Although primarily known for creating popular series like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, Edward Stratemeyer was a popular author in his own right. From 1894 to 1926 there were 168 of his stories published as books under his own name and some personal pseudonyms. His 30-volume Rover Boys series had more than 5 million copies sold. He also wrote dozens of short stories, dime novels, and serials for story papers and magazines.
He was as much of an astute businessman as he was an author. However, because he did not seek personal attention, he is little known today even though he created some of the most popular books for children which were influential for generations.
Edward’s Amateur Publications and the First Success
Edward Stratemeyer was born at home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on October 4, 1862. He was the youngest of six children born to Anna Siegel Stratemeyer.
As a youth he enjoyed reading books given to him and those owned by his brothers. While still in school he began to try to write stories similar to those of his favorite authors, especially “Oliver Optic” and Horatio Alger, Jr. Some of these stories were set into type in small story papers such as Our Friend and The Young American from 1876 and 1877 which listed him as the publisher. He began to use his first pseudonyms at this time, including “Ed Ward.”
In 1883 he published three issues of a semi-professional story paper called Our American Boys which contained more of his early pseudonyms such as “Robert Rollic.” Five years later he wrote a story at home called “Victor Horton’s Idea” which was written in pencil on a yellow paper which could have been used as a wrapping paper in a store. The story was set aside for a time, and then revised and rewritten in ink on good paper and sent in to Golden Days of Philadelphia which agreed to publish it in December of 1889 and pay him $75 for the effort.
Story Papers and Dime Novels
This first success led him to offer stories to other publications, including serving as associate editor for a professional story paper called The Young American (not the same as his amateur effort over a decade earlier), and later working as an editor for Street & Smith’s Good News.In the 1890s he wrote both dime novels for Street & Smith and Norman L. Munro as well as short and serial stories for story papers such as Golden Days, Argosy, Good News, and later Golden Hours, Boys of America, Comfort, and others.
Stratemeyer also worked on story papers called Young Sports of America, which was later retitled Young People of America, where he contributed about half of the stories under many pen names and served as its associate editor. When this publication folded, he started his own publication called Bright Days which lasted for a little more than a year. The economic depression of 1897 hastened its demise. Efforts to start another story paper failed.
Books: Revising Stories for Publication
Meanwhile, Stratemeyer bought back some of his stories from Argosy (the editor of Golden Days would not sell back his stories) and edited them for publication in hardcover. The first of these was Richard Dare’s Venture (Merriam, 1894) which was a story of a boy who has to earn a living selling books when his father dies. After publishing just four of his books, Merriam folded and went into receivership.
The next publisher who issued his books was W. L. Allison. They issued twelve titles by Stratemeyer in 1897 under his own name and two principal pseudonyms, “Captain Ralph Bonehill” and “Arthur M. Winfield.” Later, these Allison volumes were reprinted by Donohue Brothers and M. A. Donohue of Chicago.
Books: Writing Stories for Publication
In 1898 Stratemeyer issued some of his first stories which were written specifically for book publication, beginning with the first of two volumes in his Minute Boys series for Estes & Lauriat (a short time later Dana Estes).
Upon the historic events of Admiral Dewey in the Philippines in 1898, Stratemeyer wrote a boys’ story called Under Dewey at Manila which was a strong seller for a short period of time and stayed more or less in print until shortly after his death in 1930.
Writing As His Childhood Heroes: Optic and Alger
In 1898 Stratemeyer was asked by Lee & Shepard of Boston to write the last book in a Civil War series begun by “Oliver Optic” (William T. Adams). Adams had just died and left the series incomplete. Hence, Stratemeyer had the opportunity to write a story as one of his favorite authors from his youth. The volume in the Blue and Gray on Land series, An Undivided Union, was published in 1899.
In 1897, Horatio Alger, Jr. first proposed to Stratemeyer that he help put a certain story into shape for publication. Alger’s health had declined a great deal and his vision was also affected. As a result, he could neither complete the actual writing (in longhand as compared with Stratemeyer who taught himself to use a typewriter in 1891) nor even the plotting. Although Stratemeyer did not take up this work in 1897, he did so a couple years later in Alger’s final months. After Alger died in 1899, his sister, Olive Augusta Cheney, acted as his literary executor and negotiated with Stratemeyer to “complete” stories from materials Alger had begun and issue them as Alger. The first story that Alger was working on was split into two volumes by Stratemeyer and added to extensively. These were issued in 1900.
In one of his letters to Cheney, Stratemeyer described the working method he wanted to employ for his writing which would eventually become the Stratemeyer Syndicate. He would act as a literary agent to purchase manuscripts from writers and have them issued in book form. In time this would include outlines devised by Stratemeyer which would be expanded into book manuscripts by hired ghostwriters.
The first two series produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate were the initial volumes in the Motor Boys and Ralph of the railroad series, both published in 1906 by Cupples & Leon, a young publisher who agreed to take a large number of titles supplied by Stratemeyer. Despite some stories which state that he suggested a 50c price for books at this time, the Cupples & Leon books sold for almost any price other than 50c, including as high as $1. and as low as 35c. with most offered at 60c.
Through the Syndicate, Stratemeyer would go on to create a number of successful series including: Ted Scott, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. There are many lesser known series and single titles as well. [Learn more about the Syndicate and its books on my overview of Syndicate history page.]
The Syndicate After Edward
Upon his death on May 10, 1930, ownership of the Syndicate passed to his semi-invalid wife, Magdalene. Knowing that she would not be in a position to handle the estate, a couple years before Stratemeyer left instructions for his daughters to be executors, if they desired.
Initially, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Edna Camilla Stratemeyer thought they would sell the Syndicate. However, in time they found that they could neither sell nor abandon their father’s business. Together they made the bold decision to continue his work. Harriet and Edna worked together for twelve years and after that Harriet was in charge until her own death in 1982. Hence, she was primarily involved in the Syndicate for more than 50 years, about twice the amount of time that her father ran the company from 1905 to 1930.
Through the Stratemeyer Syndicate, Edward created some of the best-known series for young people of that time period. Among the popular series which have continued for many years after his death are the Bobbsey Twins (1904+), Tom Swift (1910+), the Hardy Boys (1927+), and Nancy Drew (1930+).