Champlain. Sometimes the family travelled as far as the West Coast and Yosemite.[40] He was an active member of the Roseville Athletic Club and the New Jersey Historical Association. Periodically, he gave small amounts of money or donated books to various charities. Stratemeyer was a religious man; as Abel notes, he “had grown up as the son of a strict sabbatarian and spent the summers of his adult years at Ocean Grove, the site of Methodist revivals.”[41] Though the Stratemeyer family certainly had close friends and family in the greater Newark and New York community, they lived a fairly private life. The income from the Syndicate allowed the family to enjoy a comfortable, upper-middle-class life, but Stratemeyer himself did not actively seek public attention.

Stratemeyer in the Literary Market Place

Though he clearly kept up appearances, Edward Stratemeyer’s plan for his own career was quite different from the one that may have been intended for him. Stratemeyer’s earliest writing efforts – both self-published – date from 1876. As Abel notes, his education in music and literature likely sparked his interest in writing. At the same time, Stratemeyer was part of a generation that was much more widely connected to print culture than those preceding it. The historians Kaestle and Radway note,

As more and more Americans became habituated to the presence of print in their daily lives, publishing, printing, and reading activities appeared to many a natural route to the realization of a range of interests, investments, and desires. Some expressed their views by founding magazines or journals, small presses or alternative newspapers; others decided to write for such organs or to subscribe to them as a way of pursuing their own interests and to augment their sense of themselves as distinct people.[42]

As Stratemeyer began to move forward in his career, he benefitted from a cadre of publications to which he could turn for advice on “best practices” for becoming an author as well as from a helpful network of colleagues, both writers and publishers, who exchanged information about the best ways to achieve success as an author. When the Authors League of America (now the Authors Guild) was founded in 1912, Stratemeyer became a member. He also kept meticulous records of his income as an author, of his agreements with publishers and authors, and of his royalties. The title page of his four-volume Literary Account Book (1889-1930) reads as follows:

Being a complete list of all the original manuscripts written and printed, with the amounts received for the same.
Part I. The stories, where and when written, when accepted, and the price
Part II. The payments made
Part III. When and where printed

Stratemeyer’s published works were each given a number, with publication details being provided. Number 1, for example, was Victor Horton’s Idea, “published for $75 ($1,830 in 2010) in Golden Days.” Number 2 was Judge Docket’s Grandson, “written in brother Maurice’s store, Elizabeth, NJ, Accepted by Golden Days, use as a serial, price $150, paid for, printed.” Stratemeyer also kept careful track of his earnings and expenses, so we know, for example, that he earned $425 in 1889 ($10,400 in 2010), $350 in 1890 ($8,650 in 2010), $625 in 1891 ($15,500 in 2010) and $1,874 in 1892 ($46,300 in 2010), all from his own writing. Rigorous record keeping – likely learned while he was a clerk in his father’s and brothers’ stores – allowed Stratemeyer to manage his profits, losses, and most importantly, his copyrights, very carefully.

Stratemeyer’s path of entry into the authorial profession was hardly a prestigious one; indeed, the question of whether his books and stories were worthwhile reading material for children arose throughout his career. Stratemeyer’s early writing appeared in popular formats such as the story paper and the dime novel. These inexpensive (dime novels, interestingly enough, often only cost a nickel) forms of (mainly) fiction featured stories of adventure, crime, and urban life.[43] Printed on low-quality paper in pamphlet formats of various lengths, these stories raised the ire of the public both for their content, which seemed to lack any redemptive moral value, and for the fast, profit-oriented nature of their production.[44] In 1892, well before the founding of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies Home Journal, wrote of a “literary factory… hidden away in one of the by-streets of New York.” This business, he continues, “is of the most profitable character to its owners. The ‘factory’ does not care where the authors get their material from, so long as the story, when finished, is calculated to please the miscellaneous audience for which it is intended.”[45] The very idea that one might create fiction quickly with only two goals in mind – pleasing the audience and turning a profit – went against the idea that an author should write to uplift and instruct, particularly when writing for young people.[46]

Stratemeyer was never able to get his early work published in highbrow publications for young readers, such as St. Nicholas. As Abel notes, “With the exception of Golden Days, most of the periodicals in which Stratemeyer published would have been termed ‘cheap’ by his contemporaries.”[47] Even Edward’s brother Louis, whom Edward invited to participate in the writing of Off to Hawaii in May 1899, eventually told him: “I do not care to go with the cheap story writing occupation.” He then asked him to kindly leave his name out of any further projects.[48] Once the Syndicate was established and his books began to make him a rich man, Stratemeyer continued to face criticism. Librarians – even in his own town of Newark –consistently removed his books from their shelves. Franklin K. Mathiews, Chief Scout Librarian of the Boy Scouts, harshly criticized Stratemeyer in an oft-cited 1914 article entitled “Blowing out the Boys’ Brains.”[49] In his essay, Mathiews criticized a publishing model identical to Stratemeyer’s, writing “There is usually one man who is as resourceful as a Balzac sofar [sic] as ideas and plots for stories are concerned. He cannot, though, develop them all, so he employs a number of men who write for him.” This “mile-a-minute fiction” recounts “some inflammable tale of improbable adventure” and in doing so “debauches and vitiates” a boy’s body and imagination. Mathiews ended his essay with the cautionary tale of a scout in Lansing, Michigan, who had run away from home. The likely cause of the departure of this otherwise well-behaved boy? “Cheap reading.” The Boy Scouts eventually partnered with the American Librarian Association (ALA) to develop the Boy Scout Library, a list of acceptable titles for scouts.

Stratemeyer faced the opprobrium of librarians and other concerned educators throughout his career. Newly professionalized after the founding of the ALA in 1876, librarians worked hard to make their voices heard as to what patrons, particularly children, should read.[50] Reasons for librarians’ particular distaste for serial fiction included their deep suspicion of fiction and novels in general, their desire to make sure that young patrons read only the best books, and their deep suspicion of the profit-driven publishing industry.[51] Stratemeyer regularly defended the quality of his works, arguing that anyone who understood how to engage young readers would see the inherent value of the stories he produced. In 1901, upon learning of the criticism heaped upon him by Elizabeth Parker, head of the Boston Public Library, Stratemeyer wrote to his publishers at Street and Smith and asked them to issue a statement on his behalf: “I am willing to stand or fall by my books, and all I ask, and demand, is an honest judgment from those who fully realize what a boys’ book of the present day ought to be.”[52] Years later, he wrote to his publisher at Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard, “I have been somewhat upset these last few days by a report from Portland, Oregon, and other places that the Boy Scouts and an organization I believe [is] called ‘Parent Teachers Association’ have gone to various booksellers and practically insisted that they debar a great number of books from their lists, including my own.” He exhorted his publisher to reach out to the general public and to booksellers, concluding, “This is gotten up entirely by a small group of paid agitators, aided by a number of old-time, high-brow librarians who have long outlived their usefulness.”[53]

Stratemeyer was never entirely happy with his publishers’ efforts to counter this perception of his works. He carefully prescribed the type of illustrations and bindings he wanted used for his books, never wanting them to look “cheap.” He also used advertising to counter negative images of his serial fiction. One advertising catalogue, “Safe and Sane Books for Boys and Girls by John Tupper Brownell,” mimicked a helpful guide for parents, though it was clearly an advertisement for Stratemeyer’s books (they are the only ones mentioned). In it, we read glowing reviews of Stratemeyer’s works, and on the back cover, we find an exhortation to purchase books rather than borrow them from a library:

If you value the health of your boys and girls do not let them borrow books to read. Borrowed books often enter the sick room and breed disease.
A book that really and truly belongs to a boy or girl is the book that boy or girl really and truly loves.[54]

Stratemeyer had certainly “fully realized” what a boys’ (and girls’) book of the early twentieth century should be, and he knew the place of books in their emotional lives – this was the very key to his success. Writing in the New Yorker on the occasion of Nancy Drew’s seventy-fifth birthday, Meghan O’Rourke captured what made Stratemeyer so successful: “Ultimately, Edward Stratemeyer was a conventional-minded business man with a radical idea that would not have been radical in any other industry. It was to give his customers, who happened to be children, what they wanted, not what he thought they should want – and to make a product that was better than his competitors’.”[55]

The $75 Story: Stratemeyer’s Beginnings in the Literary Business

According to Stratemeyer’s unpublished biography, “At first, Mr. Stratemeyer received little encouragement from his parents in this [his writing] ambition, and immediately after his graduation from high school was taken into the tobacco business by his brother.” The story of Stratemeyer’s beginnings was first laid out in an article in the Newark Evening News on June 4, 1927.[56] In it, Stratemeyer related how he entered into the literary market – while at the same time pleasing a practically-minded immigrant father. As Stratemeyer explained in the article, in 1888, while working at his brother’s tobacco store, he wrote a story entitled Victor Horton’s Idea.[57] He later copied the story onto white paper and sent it to the periodical Golden Days, which purchased it for $75 (approximately $1,170 in 2010). In the Newark Evening News article, Stratemeyer said the following: “It [Victor Horton’s Idea] ran about eighteen thousand words and my father told me I was wasting my time and might better be doing something useful.” Upon learning the price that his son’s story had fetched, however, Henry Stratemeyer apparently exclaimed, “[They] paid you that much for writing a story? Well, you better write a lot more for them.” This anecdote, which is repeated in nearly every article written about Stratemeyer and the beginnings of the Syndicate, is, like many origin stories, slightly dubious; Deidre Johnson notes that it is “a tale that delighted biographers and has often been repeated, lately with some skepticism.”[58] In this telling, the successful publication of Victor Horton’s Idea opened Stratemeyer’s eyes to the possibilities of authorship, and impressed upon his father the value of a career that went beyond the conventional path of commerce. Stratemeyer envisioned a new way of making a living, one that relied on imagination and creativity rather than pure business acumen. A similar aspirational story was told about one of Stratemeyer’s early pen names, Arthur M. Winfield. The name was apparently suggested by his mother: “Arthur” referred to Stratemeyer’s desire to become an author, M. stood for the millions of books he would sell, and Winfield evoked the success he would achieve in his chosen field.[59]

In reality, Stratemeyer had been writing with an eye toward publication long before he published his first paid story. During the 1870s and 1880s, he must have devoted a good deal of time to an endeavor that his father would have found less than useful, writing during spare moments in his father’s and brothers’ stores and working with local printers to produce short printed pamphlets highlighting his work. It is clear that even his very early work was written for publication; for example, several early pieces featured word counts (essential information for any potential publisher) and several were stamped with his name. Examples include The Cave of the Copanese (4,400 words) and The Temptation of George Rowe (2,500 words). His earliest work – Our Friend – dates from August 1876, when, as Deidre Johnson points out, he would have been only thirteen years old.[60] Stratemeyer’s self-published amateur writings belonged to the genre known as story papers, publications that ran about four to eight pages, featuring fiction on the front page and assorted content – letters, jokes, announcements – in the back. Story papers first came to prominence in the 1840s, and Stratemeyer would have been well acquainted with their content and format.[61]

Stratemeyer’s first effort, Our Friend, featured a short story about an industrious newsboy named Edward (Ned) whose father was a detective. The story ended in the middle of the action, leaving its readers wanting more. Our Friend also included an advertisement directed at other authors of amateur papers; it explained that if they sent their work to Stratemeyer, he would list them in the “Amateur Notes” column. “Stratemeyer and McNeirny” was listed as the publisher of the paper; the cost to subscribe was 20 cents a year, and the contact address was the Stratemeyer family home at 24 Palmer Street in Elizabeth.

Along with the story and the advertisements, Our Friend also featured a number of puzzles and jokes, including the following:

A German peddler sold a man a liquid for the extermination of bugs.
“And how do you use it?” Inquired the man, after he had bough [sic] it.
“Ketch te bug, und drop von little drop into his mout.” answered the peddler
“The deuce you do,” exclaimed the purchaser “I could kill it in half the time by stamping on it.”
“Veil,” calmly said the German, “dat is a good vay too.”

This gentle mockery of a German immigrant would not be Stratemeyer’s last foray into ethnic stereotypes. Indeed, another early piece, The Brothers’ Duel, a typed, undated six-page story about an unprincipled woman who incited two brothers to a duel, includes a “colored man” named Thomas whose dialogue was rendered as follows: “Gen’men! Gen’men!, Fo’ de lawd’s sake!…. Doan yo’ strike each udder!” Another early manuscript fragment opened with a battle against Native Americans, in which one character was killed by the “savage chief Eagle Wing.” Indeed, three of Stratemeyer’s early pieces fell into the genre of ethnic humor, satirizing in particular the German immigrant community to which his family belonged.

Stratemeyer’s Literary Account Book includes the following entries:

23. Hans Liederkranz: or A German Immigrant’s Trials and Tribulations. Written at Oxford’s, Newark, NJ, Dec. 1891 on order for Street and Smith, 29 Rose Street, New York, price $75. Printed, paid for.

26. Judge Liederkranz of Liverwurst Hall, Avenue A. Written at Oxford’s Newark, NJ February 1892, on order for Street and Smith, NY Price $75, printed, paid for.

32. Mayor Liederkranz of Hoboken; Or, the Galliant [sic] Capitan of the Pretzel Schuetzen Corps, written at Lorick’s on order for Street and Smith, March 1892, printed, paid for $50.

The Hans Liederkranz stories were not Stratemeyer’s first dime novels; he had already written two Match novels for Street and Smith’s Nugget Library.[62] In December 1891, when Street and Smith commissioned Stratemeyer to write the first of the Liederkranz pieces, they specifically asked for a humorous story based on German characters. It is likely that the publishers extended this offer of work on account of Stratemeyer’s first-hand knowledge of the German immigrant community. In these stories, German immigrants came in for heavy satirical treatment. But they weren’t the only ones – Italians, the Irish, and native-born Anglo-Americans fared poorly as well. No single group was left unscathed. Stratemeyer’s portrayals of African-Americans, however, were particularly degrading.

Stratemeyer’s three dime novels tell the story of Hans Liederkranz, a German immigrant to New York, who, like most immigrants, had left his native land in the hopes of improving his economic status. As it turns out, Hans had followed his brother Carl to the United States – and in this respect, he resembled Henry Stratemeyer, who immigrated to America several years after his brother George had landed there.[63] The first novel opened with the following account of Hans’s journey from Germany to the United States:

Just one month before this little history of his trials and tribulations opens Hans had been a hard-working farm hand way down in some little stuck away village in the Fatherland, working sixteen hours a day and earning the princely sum of one dollar and eighteen cents a week. His brother Carl had come to New York a year before, and when he wrote that he had a fine job here at a dollar and a half a day doing nothing but carry bricks up an eight-story ladder Hans got dissatisfied in every joint, chucked down his hoe, packed his carpet bag, and engaged passage hither.

After a turbulent ocean voyage and his entrance through Ellis Island, Hans tried to find his brother, but was unable to connect with him on account of a misdirected letter. Over the course of the story, he got into many fights and sticky situations, which he usually resolved with his fists while exclaiming, “donnervetter!” Here, as in the two subsequent novels, Stratemeyer poked fun at the accents of various ethnic groups. After a series of mishaps, Hans was finally reunited by chance with Carl, at which point the first volume came to an end.

For the second novel, Street and Smith encouraged Stratemeyer to write another humorous piece, telling him to make the “Dutchman natural – a little thick-headed, [and] not too smart.” This time, they also wanted Hans to lose a few battles. Among other plot developments, the second novel sees Hans purchase a saloon – Liverwurst Halle – in the East Village of New York. To him, buying a saloon was a sign of extraordinary economic success.

By chiminy! I don't vos hardly know mineselfs, ain't it. Chust dree year ago I come by dis country mitowit a dollar by mine back and to-day I was dear brobrieter of der finest saloon by der East side. Of I keeps on shinnin'up der ladder of life like dot next year I will git me der bresidency of New York or der senatorship of der treasury already!

Again, Hans spent much of the second story getting into fights (often with Tim McFadden, the Irish saloonkeeper down the block) and other sorts of trouble (a good deal of which was instigated by Dan Dilly, a mischievous bar keep). On an entirely different note, he also managed to get himself elected judge, through an alliance with the local German Socialists, who congregated in his saloon with his permission:

The week following the Socialists came to Hans and made arrangements to hold meetings in Liverwurst Halle preparatory to organizing for the coming campaign. The Socialists were strong in the neighborhood and they intended to put a full ticket in the field. Hans let them have the hall for nothing. His eyes were open to the advantage that such an act would give him. He was beginning to sigh for political power. Nothing could satisfy him but to see himself elected to some office. He knew about as much about our political institutions as a cat does about the north pole, but that didn't bother him. It would sound fine to be called Judge Liederkranz.

Here, Hans’ motivations were entirely opportunistic and status seeking. He sided with the Socialists not out of personal convictions, but because they were in a position to help him win an election – and to secure, in turn, all of the social and monetary advantages conferred by a judgeship. In his description of Hans, Stratemeyer used the third person to register both his and his audience’s distance from this type of behavior, noting that Hans knew little about “our political institutions.” Hans aspired to office for reasons of money and power. He had little knowledge of the intellectual underpinnings of the American justice system – his success was made possible by the suspect political agendas of the immigrant groups depicted in the Liederkranz novels.

In preparation for the third novel, Street and Smith sent Stratemeyer an outline as well as a series of clippings, which likely pertained to current events in Hoboken, a nearby city with a large German immigrant population. This prescriptive method of commissioning writing was not uncommon at the time; Stratemeyer himself would go on to use similar practices with his own writers.[64] However, Street and Smith clearly had a specific vision of what their audience would find humorous, and Stratemeyer’s satire of immigrant communities was in line with this vision.

The third volume highlighted Hans’ bumbling capacity for success and his susceptibility to corruption by depicting him as part of the Hoboken town council, which was populated by “Fritz Stimmerman, a [German] saloon keeper like Hans; Andy O’Grady, an Irish contractor; Moses Rosenbuam, an eagle-nosed Jew; Lincoln Stump, a remnant of the Fifteenth Amendment; Clarence De Roy, a dude from Dudedom; Golf Traderisky, a Swede; Josiah Homestead, from the annexed district; and Giorgio Shia, an Italian.”[65] Hoboken, as contemporary readers would have known, was a particularly apt setting for the final volume. A “community sketch” done as a part of the 1880 census described the city as follows:

It early became a favorite place of settlement for Germans, who (by birth and immediate descent) now comprise more than one-half of the population. The remainder of the city's population is composed of various nationalities, the Irish predominating. The American element as generally recognized comprises about 20 per cent of the entire population.[66]

This description of Hoboken offers an interesting comparison with Newark, Stratemeyer’s chosen home, which was much more Anglo-American in character and which had only recently begun to evolve: “The original population, from New England, with their descendants, long held sway, but with the increase of manufacture came immigrants from the old world and these, principally Irish and German, with their descendants, now form a considerable portion of the population.”[67] It is also noteworthy that the mayor of Hoboken from 1888 to 1891 was the Hamburg-born grocer August Grassmann. Previous to that, wholesale liquor dealer Frederick H. Schmersahl (who was presumably of German origin) had served as mayor from 1871 to 1873. The large German population of Hoboken made the community an easy target for ethnic satire.

Why would Stratemeyer write three stories that skewered the immigrant group to which his family belonged, along with its habits, clubs, and customs (even the name “Liederkranz” parodies the German singing circles that emerged in nineteenth-century America as a means to preserve German musical traditions)?[68] Writing these pieces may have helped Stratemeyer distance himself from the pervasive stereotypes that surrounded the German community at that time.[69] Indeed, his life in Newark, and the clubs he joined there, the Roseville Athletic Club and the New Jersey Historical Society (which he joined in part to access materials for his stories), suggest that he had established himself as a “typical American,” defined in Anglo-American terms – likewise, many of the characters who would eventually populate his series fiction were presented as emphatically American.

Moreover, the 1890s were a period of experimentation for Stratemeyer as a writer. It is likely that he took on the Hans Liederkranz stories to hone his skills as a comic writer – and to earn money as well. Stratemeyer experimented with a range of fictional forms, from comic stories like Hans Liederkranz, to detective stories, romances, and “adventure, travel, and science fiction tales for juvenile readers.”[70] Number 89 (May 1894) in the Literary Account Book, for example, is “They Fell in Love at the Seashore; An Absorbing Romance of Love and Mystery” by “Julia Edwards.” It was written for Street and Smith’s New York Weekly for the sum of $240 ($6,270 in 2010). His contemporary correspondence includes careful lists and descriptions of possible stories he planned to send to potential publishers. One of these lists included two stories, “The Price of a Family Secret” and “The Lake House Affair” – both of which were stories of murder, adultery, and young love torn asunder by evildoers (with the requisite reunion of the young couple at the end).[71]

Publishers also gave Stratemeyer feedback about what worked and what didn’t. In a letter dated January 22, 1891, Edward Ellis, editor of The Holiday, wrote to Stratemeyer: “I spent much of today reading your story, & finished it this afternoon. I was much interested in it. It is full of incidents, keeps continually on the go, & personal interest in the character is aroused.” He also wrote, “you are careless at times in your spelling, grammar, & choice of words.” Moreover, he encouraged Stratemeyer to avoid certain portrayals of violent behavior, cautioning him against the inclusion of material that was “too shocking to be used.” Abel calls this period of apprenticeship “a self-directed study in the essentials of writing and business.” Subjects such as liquor, brutality, and murder would be excluded from the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s published works. Moreover, an undated “formula for outlines” in the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records lists, among other taboos, “excessive use of slang (especially in exposition) and foreign dialect.”

Stratemeyer’s writing, and its intended audience, evolved considerably during the 1890s. During this decade, he also learned a great deal about the craft of editing and publishing, primarily with respect to juvenile story papers, short weekly pamphlets featuring stories, jokes, and other assorted pieces.[72] By 1893, Stratemeyer was writing regularly for Street and Smith, especially their Nick Carter adventure series. In October 1893, he accepted a position as editor at Good News, Street and Smith’s juvenile story paper. Though Stratemeyer held this position for only about six months (he lists his last day as May 12, 1894), he earned $50 a week ($1,310 in 2010), with his total income from the position listed at $950 ($24,800 in 2010) in the Literary Account Book. Though it’s unclear why he was let go, a letter from Street and Smith suggests that Stratemeyer was too expensive for a part-time editor; the publishers told him that the magazine had gotten no better during his tenure, and that they wanted to reduce expenses and secure, at a “moderate salary,” an editor who would be able to devote his “whole time to the work.”[73] Though Stratemeyer’s tenure as an editor at Street and Smith was short, it allowed him to connect with fellow writers such as G. Waldo Browne, who would later write for the Syndicate, and, most significantly, with Horatio Alger, Jr., whose work Stratemeyer had read as a child and whose stories he would complete and publish after Alger’s death in 1899.

Despite this early setback, Stratemeyer persisted in his quest to publish a successful juvenile story paper. In a document dated May 1, 1895, he contracted with Frank J. Earll to become the editor of Young Sports of America. According to the agreement, Stratemeyer would furnish “3 installments of new serials per week” and would take a $250 ($6,700 in 2010) interest in the paper, payable over five weeks to Earll. Stratemeyer’s weekly salary would be $7 ($188 in 2010) per thousand copies sold weekly above 9,000 and a 10% commission on the subscriptions. One early sign that this partnership was not working was a renegotiated agreement, dated August 1, 1895, and a second one, dated October 7, 1895. The latter changed the name of the paper to Young People of America, “to be conducted as a first-rate story paper for boys.” This contract stipulated that Stratemeyer would pay for “several new fonts of type” (suggesting that Stratemeyer and Earll were printing on site), and it obliged him to “put out through the mails as second-class matter, 50,000 of the returned and unsold copies of the new style paper, putting them out each week as they come back and paying for the mailing himself.” If the circulation rose above 15,000 weekly, Stratemeyer would get a half interest in the business. On December 17, 1895, this contract was dissolved and Stratemeyer relinquished all rights to the publication. Juvenile story papers were becoming an increasingly risky business proposition, one in which it was hard to find a clear path to consistent profitability. Even at this early stage, Stratemeyer knew that one key element to profiting from one’s own work was retaining the copyright. On October 18, 1895, G. Waldo Browne sent a story called “Karl the Exile” to Young People of America; he noted that his author’s fee was to be $25 ($670 in 2010) and that Stratemeyer would hold the full rights to the story.

Seemingly undaunted by his missteps, Stratemeyer moved on to his next venture in juvenile story paper publishing. His next paper, Bright Days, was launched in April 1896, not long after the demise of Young People of America, and ran until early 1897. It was a valiant effort that seemed doomed to failure from the very start. As both Deidre Johnson and John T. Dizer have pointed out, Stratemeyer did nearly all of the writing himself, likely in an attempt to save money, and this resulted in a uniformity of tone that did little to attract readers. By December 1896, Stratemeyer had sold the publication to Will R. Wilson, as Dizer puts it, “lock, stock, and barrel.” At the same time, however, he retained the rights to all of the stories and illustrations published in Bright Days before the sale. The sale also included the equipment on which Stratemeyer had been printing the paper, “two imposing stones; two stands and sets of type cases; 25 fonts of type; printer’s furniture; two large chases; 9 brass galleys, leads & c. and other articles of printer’s use, now used in making Bright Days.” For this, Wilson paid Stratemeyer $150 ($4,020 in 2010) in cash and a $63 ($1,690 in 2010) promissory note, with a promise to pay $2.00 ($53.60 in 2010) per week per thousand sold, until that sum reached $2,000. Stratemeyer probably never received those funds – despite Wilson’s best efforts, the periodical ceased publication in February 1897.[74] Although both Bright Days and Young People of America had failed, they had given Stratemeyer hands-on experience that he eventually put to use in his later dealings with publishers.

By then, it had become increasingly clear that the market for the juvenile story paper had slowed, likely due to the economic depression resulting from the Panic of 1893. In addition, Stratemeyer was having trouble distinguishing himself in a crowded market. As Dizer notes, even Good News ended publication in 1897: “times were not good, and the competition was fierce.”[75] Stratemeyer, who had paid careful attention to the copyright ownership of his serial publications, began seeking out publishers who would repackage his serial content in book form; in doing so, he became “one of the champion re-cyclers of all time.”[76] In some cases, he owned both the stereotype plates and the illustrations, making his works even more desirable to publishers.[77] An undated list from his correspondence includes three detective stories, ten “sporting stories,” and five general stories available for publication from Stratemeyer. The list, which was meant for publishers, explained: “copyrights owned by Edward Stratemeyer, 143 North 4th Street, Newark, NJ. Most stories have been published as serials – they are from 30000 to 35000 words long, and have from two to four pictures each – wood cuts, scratchboards and pen and ink electros.” The offer was of interest to several publishers. On March 28, 1901, A. J. Saalfield of the Saalfield Publishing Company sent Stratemeyer a $300 ($7,940 in 2010) check for two serials (A Young Inventor’s Pluck by A. M. Winfield and Three Young Ranchers by Captain Ralph Bonehill) and asked Stratemeyer to send him “receipt, as well as [a] bill of sale for the rights of these two books, and such cuts and illustrations, etc. that you may have which will help us in getting out the books.” He noted that, as they stood, the stories were “far short of 55,000 words,” and he asked Stratemeyer to “tack on a chapter to each.”

By holding onto copyrights, plates, and illustrations, Stratemeyer was able to earn money on content long after its initial publication. A good example is the novel Bound to Be an Electrician, which began as two serial installments in the juvenile story paper Bright Days; Dizer chronicles its complicated publishing history:

Bound to Be an Electrician appeared in Allison’s 1897 Bound to Win series. In 1899 it became part of Allison’s Working Upward series and then it was published by Donohue Brothers. Stratemeyer bought it back from Donohue and it became part of the Lee & Shepard Working Upward series and later the Stratemeyer Popular Series. It then moved to Grosset & Dunlap also as the Stratemeyer Popular Series. Its final move was to Street & Smith. It lived longer than Stratemeyer himself and ended its life as volume no. 105 of the Street & Smith paperback Alger Seriesin the 1930s.[78]

The records of the Stratemeyer Syndicate show that between February 1904 and February 1913, Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard sold 7,487 copies of Bound to Be an Electrician, thus earning Stratemeyer $374.35 ($8,500 in 2010, based on 1913 value) over those years. The work sold only five copies between February 1913 and August 1913, and was bought by Grosset & Dunlap at the cost of stock (62 copies). Grosset & Dunlap would go on to sell an additional 3,472 copies by the end of 1918, earning Stratemeyer $69.44 ($1,010 in 2010) with his two percent royalties. This would become the model that the Stratemeyer Syndicate was built on – content that could be continually repackaged and resold to new generations of readers.

Building a Literary Syndicate

By 1897, Stratemeyer was well acquainted with the main challenge of a writing career – variable income. His income, which had peaked at $2,825 in 1893 ($70,600 in 2010), had steadily declined since then. In 1897, he earned $457.18 ($12,400 in 2010), about half of what he had earned the previous year. It was a difficult year for most authors, and as Abel notes, “To be a hack writer in the depressed economy of the 1890s was a struggle.”[79] In December 1896, he wrote to the Chicago Inter Ocean, offering “I can furnish you with a lively story for boys and girls, the serial rights, for $200 ($5,360 in 2010) and allow you to syndicate those serial rights with other newspapers for concurrent publication. By syndicating these serial rights, you can probably bring these prices down to quite low.” The response from the paper – that they got their material from the well-known syndicate of S. S. McClure exclusively – surely did little to raise Stratemeyer’s hopes. And indeed throughout the following year he received nothing but a string of rejections from both papers and publishers, all noting that they had too much material already. On February 24, 1898, W. Bert Foster, a fellow writer, told him, “About the only fellows who seem to be offering us a market are the Syndicates.” Foster also noted that the Bacheller Syndicate would pay $12-15 ($325-$407 in 2010) for “2000 word sketches of adventure and love.”

The syndicates mentioned in these letters were the famous nineteenth-century literary syndicates of Addison Irving Bacheller and Samuel S. McClure, both of which supplied newspapers and magazines across the country with ready-print fiction and non-fiction for publication.[80] Literary syndicates developed in the second half of the nineteenth century to produce fictional material more quickly, in response to a growing American appetite for it. Publishers of dime novels, story papers, and even newspapers were in frequent need of new fiction, particularly after the passage of the 1891 Chace Act, which gave international authors copyright in the United States. As a result, publishers of fiction could no longer look to cheap, unauthorized reprints of British fiction for content.[81]

During the late nineteenth century, the meaning of the term “syndicate” began to evolve. As Charles Johanningsmeier notes, it was initially a term that referred to “a group of newspapers provisionally formed to purchase and publish only one work.” After 1887, the term started to “take on its more modern meaning of a certain type of business concern that supplied newspapers with various materials.”[82] Stratemeyer’s business model resembled those of newspaper syndicates. Literary agents typically charged a percentage fee for their services in placing a manuscript, with all royalties going to the author. Syndicate owners, however, “risked their own capital to buy publishing rights from authors and had no certainty of return” – with the upside being that they were entitled to all the profits from the selling of that content.[83]

Stratemeyer was surely familiar with these publishing models, as they affected his own ability to place work as an author, and he probably chose the term “syndicate” to give his business endeavors a sense of breadth and formality, even though, during his lifetime, the Stratemeyer Syndicate only had two full-time employees, Stratemeyer and an assistant. By the 1920s, Stratemeyer was supplying content to the McClure and the Thompson Features Syndicates.

Other changes in copyright – which evolved rapidly throughout the nineteenth century – favored the type of business model that Stratemeyer eventually developed. The first was the idea that copyright was a right that did not necessarily reside with the original author of a work; rather, it was a right that could be bought, sold, and exchanged. The legal scholar Oren Bracha describes this transition: “During the second half of the nineteenth century, the principle of authorial ownership gradually eroded. New precedents involving production in hierarchal or collaborative settings gradually allocated ownership away from the hands of actual creators.”[84] These changes were firmly established in section 62 of the 1909 Copyright Act, which recognized, for the first time, the notion of “work made for hire.”[85] Stratemeyer was aware of these changes and always held his copyrights close – even going so far, early on, as providing his publishers with stereotype plates as opposed to manuscripts. A Fortune article from April 1934 notes: “The chief reason for the continued dominance of the Stratemeyer Syndicate is the fact that it owns all of its copyrights.”[86] Stratemeyer’s success depended on having a cadre of authors who were comfortable with the idea of relinquishing all rights to their work in exchange for a lump-sum payment; this was made possible by legal – and cultural – changes in the authorial profession in the late nineteenth century.

The way in which the Stratemeyer Syndicate did business would also be affected by a second change in copyright law that extended growing protection to translations, abridgements, and other renditions, such as dramatizations, of a given work. This shift began after the Civil War, as Bracha notes, and “copyright came to confer on the owner a broad set of powers to dominate numerous aspects and uses of the intangible object of property.”[87] These changes gave Stratemeyer solid control over where his work was published and by whom. Stratemeyer never filed formal suit against any of his publishers during his lifetime – he feared that going to trial would force him to reveal too much about his successful business practices.

On January 10, 1908, during a copyright dispute with Chatterton Peck, he wrote to his lawyers at Pitney, Hardin, and Skinner, “It might be, on trial, they would get me to reveal many important and valuable business matters regarding my literary agency, of which, later, both they and other publishers might avail themselves.” Stratemeyer regularly asserted control over his intellectual property, often warning his publishers about the limitations of their right to use his creations. These same subsidiary rights would later allow the Stratemeyer Syndicate to develop a lucrative line of films, TV shows, translations, and even board and video games based on its intellectual property.[88]

The expanded distribution system for books in the United States was also fundamental to Stratemeyer’s success. Though books were mostly printed in the urban centers of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, the growing rail system allowed publishers’ travelling salesman to reach bookstores and readers in smaller communities. In addition, a more efficient postal service allowed publishers to connect with readers directly.[89] Stratemeyer was acutely aware of both of these developments and used them to his advantage as much as possible. In a January 3, 1905, letter to W. A. Gregory at Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard, Stratemeyer explained that he was disappointed by the Christmas holiday sales, which were incredibly important to his bottom line. He told Gregory,

By the way, don’t think, by my former letter, that I meant any reflections upon your salesman. They are a fine team… What I was driving at was, the covering of small towns as well as big ones. I know the Mershon Co. has two or three extra salesmen (I guess they work on commission) who travel all parts of the U.S. big and little. I imagine the individual orders are small, but the aggregate makes quite a showing.

Stratemeyer regularly mailed copies of his catalogues to tens of thousands of potential customers, and once boasted to one publisher, John G. Winston, Co., of Philadelphia, that he had the names and addresses of “hundreds of thousands of boys interested in juvenile books.”[90] Keenly aware of the importance of marketing his books, Stratemeyer prescribed other methods to his publishers, going so far as to draft a circular entitled “Something Every Bookseller should Know” for Grosset & Dunlap. Among the strategies suggested in the circular was the distribution of sixty-four page catalogues to “boys of the better classes who were between twelve and sixteen years of age.” Coupled with an attractive display of the books, this strategy was sure to have a “magical” effect on sales.[91]

After a period of rejection and an income drop in the mid-to-late 1890s, Stratemeyer’s fortunes began to change in 1898 as the economy improved; he succeeded in publishing a successful novel and, after the death of William T. Adams, he wrote the last book in the Oliver Optic series.[92] During Stratemeyer’s brief tenure as editor of Good News in 1893-1894, he had developed a friendship and collaboration with Horatio Alger, Jr. Both Optic and Alger were household names – and Stratemeyer’s childhood idols.[93] In the late 1890s, as Alger’s health worsened, he began to rely on Stratemeyer for assistance with his work. On October 26, 1897, he sent Stratemeyer a request: “I wonder if you can’t help me. I have a story two thirds written, but am in a state of nervous frustration and not only can’t write, but can’t invent the rest of the story for some time to come. Can you take my story and finish it in my style?”

This request eventually paved the way for Stratemeyer to begin completing and publishing Alger’s work after his death in July 1899. In January of that year, Olive Augusta Cheney, Alger’s sister, wrote to Stratemeyer, “My brother is not well… He hopes you will consider the question of recurring serial publication for the story referred to. Last Spring, he had an application to write three serial stories for a N.Y. juvenile publication.” This missive marked the beginning of careful negotiations between Cheney and Stratemeyer, in which she accepted varying amounts of money in return for which Stratemeyer received full rights to publish Alger’s material. Stratemeyer’s records include the receipts for these transactions; on November 24, 1899, for example, Stratemeyer agreed to pay $150 ($4,070 in 2010) for the “adventures of a boy called Robert Frost. To be published as ‘By Horatio Alger, Jr.,’ and Completed by some other author or nom de plume of an author.” Another Alger book written by Stratemeyer, The Young Book Agent, told the story of a young man who saved the fortunes of his family by working as a book agent. It offered a fascinating portrayal of a travelling book salesman in the early twentieth century.[94] In total, as James D. Keeline notes, Stratemeyer wrote eleven books using Alger’s name.[95]

The Alger connection made it easier for Stratemeyer to find publishers for his own pieces. On March 26, 1900, G. Waldo Browne wrote to Stratemeyer: “It was a good thing that you got the Alger stories to finish. It will help the sale of your Winfield books.” Placing Alger’s work also helped Stratemeyer develop the model he would later use at the Syndicate – paying authors outright for the full rights to their work. Furthermore, Alger’s stories of hardworking boys whose efforts translated into upward mobility certainly influenced Stratemeyer’s own production, particularly his early work such as the Bound to Win series. On January 2, 1905, he wrote to Augusta Cheney and explained that, while working on Alger’s writings, he kept a photograph of him in front of him, and that it inspired him “to get into his particular style.”

At the same time that Stratemeyer was conferring with Alger about the fate of his uncompleted works, his first book-length historical novel, The Minute Boys of Lexington, was published by Estes & Lauriat in early 1898. That summer, he submitted a book-length manuscript, Under Dewey at Manila; or, The War Adventures of a Castaway, to Lee & Shepard. This book became an immense success, selling 6,000 copies and transforming “Edward Stratemeyer from an ‘unknown author’ to a writer of some renown.”[96] Stratemeyer’s inclination to draw inspiration from the headlines was not uncommon; indeed, much fiction at the time was based on current events. As Kathy Roberts Forde and Katherine Ross argue, the distinction between journalism and literature was a fluid one in the 1880s and 1890s. Stratemeyer’s famous 1901 assertion, “A wide awake lad has no patience with that which is namby-pamby, or with that which he puts down as a ‘study book’ in disguise,” was in keeping with the growing public preference for literature that rejected “the florid style that had characterized a broad range of earlier nineteenth-century American writing.”[97]

With Under Dewey and other books that celebrated important historical figures and American imperialist achievements abroad, Stratemeyer developed a name for himself as a producer of quality fiction for boys. The Journal of Education, reviewing Stratemeyer’s Fighting in Cuban Waters in June of 1899, stated “It has the same healthy, manly spirit that has made the other volumes of the ‘Old Glory series so much liked.”[98] The Stratemeyer name became a brand, and Stratemeyer wanted it to remain so. Publishers responded to this; A. L. Burt, who would later become Stratemeyer’s primary competitor, wrote to Stratemeyer in March 1900 that he wanted only books by Stratemeyer, not by Bonehill or Winfield.[99] As Abel notes, “he gave his best ‘time and attention’ to the books that he published under his own name.”[100] And, he worked hard to make sure that his real name was not associated publically with his pseudonyms, becoming frustrated when the real authorship was revealed, sometimes threatening publishers – and even librarians – with legal action.[101] After the establishment of the Syndicate, Stratemeyer maintained the fiction that he only wrote two books a year, telling the Newark Sunday Call in 1917: “Although my publishers would like me to do more, I write only two books a year now, one for the ‘Dave Porter’ series and one for the ‘Rover Boys.’”[102] Throughout his life, even as the sales of books in his own name shrank, Stratemeyer took pains to conceal the amount of juvenile fiction he was actually publishing, telling the Sunday Call that he was the head of a “literary bureau” and never revealing the scope of his work.[103]

Most scholars date the beginnings of the Syndicate to 1905-1906. In the Literary Account Book for 1905, Stratemeyer notes that he paid Weldon J. Cobb $75 ($1,920 in 2010) for the manuscript of Ralph of the Roundhouse. By January 16, 1906, Stratemeyer was in communication with the writer Jacob Abarbanell, from whom he sought material and advice about starting the Syndicate:

I wrote to you about a story on the 4th inst., but have not yet received a reply. Have you given up the idea of taking hold? I must have this MS. by March 1, do if I do not hear in a few days will send the order elsewhere. As you must know, there are several willing enough to do this work. Have struck two new writers since I saw you, both used to book work.

A couple of months later, Stratemeyer wrote to Cobb again. In a letter dated March 15, 1906, Cobb thanked Stratemeyer for the work, noting that the “new story” that Stratemeyer had just “ordered” would come in at “32 chapters and 200 typewritten pages.” That same month, Stratemeyer wrote to John G. Winston to offer fiction for publication from “the Stratemeyer Syndicate, of which I am the head.”[104] From the very start, Stratemeyer drove a hard bargain with his writers. In October 1906, G. Waldo Browne, with whom Stratemeyer had a long relationship, wrote, “Of course if you are not paying anyone a royalty, I suppose I shall have to fall into line, though I feel that $125 ($3,130 in 2010) is too low for a first class story of 60,000 words.” Scores of writers would go on to work for Stratemeyer, receiving from him a detailed book outline and $125 for their work – and all the rights to it.[105] Though Stratemeyer would continue to develop the ideas and outlines for his various series, he quickly realized that his most profitable works were not in his name. This frustrated him greatly; in February 1908, he wrote to Gregory, “Now, the nom-de-plume lines and even syndicate lines not written by me have become more profitable than those under my own name.” This, he notes, “should not be so.”[106]

Stratemeyer reminded his publishers regularly that they only had the right to print his work and that of his authors; the intellectual property was his. An early letter, dated January 21, 1905, to Dana Estes & Co. shows that Stratemeyer was capable of taking a hard line with his publishers:

If you give up making the books and will not let me have the plates at a reasonable price I shall simply take the copyrights elsewhere and make new plates. If you will remember, your copyrights run for publishing only. The stories are mine; if you terminate the contract you will simply have no right to print them, from your plates or otherwise.

Stratemeyer also was uncompromising on the price of his books, as well as their look and feel. He wanted to produce a high quality product that would nonetheless be affordable to his young readers and their families. Thus, Stratemeyer was soundly against the 1901 attempt by the American Publishers Association to establish a net price system for books, the goal of which was to end deep discounts to department stores and to create a level playing field between these stores and smaller booksellers. Stratemeyer saw the net pricing system directly affect his profits and moved the publication of some of his works from Lee & Shepard to Mershon Company as a result. Mershon was mainly a publisher of cheaper books, whereas Lee & Shepard aimed to sell titles for $1.25. As Abel notes, “For Stratemeyer, these statements [1904-1905 royalty statements from both publishers] demonstrated concretely that one could make a great deal of money by selling mass quantities of cheap books.”[107]

Stratemeyer had thus found the key price point for his books – Fortune called him the “inventor” of the fifty-cent juvenile, which, by 1934, had taken over the book market. Stratemeyer and his publishers were keenly aware of price sensitivities in the juvenile market, particularly as competitors like Burt brought out books at twenty-five cents. For Stratemeyer, the goal was nonetheless to produce a quality product, which often worked in opposition to the race to the bottom; he did not want his books to look cheap. A series of exchanges in 1927 between Stratemeyer and Charles Fleming at Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard nicely illustrates this tension. Both parties wanted to repackage the Dave Porter series, which required employing an artist to redesign the book jackets in order to rebrand the series. Dave Porter had not been selling well –similar material was selling for a lower price; the series was dated (ending with the First World War). Designing and printing individual jackets would require a significant investment in a potentially losing venture. Finally, Fleming suggested a compromise:

The best solution, after all, seems to give the D. P. Books a new Series jacket in full color, printing in the individual titles. We are willing to do this without calling upon you to rebate anything from your royalty of 5 cents a copy, and this move in connection with the modification in the wholesale prices, which we mentioned confidentially the other day, will surely do a good deal for the books.[108]

Unbeknownst to Fleming, Stratemeyer had already moved on the question of royalties, and had been earning only two percent on his new books with Grosset & Dunlap. He worked diligently to secure writers who could produce quality materials quickly and had expanded his audience reach by developing separate series for boys and girls, younger children and older ones. This allowed him to turn a profit on books even when his royalty percentage was low. What counted was the number of books sold.

Early on, Stratemeyer realized that volume was the key to turning a profit in the juvenile series book market. As new series were produced – the Bobbsey Twins in 1904, the Moving Pictures Boys in 1913, the Hardy Boys in 1927 – each was launched with three books. That way, young readers did not have to wait for a sequel if they liked the first book – the second and third volumes were already in print and ready to be read. This strategy allowed Stratemeyer to gauge the success potential of a series before putting new volumes into production. Unsuccessful series were thus easily abandoned after the first three books. With the help of this method, the fortunes of the Syndicate steadily increased after its founding in 1905. Only the year 1908 would show a loss, as Stratemeyer paid $10,000 ($244,000 in 2010), in his estimation, for “plates, pictures, etc. bought from Mershon Co. Stitt Co. and W. L. Mershon,” along with $1,100 ($26,900 in 2010) in lawyers’ fees. The chart below shows the growth of the Syndicate at five-year intervals from its founding until the year before Stratemeyer’s death.

By 1929, Stratemeyer’s creativity – combined with the hard-nosed business skills he had cultivated while working in his immigrant father’s and brothers’ tobacco shops – had made him into one of the most successful publishers of juvenile material in his day.

Lasting Legacy

After Stratemeyer’s death from pneumonia on May 10, 1930, there was uncertainty regarding who would continue his business. Unfortunately, Stratemeyer did not live to see Nancy Drew, his most recent creation, begin her climb into the record books for girls’ literature (and become an enduring icon for many feminists). His daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Edna Stratemeyer, initially took over and administered his estate and his business on their mother’s behalf. They planned to eventually sell the Syndicate, but, in the end, no buyer emerged and Harriet took the lead in running the business. It was she who served as the guiding force behind the Syndicate throughout the twentieth century, remaking its main series – Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew – and driving sales into the millions. In 1979, Harriet ended the Syndicate’s relationship with Grosset & Dunlap, giving Simon and Schuster the right to publish its paperbacks. This move prompted a three-year lawsuit by Grosset & Dunlap. The suit ended in a 1982 ruling that allowed Grosset & Dunlap to continue publishing existing Syndicate content in hardcover. Simon & Schuster, on the other hand, would publish all new content. In 1984, two years after Harriet’s death, Simon & Schuster bought the Syndicate.[109] Throughout its almost eighty-year existence, the Syndicate was a pioneering force in the world of children’s series fiction. Among other achievements, it conditioned young readers to share in the experiences of beloved characters over the course of a multi-volume series, thus paving the way for later series such as Harry Potter.

The story of Edward Stratemeyer's creative and business success is full of rich paradoxes. Though he considered himself primarily a writer of boys’ books, his most audacious and endearing creation was Nancy Drew, a strong-headed and independent young woman not unlike his daughter Harriet, who led the Syndicate to soaring success in the fifty years after his death. A child of German immigrants, Edward Stratemeyer refused to follow the lead of his father and siblings in managing a retail store. Instead, he became an entrepreneur in a rapidly changing field – the publishing industry – and sold an intangible, creative product in the form of fiction for boys and girls. His imagination gave birth to hundreds of characters who were so believable that young readers wrote to Stratemeyer to request their addresses. From the beginning of his career, he chose to write for English-speaking audiences, rather than German ones. He presented his characters as quintessentially American, associating this trait with values such as hard work, upward mobility, ethical conduct, and adventurousness, sometimes to the detriment of particular ethnic groups. Nonetheless, he created some of the most enduring children’s characters in all of American literature.


[1] Trudi Johanna Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business: Edward Stratemeyer and the Adolescent Reader, 1890-1930.” Ph.D. diss. (Rutgers University, 1993). See note on p. 18.

[2] Abel, 22.

[3] Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are still published by Simon and Schuster; current websites for the two series list upcoming e-book releases. See http://series.simonandschuster.com/Nancy-Drew and http://series.simonandschuster.com/Hardy-Boys, respectively. For a scholarly perspective on Nancy Drew in the twenty-first century, see Elizabeth Marshall, “Global Girls and Strangers: Marketing Transnational Girlhood through the Nancy Drew Series,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 37.2 (2012): 210-27.

[4] “Funeral Tonight for Edward Stratemeyer,” The New York Times, May 12, 1930. The Grosset & Dunlap royalties statements in the Stratemeyer Syndicate records show that between 1909 and the second quarter of 1930, when Stratemeyer died, sales of the Rover Boys alone totaled over $1.8 million. These figures do not include the years 1922, 1923, and 1924, as those statements are not in the archives. At that time, the Rover Boys sold between 80,000-110,000 titles per year; one can safely say that this series sold at least 2 million copies before Stratemeyer’s death in May 1930. In total, the Syndicate had easily sold 5 million copies by then. By the third and fourth quarter of 1929, the Bobbsey Twins and the Tom Swift series had sold 247,374 and 312,819 titles, respectively. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[5] “Services at Home Tonight for Edward Stratemeyer,” Newark Evening News. Monday, May 12, 1930, 15.

[6] “Answer the Question,” The Sheboygan Press, December 3, 1931, 8.

[7] In the February 3, 2013, edition of the book review, in the “By the Book” column, humorist Dave Barry noted, “The books I read most as a child were the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift series. I wish that children would read the Tom Swift books today, so that they would learn that electricity is a powerful force to be used against evil – as in ‘Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone’ – and not just to download Justin Bieber songs.” The following week, in the February 10 edition, Pulitzer Prize winning author Katherine Boo noted that she preferred the Encyclopedia Brown series because “I thought Encyclopedia Brown’s sidekick, Sally Kimball, was way cooler than any of Nancy Drew’s.”

[8] At the January 2013 nomination of Mary Jo White as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, President Obama was cited as saying, “As a young girl, Mary Jo White was a big fan of the Hardy Boys. I was too, by the way. As an adult, she’s built a career the Hardy Boys could only dream of. Over a decade as U.S. Attorney in New York, she helped prosecute white-collar criminals and money launderers.” The article goes on to state, “It was effective theatre, but White’s situation is a lot more complicated than a Hardy Boys story.” Nicolas Lemann, “Street Cop,” The New Yorker, November 11, 2013, 46.

[9] For more information on the changes in book production that took place between 1840 and 1880, see Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, et al., The Book in America: A History of the Making and Selling of Books in the United States (New York, NY: R. R. Bowker Company, 1951), and Michael Winship, “Manufacturing and Book Production,” in A History of the Book in America, Volume 3, The Industrial Book, 1840-1880, eds. Scott E. Caspar, Jeffrey D. Groves, Stephen W. Nissenbaum, and Michael Winship (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 40-69.

[10] Carl F. Kaestle, “Seeing the Sites: Readers, Publishers, and Local Print Cultures in 1880,” in A History of the Book in America,Volume 4, Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, eds. Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 28.

[11] An excellent documentary about the history and mechanics of the Linotype was released in early 2012. See http://www.linotypefilm.com/ (accessed November 9, 2013). See also John Hendel, “Celebrating Linotype, 125 Years Since Its Debut,” The Atlantic, May 20, 2011. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/05/celebrating-linotype-125-years-since-its-debut/238968/ (accessed November 9, 2013).

[12] Sarah A. Wadsworth, In the Company of Books: Literature and Its “Classes” in Nineteenth-Century America (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006).

[13] In an essay entitled “Juvenile Literature Past and Present,” written for Harriet Stratemeyer Adams on February 5, 1923, Stratemeyer reflected, “In the past, many stories were complete in themselves. But more and more the girls and boys gravitate to the series, revolving around one or more well-beloved characters, and it is nothing to-day to see a series stretching out to twenty or more volumes. And sales are constantly increasing, some series reaching a sale of over a quarter of a million copies annually.” Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[14] Here, as elsewhere in this entry, sums are converted to 2010 U.S. dollars via http://www.measuringworth.com on the basis of the Consumer Price Index.

[15] Stratemeyer’s writing has also been noted for its xenophobic and nationalistic character. See Brian Rouleau, “Childhood’s Imperial Imagination: Edward Stratemeyer’s Fiction Factory and the Valorization of American Empire,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 7.4 (October 2008): 479-512. For a study of these changes in the Bobbsey Twins, see “Keeping Modern Amid Changing Times: The Bobbsey Twins – 1904, 1950, 1961,” Book Research Quarterly (Winter 1990-91): 31-42. For a chronicle of these changes in Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, see Melanie Rehak, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her (New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc., 2005), particularly the chapter entitled “The Kids are Hep,” 224-53.

[16] Letters to W. A. Spence, June 11, 1917, and to John W. Lushear, President, North Ward National Bank Newark, October 1, 1917, respectively. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records.

[17] See the letters of November 27, 1917, to the editor of the Newark Sunday Call and of January 27, 1918, to S. Keiser, Camp Greene, Charlotte, NC. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records.

[18] Letter to Annie Heidritter, May 7, 1917. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records.

[19] Henry and George Stratemeyer were naturalized on October 25, 1848, and April 11, 1839, respectively. See Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 18.

[20] Henry J. Stratemeyer was assumed to have been a “49er” based on Edward Stratemeyer’s story about a young gold-seeker in California and on comments he made about the story in the book edition of Oliver Bright’s Search. See James D. Keeline, “Edward Stratemeyer’s New York and New Jersey,” Fine Books and Collectibles (Spring 2010): 24-29. Several sources suggested that Harriet’s wedding ring was made of gold mined by her grandfather.

[21] Keeline, “Edward Stratemeyer’s New York and New Jersey,” 26.

[22] Merchants Union City Directory for 1876 (Elizabeth, NJ: 1876), 208. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

[23] Tenth Census of the United States, 1880 (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls.) Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, DC.

[24] Drake, Cook & Hall, Elizabeth City Directory for 1881-1882 (Elizabeth, NJ: Elizabeth Herald Steam Printing House, 1881), 354.

[25] Cook & Hall, Elizabeth City Directory for 1883-1884 (Elizabeth, NJ: Elizabeth Herald Steam Printing House, 1883), 225. By 1905, Maurice’s store at this same location also included sporting goods. An image of the store at 31 Broad Street and more information can be found at William Henry Roll, “Maurice Stratemeyer’s Tobacco Shop,” The Genealogy of the Roll Family, (accessed November 9, 2013). On May 6, 1915, Maurice applied for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution on behalf of his son, Irving Roll Stratemeyer. Annie Lucinda Roll, Maurice’s wife, was a descendent of John Roll, who fought in the Eastern Battalion of the New Jersey Militia. Ancestry.com. U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

[26] The City of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Illustrated (Elizabeth, NJ: Elizabeth Daily Journal, 1889), 28 and 153.

[27] By the 1900 census, George was living in Hawaii with his wife Elmira, a native-born Hawaiian, and his five children, the oldest of whom was named Edward. United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, DC, National Archives and Record Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.

[28] A December 27, 1900, letter from Louis to Edward includes a transcript of a letter from George. In it, George also says that he had a nice house on one of the main streets “all clear and paid for, but little cash on hand – and life insurance in the Germania Co. of New York for $2500, which I have now paid over four years-15 year endowment plan.” He also notes, “There is a great future before us here. With cable and canal we certainly shall become a great commercial and important sea-port.” Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[29] Correspondence between the siblings testifies to the generally warm and friendly relations between them, particularly as all remained in northern New Jersey, with the exception of George. Louis seems to have been the main correspondent, giving Edward regular news about his mother and siblings. In October 1902, Henry Jr. wrote to his brother to invite him to a lunch counter he had recently opened up in Newark, noting: “I had to do something, or go wild.” [October 11, 1902] During one of Louis’s bouts with illness a year before his death, Maurice wrote: “I’m running his store and Irving [Maurice’s son] is tending my store in the day time and Annie looks after it at night until I get there about 9 p.m. as Irving goes to night school.” [Letter Oct. 5, 1904] Maurice thanked Edward for sending him a list of places where Edward could be reached by wire while travelling, just in case “anything alarming warrants it.” He signed his letter “love to you all, Your loving brother Maurice.” Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[30] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 18.

[31] Ibid., 21-22

[32] Ibid., 21.

[33] Ibid., 27-28. Few copies of this paper exist today; it is included in the Library of Congress’s historical newspaper collection (accessed November 9, 2013).

[34] Letter to Charles K. Harris, Music House, Mr. Meyer Cohen, manager. February 23, 1906.

[35] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 24.

[36] Keeline, “Edward Stratemeyer’s New York and New Jersey,” 27.

[37] William E. Sachett, ed., New Jersey’s First Citizens, volume 1 (Paterson, NJ: J. J. Scannell, 1917-18), 488-89.

[38] Cited in Rehak, Girl Sleuth, 13.

[39] Rehak, Girl Sleuth, 27.

[40] James Keeline includes images of postcards from Stratemeyer’s travels on his website.

[41] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 78.

[42] Kaestle and Radway, “A Framework for the History of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 16.

[43] For more on dime novels and similar types of publications, see Michael Denning, Mechanical Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America (London and New York, NY: Verso, 1987), and Vicki Anderson, The Dime Novel in Children’s Literature (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, 2005). The latter includes a helpful annotated bibliography of dime novels and a comprehensive list of series books. Barbara Sicherman disputes Denning’s claim that working-class men were the main readers of dime novels; See “Ideologies and Practices of Reading,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 296.

[44] See Dawn Fisk Thomsen, “’It is a pity it is no better’: The Story Paper and Its Critics in Nineteenth-Century America,” in Lydia Cushman Schurman and Deidre Johnson, eds. Scorned Literature: Essays on the History and Criticism of Popular Mass-Produced Fiction in America (London and Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 83-96.

[45] Quoted in Denning, Mechanical Accents, 17.

[46] In “Pernicious Stuff: Nineteenth-Century Media, the Children who Loved them, and the Adults who Worried about them,” Margaret Cassidy compares nineteenth-century anxieties over these forms of fiction to twenty-first century fears about children’s use of technology: “Contemporary concerns about the potential dangers of social networking sites and mobile communication devices, evidenced by the increasing incidence of cyberbullying, ‘sexting,’ and privacy violations are not all that different from nineteenth century concerns about dime novels, the telegraph, telephone, photography, and the phonograph, not to mention twentieth century media like film, radio, and comic books.” See ETC: A Review of General Semantics 68.3 (2011): 305.

[47] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 75.

[48] Letter of August 9, 1899. This book was later recorded in the Literary Account Book as: “No. 163. ‘Off for Hawaii’ part written by me, April 1899. Got sick and Louis C. Stratemeyer finished it for me. A ‘Bonehill’ book for Mershon Co. special contract (royalty). Finished by me later all my work.” [Emphasis Stratemeyer’s]. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[49] Franklin K. Mathiews, “Blowing Out the Boys’ Brains,” The Outlook, November 18, 1914, 652-54. Readers may be surprised by this cultural anxiety over what boys read. Barbara Sicherman writes, “By 1880, however, anxiety often focused on reading’s dangers to boys. … The hyperbolic language of this discourse betrays deep-seated anxiety that middle-class youth would be contaminated by reading about behavior [smoking, drinking, using slang] their elders associated with a degraded working class.” See “Ideologies and Practices of Reading,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 291.

[50] See also Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 292-95. For more on the development of the librarian profession and the role of libraries at the turn of the century, see Kenneth E. Carpenter, “Libraries,” in Caspar, et al., eds, The Industrial Book, 1840-1880, 303-38, and Wayne A. Wiegand, “The American Public Library: Construction of a Community Reading Institution,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 431-51.

[51] See Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 292-95. Emily Hamilton-Honey also explores this issue in a recent article, “Guardians of Morality: Librarians and American Girls Series Fiction, 1890-1950,” Library Trends 60.4 (2012): 765-85. Hamilton-Honey also astutely points out that Stratemeyer’s books were so popular that he did not need to worry about sales to public libraries: “Between the adolescents who bought his books in droves at local bookstores or stationers and parents who purchased his books for Christmas and birthday gifts, the amount of sales that would have resulted from public library acquisitions would hardly have affected his overall profits.” The reluctance of librarians to acquire series books can be observed well into the 1970s. See also Peter A. Soderbergh, “The Stratemeyer Strain: Educators and the Juvenile Series Book, 1900-1937,” Journal of Popular Culture 7.4 (Spring 1974): 864-72, and Kathleen Chamberlain, “‘Wise Censorship’: Cultural Authority and the Scorning of Juvenile Series Books, 1890-1940,” in Schurman and Johnson, eds. Scorned Literature, 187-212.

[52] February 19, 1901. In his February 21 response to Stratemeyer, W. F. Gregory encouraged him to be a little more savvy, writing: “We suggest… that you embody certain portions of your excellent letter, which we return, to the editor of the Boston Transcript, stating by way of introduction that as you have been unfairly attacked in the city, you trust that the well-known reputation for justice which the ‘Transcript’ section enjoys will permit of your being given opportunity for a short defense in their column.” Gregory went on to say that doing so would put Stratemeyer in the “strongest light through the medium of the leading literary and family paper.” Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[53] Letter to W. F. Gregory, Lothrop, Lee, and Shepherd, March 6, 1917.

[54] John Tupper Brownell, “Safe and Sane Books for Boys and Girls.” Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[55] Meghan O’Rourke, “Nancy Drew’s Father; a Critic at Large,” The New Yorker 80.34 (2004): 120-29.

[56] This story is repeated by nearly everyone who writes about Stratemeyer’s career. Carol Billman calls it “The Episode of the Brown Wrapping Paper.” See Billman, The Secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Million Dollar Fiction Factory (New York, NY: Ungar, 1986), 18.

[57] Victor Horton’s Idea was recently published in a new edition by 24 Palmer Street Press (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/24PalmerStreet).

[58] Deidre Johnson, Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate (New York, NY: Twayne Publishers, 1993), 2.

[59] Both of these stories have as their source an interview with Edward Stratemeyer published in the Newark Sunday Call, December 9, 1917.

[60] Deidre Johnson, “Edward Stratemeyer’s Amateur Story Papers, Dime Novel Roundup 71.6 (2002): 210-12.

[61] For more on Stratemeyer’s early story papers, see John T. Dizer, “Our American Boys: An Early Stratemeyer Story Paper,” Dime Novel Roundup 73.6 (2007): 68-76.

[62] See Johnson, Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate, 18-19. Stratemeyer would go on to write over forty dime novels between May 1892 and November 1893

[63] See Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 18, note 12. “George had clearly immigrated to the United States earlier than his brother.”

[64] For details on the back and forth between Stratemeyer and Street & Smith on the publication of the Hans Liederkranz stories, see Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 40-41,

[65] Cited in Johnson, Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate, 20-21.

[66] Bureau of the Census, Tenth United States Census, 1880, Report of the Social Statistics of Cities, Part II, New England and the Middle States, Hoboken, Hudson County, 690.

[67] Ibid., see “Newark, Essex County,” 708.

[68] The Liederkranz of the City of New York still exists. More information, including a history, can be found on its website.

[69] As Peter Connolly-Smith writes concerning the presence of comic strips that mocked Germans in William Randolph Hearst’s German-language newspaper the Deutsches Journal: “By consuming and laughing at this stereotype, they [German immigrant readers] distanced themselves from it and psychologically asserted their “American-ness.” See “Transforming an Ethnic Readership through ‘Word and Image’: William Randolph Hearst’s ‘Deutsches Journal’ and New York’s German-Language Press, 1895-1918,” American Periodicals 19.1 (2009), 66-84.

[70] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 48.

[71] Abel details Stratemeyer’s foray into “pot-boiler romance” and his relationship withThe Chicago Ledger, particularly on pages 62 to 72.

[72] For more on Stratemeyer’s work for juvenile story papers and on the stories published there, see John T. Dizer, “Young People of America, Bright Days, and Edward Stratemeyer,” Dime Novel Round-up 71.6 (2002): 183-200.

[73] Cited in Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 57.

[74] According to the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, Stratemeyer gave juvenile periodicals one last chance, contracting with Cartwright to become the editor of the Young Americans in October 1889. Stratemeyer was supposed to invest $500 ($12,200 in 2010) in the venture, which would be repayable in six months. As editor, he would have earned $20 ($489 in 2010) per month. This final attempt at periodical publishing would collapse quickly; by November 12, 1889, his $20 weekly salary check was returned by the Mechanics Trade Bank – it had bounced. For more on the end of Bright Days, see Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 90.

[75] Dizer, “Young People of America, Bright Days, and Edward Stratemeyer,” 197.

[76] Ibid.,198.

[77] Abel provides a detailed discussion of Stratemeyer’s quest to get his plates back from The Merriam Company upon its collapse in 1897; see Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 97-99.

[78] Dizer, “Young People of America, Bright Days, and Edward Stratemeyer,” 199.

[79] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 91.

[80] See Charles Johanningsmeier, Fiction and the American Literary Marketplace: The Role of the Newspaper Syndicates, 1860-1900 (Cambridge and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[81] See Peter Jaszi and Martha Woodmansee, “Copyright in Transition,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 90-101.

[82] Johanningsmeier, Fiction and the AmericanLiterary Marketplace, 35-36.

[83] Ibid., 66.

[84] Oren Bracha, “The Ideology of Authorship Revisited: Authors, Markets, and Liberal Values in Early American Copyright,” The Yale Law Journal 118.2 (2008): 191.

[85] Jaszi and Woodmansee, “Copyright in Transition,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 90-101.

[86] “For It Was Indeed He,” Fortune (April 1934): 194.

[87] Bracha, “The Ideology of Authorship Revisited,” 231.

[88] Stratemeyer was keen on getting his work produced by the film industry as early as 1918. On March 20, 1918, he wrote to the Pathe Exchange, Inc., with suggestions for books that could be adapted for film. He noted: “I have been wondering if you would care to consider outlines for photo dramas from me, with the understanding that, if accepted, I could retain all books and serial rights.”Nancy Drew: Detective, released by Warner Brothers in 1938, would be the first in a line of filmic adaptations of the Nancy Drew series.

[89] See Michael Winship, “The Rise of a National Book Trade System in the United States,” and James L. W. West, III, “The Expansion of the National Book Trade System,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 56-77 and 78-89. For information about how changes in postage and postal regulations affected the publishing industry, see Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 163-202. For more on Stratemeyer’s efforts to promote his books, see Abel, chapter three.

[90] Letter dated March 9, 1906. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records.

[91] Insert in a July 7, 1908, letter to his publishers at Grosset & Dunlap. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records.

[92] James D. Keeline, “How Tom Swift Invented Everything,” Firsts: Collecting Modern First Editions 10.12 (2000): 34-51, 37.

[93] Sachett, New Jersey’s First Citizens, Volume 1, 489.

[94] Horatio Alger, Jr., The Young Book Agent, or Frank Hardy’s Road to Success (New York, NY: Stitt Publishing Co, 1905). A pdf-file of this work is available via the Internet Archive, courtesy of Brandeis University Libraries (accessed November 8, 2013).

[95] Keeline, “How Tom Swift Invented Everything,” 37.

[96] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 205.

[97] Kathy Roberts Forde and Katherine A. Foss, “‘The Facts – The Color! – The Facts’: The Idea of a Report in American Print Culture, 1885-1910,” Book History 15 (2012): 130. Abel also notes: “Dime novel producers had characteristically asked their hack writers to base their plots on news clippings.” See Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 126.

[98]Journal of Education, L.1 (June 29, 1899): 29.

[99] See William R. Gowen, “Worth Challenge to the Stratemeyer Syndicate: A. L. Burt’s Inexpensive Series Books, 1905-1937,” Newsboy (January-February 2009): 8-12.

[100] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 205.

[101] See Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 203-13. Part of the challenge for Stratemeyer was that librarians at the Library of Congress used information from the copyright office to create their catalog records, which the Library had begun selling to libraries across the country in 1901. In response, Stratemeyer attempted to secure copyrights in the names of his pseudonyms (Abel, 259). He also wrote a series of strongly worded letters to the New York Public Library (NYPL) and the Library of Congress, threatening legal action if his name was associated with works written under pen names. On February 24, 1905, he wrote to Arthur Bostnick at the NYPL: “these names are pieces of my business property quite apart from my works as an author.” To the Library of Congress, he wrote: “in the future, no book is to be listed in any manner as an Edward Stratemeyer book unless it has the said name on the title page, or mentions Edward Stratemeyer as the author in the application for copyright” (letter of March 2, 1905). Stratemeyer Syndicate Records. For more on the role of the Library of Congress in the circulation of bibliographic information, see Phyllis Dain, “The Great Libraries,” in Kaestle and Radway, eds., Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, 452-70.

[102] “The Newarker Whose Name is Best Known,” Newark Sunday Call, December 9, 1917.

[103] In the present writer’s experience (and that of many others), most people are surprised to learn that Franklin W. Dixon is not the author of the Hardy Boys series (and that he never even existed); the same is true of Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of Nancy Drew.

[104] Letter of March 9, 1906, to the editorial department of John G. Winston Co., Philadelphia. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records.

[105] Much interesting work has been done on the relationship between Stratemeyer and his writers. For first-person accounts, see Leslie McFarlane, Ghost of the Hardy Boys (Toronto: Methuen/Two Continents, 1976), and Roger Garis, My Father Was Uncle Wiggly (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1966). See also Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 264-79; Deidre Johnson, “‘The Typewritten Equivalent of Spinach and Orange Juice’: Josephine Lawrence and the Ghostwriting of Stratemeyer Syndicate Books,” Dime Novel Round-up 72.2 (2003): 39-48; Keeline, “How Tom Swift Invented Everything”; Rehak, “Girl Sleuth”; and Carol Platt, “The Girl Sleuth and The Stratemeyer Syndicate,” Timeline: A Journal of the Ohio Historical Society (January-March, 2007): 42-57.

[106] Letter of February 15, 1908, to Warren A. Gregory of Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard. Stratemeyer Syndicate Records.

[107] Abel, “A Man of Letters, a Man of Business,” 241.

[108] June 1, 1928, Stratemeyer Syndicate Records, New York Public Library.

[109] Edwin McDowell, “Syndicator of Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys Purchased,” New York Times, August 4, 1984.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Edward Stratemeyer
  • Coverage 1862-1930
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 23, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018