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.

The Syndicate

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 TwinsTom 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.]

Stratemeyer, later in life

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+).

MORE ON STRATEMEYER:

Dime Novels and Story Papers

Dime Novels and Story Papers

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A Longed For Adventure—Newark Sunday Call, 29 May 1892

A Longed For Adventure—Newark Sunday Call, 29 May 1892

In the United States the last Monday of May is commemorated as Memorial Day.  It was originally known as Decoration Day to reflect a tradition of...
A Lucky Explosion—Newark Sunday Call, 3 July 1892

A Lucky Explosion—Newark Sunday Call, 3 July 1892

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A Perilous Skate—Newark Sunday Call, 20 Nov 1892

In the 1890s Edward Stratemeyer struck a deal with the editor of the Newark Sunday Call  newspaper to offer occasional short stories.  Most often these we...

Davy's Christmas—Newark Sunday Call, 20 Dec 1891

In addition to writing stories for books, story papers, and dime novel publishers, Edward Stratemeyer wrote a couple dozen short stories for newspapers,...
Ghost of Flydown Hill—Newark Sunday Call, Oct. 21, 1894

Ghost of Flydown Hill—Newark Sunday Call, Oct. 21, 1894

In the 1890s Edward Stratemeyer wrote a series of short stories for the Newark Sunday Call  for young people that were timed to coincide with...
Proving His Worth–Newark Sunday Call, June 30, 1895

Proving His Worth–Newark Sunday Call, June 30, 1895

Three of the holiday-themed short stories Edward Stratemeyer wrote for the Newark Sunday Call  newspaper in the 1890s were timed and themed...
Victor Horton's Idea - Stratemeyer's first professional story

Victor Horton's Idea - Stratemeyer's first professional story

Victor Horton's Idea  was the first professionally published work by Edward Stratemeyer, the creator of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and many...

Edward Stratemeyer, Man of Mystery

The page, adapted from a presentation and academic article, details the history of the mystery genre for Edward Stratemeyer's personal writings and Syndicate...

BLOG POSTS ABOUT STRATEMEYER

Dust jacket for the first Ted Scott volume, Over the Ocean to Paris (1927).

The Ted Scott series takes off

The first volume of the Ted Scott series was an obvious retelling of the first solo Transatlantic flight by Charles A. Lindbergh in May 1927.  From time to time a reference is made to how quickly the story was rushed into print.  An examination of the dates is interesting. Charles Lindbergh departed from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, […]

Anthony Comstock and Traps for the Young

Banned Book Week

The last week in September is considered to be Banned Book Week.  In 2019 this is Sept. 22-28. While you will see lists of many books that have been “challenged” or “censored” over the years, most of the time our juvenile series books are not listed. Yet, the librarians who wanted to impress fellow librarians, […]

Artifact-Dance Card

When Edward Stratemeyer was a young adult, he participated on at least one committee to organize a dance in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Elizabeth, NJ: Red Ribbon Club and Stratemeyer’s Cigar Store On the card above, the location of the Red Ribbon Club Parlors was the corner of Broad and East Grand Streets.  In the 1888 […]

The Gift

Regifting or exchanging a gift is a common activity after the holiday season but it is not especially new. Here is a rare instance when Edward Stratemeyer felt obliged to return a book he received from a publisher.

Under Dewey at Manila by Stratemeyer

Association Copy George Waldo Browne

An association copy is a book whose interest is enhanced by annotations by a creator of the work or one that has been passed from one person to another where the people have a strong connection with the work or the creator’s career overall.  ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter includes this definition and examples: Today Edward […]

Every Boy's Library window display selling books

Are you Prepared for Children’s Book Week? — November 10-15 (1919)

“Safety First Juvenile Book Week” started in 1915 along the lines of “Safe and Sane Fourth of July.” Where one was concerned with injuries from fireworks, the other was obsessed with reading by boys.   By 1919 this had evolved into Children’s Book Week.  The November dates were designed to coincide with holiday purchases of books for young […]

A Ghost Story from Golden Days

1894 Ghost Story by Edward Stratemeyer

Among the least-known form of Edward Stratemeyer’s writings are his short stories for newspapers, especially the Newark Sunday Call.  This weekly from his home town ran a group of stories by Stratemeyer that were timed and themed to the holidays of the year.  With only a local audience in mind, locations known to Newark-area readers were included.  When […]

Pullman Building, New York, Madison Square

Edward Stratemeyer’s New York City

If you want to read more about this topic, see my article “The Metropolitan Streets of the Hardy Boys Mastermind” in Fine Books and Collections Magazine, Spring 2010 Edward Stratemeyer lived for most of his professional life in Newark, New Jersey.  Most of his publishers had offices in nearby New York City.  As Horatio Alger […]

1891 Christmas Story by Stratemeyer

Among the least-known form of Edward Stratemeyer’s writings are his short stories for newspapers, especially the Newark Sunday Call.  This weekly from his home town ran a group of stories by Stratemeyer that were timed and themed to the holidays of the year.  With only a local audience in mind, locations known to Newark-area readers were included.  When […]