Henry Julius Stratemeyer posing in front of his tobacco store in the 1890s.
Henry Julius Stratemeyer standing in front of his cigar and tobacco store at 212 Broad Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey.

My Book Collecting Begins with My Father

Part of the author’s Tom Swift collection.

My discovery of Stratemeyer Syndicate series began with the original Tom Swift series and my father.  On our family bookcase were six or eight of these books from the 1920s and two of them had the paper dust jackets.  

I became interested when I was about eight years of age in 1975 and I remember reading Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone (1914) first.  No small part of this was because of the colorful illustrated dust jacket on this.  For the same reason, Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera (1912) was the second book I read.  Wisely, my father did not let me take these to school to show off that I was reading half-century old books.  

Years later my mom suggested that I “try to finish that collection of Tom Swift books that your dad started.”  She did not realize then what that would lead to — a lifetime of collecting and research on Tom Swift, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, and Edward Stratemeyer himself.

Edward Stratemeyer, Author and Father

Of course Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930) was a father himself of two daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer (1892-1982) and Edna Camilla Stratemeyer (1895-1974).  Although they occasionally helped with Syndicate matters, especially when he worked from his home office or was ill and could not go to his Manhattan office, he seems to have had little idea that either daughter would be interested in continuing the Stratemeyer Syndicate business that he established in 1905 and would run for a quarter century.  

If he was able to look down upon them, it seems likely that he would have been impressed that they carried on the Syndicate and Harriet actively ran it until her own death for more than half a century — double the length of time that he ran it.

Edward’s Father

Edward’s relationship with his own father was an important one to him and it influenced whether he would start a career in writing that would ultimately produce hundreds of books read by millions of people around the world.

Henry Julius Stratemeyer (1816-1891) was born in Hanover, Germany to a father with the same name (born in 1775).  He and his younger brother, George Ernest Stratemeyer (1819-1854), came to the United States.  George was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1839 and “Julius,” as he was known in the family, was naturalized in 1848.

The father that Edward knew in his youth was an older man who ran a prominent tobacco shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey near the multi-track crossing of two major railroad lines that led to New York City.  Reports indicate that more than 700 trains passed this point every day so having a shop for some of the passengers that might stop there was a good choice.  The family lived in a residence above the shop and Edward was born there on October 4, 1862 when his father was 45 years of age. 

Edward was the youngest of six children born to his mother, Anna Siegel Stratemeyer, and this made a considerable difference in the ages of father and son.  For example, when Edward was 16 he graduated from high school in June 1879, Julius was 62.

Tom Swift’s Elderly Father

Tom Swift and his father Barton as seen on Tom Swift and his Chest of Secrets
The dust jacket for Tom Swift and His Chest of Secrets (1925) shows Tom conferring with his father, Barton Swift, at the Swift Construction Company while a spy eavesdrops from the doorway.

It is probably not a coincidence that Tom Swift‘s inventor father, Barton Swift, was referred to as elderly.  He was active in the series but sometimes described as frail and prone to concern about issues like a return of the Happy Harry Gang.  

The outline for the first Tom Swift book indicates that Tom is to be 16 years of age though that is never mentioned in the stories.  Howard R. Garis wrote most of the Tom Swift stories from Edward’s outlines and Stratemeyer edited them so he could easily have had influence on this age difference between Tom and Barton Swift.

Henry Julius Stratemeyer

Julius was a traditional man who always closed his shop on Sundays.  Several of the boys either clerked in this shop or started their own.  

At this later stage in life, he seems to have approved of the value of this kind of work that was steady and likely to provide a living for each of his sons.  Louis Charles Stratemeyer (1856-1905) continued Julius’ store at 212 Broad St (some sources say 212 Morris Ave because the streets joined at this spot) for the remainder of his own life even though he also wrote music, poetry, and even stories as a side line.

And yet, Julius had a time in his own young adulthood where he sought his fortune in California with the Argonauts of ’49.  In 1850 he was listed in the Census and it appears that he spent about two years searching for gold.  He had some success.  After his return to New Jersey, where he married his brother’s widow, some of the articles about marriages indicate that the wedding rings were fashioned from a nugget Julius found.

Edward referred indirectly to his father in the preface for the book edition of Oliver Bright’s Search (1895) as a source of information about gold hunting in that region to lend authority to his story.

Part of the preface for the revised text edition of Oliver Bright’s Search (1899).

Seeking a Father’s Approval

Like many sons, his father’s approval was important.  It was one thing for Edward to engage in amateur printing with friends from his school in the mid-1870s when he was a teen.  However, the thought that Edward could make a living from writing stories seemed improbable.

After managing to sell his first long story, “Victor Horton’s Idea,” to Golden Days, a weekly youth story paper from Philadelphia owned and edited by James Elverson, Edward went downtown to show his father the payment.  The $75 check was a large sum for the time.  Upon seeing this, Julius was said to have remarked:

“Paid you that for writing a story?  You’d better write a lot more for them.”

Edward did and we are all the benefit for this launch of his writing and book-producing career.  

Happy Father’s Day to Henry Julius Stratemeyer, Edward Stratemeyer, and my own father.