This post was written on the 155th anniversary of Edward Stratemeyer’s birthday.
Edward Stratemeyer was born on October 4, 1862 in Elizabeth, New Jersey to Henry Julius Stratemeyer and Anna Siegel Stratemeyer. He was the youngest of six children born to Anna. His three oldest half-brothers were fathered by George Edward Stratemeyer before he died of cholera in 1854.
Amateur printing and early writing
In the mid- and late-1870s, Edward experimented with amateur printing for stories he wrote or copied from other sources. Often the equipment was owned by an acquaintance who lived nearby based on the addresses in the extant pieces. This work helped him later in life when he was dealing directly with some typesetters and publishers.
Writing his first professional story – written in a tobacco store?
Several members of the family worked in tobacco stores, either the one conducted by Henry Julius Stratemeyer Sr. at the railroad crossing or the one owned initially by Henry Julius Stratemeyer Jr. and Maurice Henry Stratemeyer and later by Maurice alone at 31 Broad Street. Edward worked at each of them as needed.
Of course, the usual myth about Edward is that he wrote his first long story for publication, “Victor Horton’s Idea” at his brother’s store. However, his own “Literary Account Books” state that this first story was written “at home” when the family was living at 24 Palmer Street in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Other stories were indeed written in his brother Maurice’s store at 31 Broad Street, just not this first one.
Writing on Brown Wrapping Paper
The other part of the myth is that he wrote the story on “brown wrapping paper” in pencil and sent that copy in. However, two copies of the manuscript exist. One is on yellow paper which is about the thickness of “construction paper” used in elementary schools today. The story, by “Arthur M. Winfield,” was written in pencil on that copy. However, the one that was turned in was recopied on good paper in ink.
“Victor Horton’s Idea” was published in five weekly installments in the Philadelphia story paper, Golden Days, that was owned and edited by James Elverson. Later, when Edward wanted to buy the story back for some potential reuse, Elverson declined on multiple occasions. Even after Elverson died, his son also declined Edward’s request. As a result, Edward was never able to publish it as a book, perhaps in an expanded form. Some of the themes, including the attitude toward “dime novels,” were reused in other short stories such as “A Longed-For Adventure.”
Dime Novels and Story Papers
In addition to writing story paper serials for Golden Days, Argosy, Good News, Golden Hours and other similar publications, Edward was also obliged by the publishers of these to write stories which might generically be called “dime novels” or “nickel library” stories. Most of these sold for 5 cents, hence the latter moniker. Only a few of his longer stories sold for 10 cents. He wrote about 90 of these, often very quickly, to fit the requirements of theme and style for publishers like Street & Smith, Norman L. Munro, and Beadle and Adams.
Some of Edward’s story paper fiction became his first hardcover books. One of these was a serial for Argosy called “Richard Dare’s Venture” which was published by Merriam in 1894 with the same title. The story features a young man who searches for work in New York City and eventually lands a role where he achieves success by creating compelling window displays for a stationery store.
A Stationery Store and Writing
For a brief time, Edward owned a stationery store himself in Newark, New Jersey. Like his father’s tobacco store, he chose a location near the busy railroad station for one of the lines that fed into New York City.
According to his Literary Account Books, Edward wrote some stories in the store at 427 Broad Street, Newark, New Jersey. “Richard Dare’s Venture” was written earlier, partly at home and at his brother Maurice’s tobacco and music store at 31 Broad Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Perhaps in researching the story he thought that having such a store would suit him and provide a place for writing. The one story noted as being written in his stationery store was “True to Himself” which was serialized in Argosy in 1891 and later published in book form.
Writing Success Begins
By 1898, Edward began to have some success in writing manuscripts specifically for book publication. An unpublished manuscript of a long science fiction story, “Beyond the Edge of the World,” was written in 1891 but he could not secure a publisher for it. A posthumous edition was produced by our 24 Palmer Street Press.
The first story written for book publication was sold outright to Estes & Lauriat, the first of two volumes he wrote in the Minute Boys series in 1898. When he declined to write any further volumes, the publisher, then Dana Estes, hired “James Otis” (James Otis Kaler) to continue the series and add several volumes, much to Edward’s frustration.
Around this time he also made a connection with Warren F. Gregory of Lee and Shepard of Boston, the firm which would publish most of the books under his own name. These expensive books for the time did not sell in very large numbers. Even his “best seller,” Under Dewey at Manila (Lee & Shepard, 1898), sold only around 6,000 copies in the first year when it was nearest the Spanish American War events that inspired it.
In the following year, Edward wrote and published the first three volumes in his first truly successful series, the Rover Boys. These were published by Mershon of Rahway, New Jersey. The series resonated with readers with stories of school, sports, adventure, and business. Edward wrote 30 volumes between 1899 and 1926 and the series continued to sell after his death.
Among Edward’s other personal series for Lothrop, Lee & Shepard was the 15-volume Dave Porter series (1905-1919). This had some success but the high prices for the new volumes limited their sale. Only when they were reissued in the “special edition” at popular prices (still higher than the Rover Boys) did the books sell in larger numbers.
The Stratemeyer Syndicate Founded in 1905
Also in 1905, Edward formalized his Stratemeyer Syndicate. He had acted previously as a literary agent, buying the book rights for serial stories and manuscripts and arranging for book publication.
However, he started two series for the book packager organization which established his greatest literary legacy. The first two series, with volumes published in 1906, were the Ralph of the Railroad series and the Motor Boys series for two different publishers. Several other volumes were also published in 1906 by the Syndicate but these had the publisher agreements, outlines, and manuscripts done in 1905.
Stratemeyer’s Literary Legacy
Eventually the literary legacy of Edward Stratemeyer would include many popular series produced through his Stratemeyer Syndicate would include the Bobbsey Twins (1904), Tom Swift (1910), the Hardy Boys (1927), and Nancy Drew (1930).
Edward wrote or was closely associated with 168 books. However, in addition to this, he wrote many stories for the story papers, dime novels, and even several short stories. A good number of these were under personal or house pen names.
The Stratemeyer Syndicate continued after Edward’s death in May 1930 by his daughters.
Of course, the literary accomplishments are only a part of his legacy. His daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Edna Camilla Stratemeyer Squier, extended both his family and even his Syndicate. Indeed, Harriet ran her father’s company for more than 50 years, double the amount of time that Edward was alive to run it.
Any way you look at it, Edward had an impressive legacy so it is appropriate to celebrate him on his birthday for his many achievements.