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

The Stratemeyer Syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer, proprietor, of Newark, N.J. and New York City, can use the services of several additional writers in the preparation of the Syndicate’s books for boys, books for girls and rapid-fire detective stories.

These stories are all written for the Syndicate on its own titles and outlines and we buy all rights in this material for cash upon acceptance. Rates of payment depend entirely upon the amount of work actually done by a writer and the quality of the same. All stories are issued under established trademarked pen names unless otherwise agreed upon.

At the present time the Syndicate has about five hundred books for boys, books for girls and books for little children on the market, also about twenty detective stories–all issued at a popular price.

The Syndicate books have, of course, nothing to do with Mr. Stratemeyer’s own books for boys which now number over a hundred.

In sending in applications, (to be made by mail only directed to the editorial offices, 315 Fourth Ave., New York City) authors might include a list of stories already issued or send stories, published or otherwise.

All manuscripts submitted will be given careful consideration, and while we will not hold ourselves responsible for manuscripts sent in, we will do our best to have them safely returned. We are particularly anxious to get hold of the younger writers, with fresh ideas in the treatment of stories for boys and girls.

1926 Advertisement in The Editor

After Leslie McFarlane answered an April 1926 advertisement in The Editor for a writing assignment, Edward Stratemeyer wrote back to offer him an opportunity to write a volume in one of two series, either Dave Fearless or Nat Ridley.


  • Edward Stratemeyer to The Editor magazine regarding advertisement to employ new ghostwriters, 26 Mar 1926.
  • Leslie McFarlane to Edward Stratemeyer, 20 Apr 1926. First letter in response to advertisement in The Editor.
  • Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 29 Apr 1926. Stratemeyer’s reply, describing the series for which he wants author.
  • Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 7 May 1926.  “I will let you try your hand at a Dave Fearless yarn.”
  • Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 12 May 1926.  Regarding ch. 1-3 of the Dave Fearless:  “you have done pretty good work.”

McFarland wrote seven volumes in that series, including one, Dave Fearless at Whirlpool Point, which was not published before Stratemeyer gave up on the series due to weak sales.

The Garden City series were stopped due to insufficient sales.  A letter (17 Mar 1926) from the publisher indicated that the print runs of the books were:  Movie BoysDave FearlessNat Ridley 12,000 copies; Frank Allen 14,000 copies. 

The Syndicate’s Most Popular Mysteries

Stratemeyer next gave McFarlane a chance to write the first Hardy Boys volume.

Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew
Early examples of two of the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s most successful mysteries.

Today, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are seen as some of the longest-lived and most-successful juvenile series books. Indeed, the character names are household words in the United States and in many other countries, and the characters have appeared on film and television as well as in hundreds of printed books. They became so successful that some people think that they were instantaneous successes which were published as a result of the growing American interest in the mystery genre.

The mystery genre did become the major product of the Stratemeyer Syndicate with several other series created to attempt to duplicate the success of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, including the Dana GirlsKay Tracey, the Bobbsey Twins, and the Happy Hollisters.

However, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series had humble beginnings, especially when compared with their own success in later decades. Recently revealed sales figures for 1925 to 1935. (Sales prospectus for the Stratemeyer Syndicate (prepared in 1930 and royalty statements from the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records Collection held by the New York Public Library as analyzed by Frank Kreiger and shared with this author) show that while the Hardy Boys held their own in sales, they were not as successful as some of their contemporaries.

As seen in the sales figures, the Hardy Boys series’ sales were about one half that of the other “Franklin W. Dixon” series, Ted Scott. This is not unusual considering the public interest in Charles Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight which was the model for the first volume. The years before the Great Depression saw a general increase in overall and per-volume sales of Syndicate series books. Stratemeyer also increased the amount he paid to his writers during this period as a result.

Sales of Some Popular Stratemeyer Syndicate Series, 1925-1935, Average Sales Per Volume

Bobbsey Twins19,20319,16819,34419,49718,619      
Tom Swift16,90718,55318,82117,46514,397      
Ted Scott  17,79121,78820,57514,4188,7024,5442,4383,0722,457
Hardy Boys  9,4169,8069,9619,6978,5937,4794,0075,6635,228

However, as the Great Depression took hold at the same time when Stratemeyer’s daughters were struggling to take over their father’s business, sales declined precipitously. The Syndicate lowered the commission for hardcover books from $150 down to $85. The reason for this was that the Syndicate’s income from these series dropped both in terms of average sales per volume and in total sales for a given year.

The next table shows the cumulative sale for the Ted Scott and Hardy Boys volumes. The Syndicate’s income from each volume was two cents (4%) for the first 10,000 volumes for books published in 1930 and later. Above 10,000 cumulative sales the royalty rate rose to 2.5 cents (5%).

The Ted Scott and Hardy Boys Series, 1927-1935, Total Sales Per Year

Ted Scott  71,163152,513205,748187,435121,82172,71039,00552,22744,122
Hardy Boys  28,24758,83679,69087,27485,38874,79440,07256,62647,051

By April 1934, when Ayres Brinser’s anonymous article was published in Fortune, “For It Was Indeed He,” sales of Nancy Drew volumes exceeded that of the bestselling boys’ series of the time. However, this was in the middle of the Great Depression and no one could imagine the tremendous sales which would come a generation and nearly twenty years later when the parents of the Baby Boomers purchased series books in record numbers.

Stratemeyer’s Earlier Mysteries

Edward Stratemeyer’s connection to the mystery genre began much earlier, however. His first experiment was a short serial called “Revenge! or, the Newsboy’s Adventure” of which the first installment was published in his small amateur story paper called Our Friend in August 1876 when Stratemeyer was just thirteen years old.

By 1892, Stratemeyer’s professional writing career was well under way and he was producing dime novel mysteries for Street & Smith. Between 1892 and 1895 he wrote 22 stories in the Nick Carter Library. [Stratemeyer wrote the stories in the Nick Carter Library issues 40, 41, 43, 46, 67, 76, 77, 78, 79, 83, 85, 99, 112, 160, 166, 172, 195, 197, 198, 205, 207, 211 along with other dime novels in Street & Smith’s Log Cabin Library and New York Five Cent Library under numerous house pseudonyms.]

Amateur Story Paper Our Friend with Stratemeyer story
An amateur story paper fragment printed by Edward Stratemeyer containing his anonymous contribution, a story that promised to be at least related to a detective story.

Around the same time, he was offering somewhat similar stories to one of Street & Smith’s major competitors, Norman L. Munro, in the form of dime novel mysteries published in the Old Cap Collier Library under a personal pseudonym of “Ed Strayer.” The connection of these eleven stories to Stratemeyer was made in a discovery in 1987 by Peter C. Walther among copyright transfers on file at the Copyright Office. [5. Walther, Peter C.  Newsboy 26:3 (Nov-Dec 1987).] [Note: Most of the other stories in the Old Cap Collier Library were purchased by Norman L. Munro for his Golden Hours story paper.]

These records show that Stratemeyer purchased the stories on 20 Jun 1902 for $220.00. [seen in Copyright Transfers, volume 27, page 509.  United States Copyright Office, Washington, D.C.]

Over the years, Stratemeyer made many attempts to sell the stories. Shortly after this purchase, Stratemeyer rewrote one of these stories, “Vasco the Magician Detective” into “The Mystery of the Limited Express” by “Ed Strayer” which was published in People’s Literary Companion in April 1906.

Walther’s 1987 article was followed by the realization by Deidre Johnson in 1988 that these stories were reused as plots in the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s Nat Ridley Rapid-Fire Detective Stories series which were published by Garden City in 1926 and 1927. [see Johnson, Deidre.  “Early and Miscellaneous Writings by Edward Stratemeyer.” DNRU 552 (aug. 1988), p. 60-62.] This was additional evidence to show that Stratemeyer never allowed any of his literary properties to remain idle if he could help it.

Perhaps we should have known all along that Stratemeyer was involved in these stories since Old Cap Collier was mentioned as one of his writing venues in the Fortune article which used material supplied by his daughters, Edna Stratemeyer and Harriet S. Adams. [Ayers Brinser corresponded numerous times with Edward Stratemeyer’s daughters.  Copies of these letters are held in the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records Collection at New York Public Library.  The letters from the Syndicate to Brinser are dated 25 Nov 1933, 19 Jan 1934, 26 Feb 1934, 6 Apr 1934 and Brinser to the Syndicate dated 15 Nov 1933.]

When Dr. Johnson’s article was published, access to the Stratemeyer Syndicate business records was only a distant dream and the connections had to be made the hard way, by comparing the “Ed Strayer” stories with the “Nat Ridley” ones. At the time of publication, she accurately attributed the use of “Jack Sharpley” but the assertion could not be proven because the original Old Cap Collier text was not available.

Old Cap Collier stories by
Edward Stratemeyer as “Ed Strayer”
Based on a list in The Dime Novel Round-Up 
issue 552 (August 1988).

#4486 Aug 1892“Dash Dare the Detective”NR #1
45815 Oct 1892“Dash Dare on His Mettle” 
#47321 Jan 1892“Jack Sharpley, the Always-Ready DetectiveNR #5
#5608 Sep 1894“Dash Dare on Time”NR #3
#6048 Sep 1894“Dash Dare’s Man Hunt”NR #2
#62714 Dec 1895“Dash Dare on Stage”NR #7
#6616 Jun 1896“Old Spangle, the Circus Detective”NR #8
#7046 Jun 1897“Battery Boice, the Electrician Detective”NR #10
#7245 Jun 1897“Waldo, the Wizard Detective”NR #9
#73722 Jan 1898“Placer Dan, the Yukon Detective”NR #6
#75711 Jan 1898“Vasco, the Magician Detective”NR #4
Dash Dare on the Stage
Dash Dare on the Stage in the Old Cap Collier Library dime novel series became Nat Ridley #7.

Nat Ridley Rapid-Fire Detective Stories series

  SourceGhostRelease DatePublished
1Guilty or Not GuiltyOCC #448HRG24 Nov 19252 Jan 1926
2Tracked to the WestOCC #604HOS23 Nov 192521 Jan 1926
3In the Nick of TimeOCC #560HRG20 Nov 192521 Feb 1926
4The Crime on the LimitedOCC #757HRG28 Nov 192521 Mar 1926
5A Daring AbductionOCC #473RCG22 Dec 192521 Apr 1926
6The Stolen Nuggets of GoldOCC #737HRG21 Jan 192621 May 1926
7A Secret of the StageOCC #627HRG17 Feb 192621 Jun 1926
8The Great Circus MysteryOCC #661HRG8 Mar 192621 Jul 1926
9A Scream in the DarkOCC #724HRG30 Mar 192621 Aug 1926
10The Race Track CrooksOCC #704HRG27 May 192621 Sep 1926
11The Stolen Liberty Bondsnew outlineHRG30 Jun 192621 Oct 1926
12In the Grip of the Kidnappersnew outlineHRG17 Jul 192621 Nov 1926
13The Double Daggernew outlineHRG29 Sep 192621 Dec 1926
14The Mountain Inn Mysterynew outlineHRG7 Oct 192621 Jan 1927
15The Western Express Robberynew outlineRCG29 Oct 192621 Feb 1927
16Struck Down at Midnightnew outlineRCG19 Nov 1926not published
17Detective Against Detectivenew outline not writtennot published
Nat Ridley Secret of the Stage
Nat Ridley #7 was rewritten by Howard R. Garis from “Dash Dare on the Stage,” an Old Cap Collier dime novel.

New York Public Library Records Help Research

However, now we have access to more than 300 archive boxes filled with letters and other business records which can definitively answer questions which could be only speculated upon previously. The releases at NYPL [The Stratemeyer Syndicate Records Collection at New York Public Library] are an unparalleled resource which was donated by Simon & Schuster who acquired the materials along with the purchase of the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1984. 

Initially the materials were inventoried and then stored in Bristol, Pennsylvania warehouse for a decade.  Perhaps it was not a mere coincidence that the materials were donated less than a year after a question about scholarly access to the materials was raised at the 1993 Nancy Drew Conference at the University of Iowa. 

The donation was followed by a period of waiting until funding could be arranged to pay for the cataloging and preservation of the materials.  This funding was generously provided by Chubb Insurance and the materials became available to scholars in the Fall of 1998. 

While the collection is far from complete, it represents the largest group of materials available about the Stratemeyer Syndicate and the process of uncovering its many secrets will keep us busy for many years to come.

The releases at NYPL for the Nat Ridley series confirm the connection to the Old Cap Collier stories and reveal some interesting details.

Nat Ridley adapted from Old Cap Collier stories

Stratemeyer’s good friend and the most prolific ghostwriter for the Syndicate, Howard Garis, adapted most of the Old Cap Collier stories into Nat Ridley yarns. This was apparently easy work for him since he completed three of these in a one-week period in late November 1925.

One rewrite was completed by his son, Roger Garis, as his first Syndicate assignment. Years later when Roger wrote his memoir, My Father Was Uncle Wiggily (McGraw-Hill, 1966), he described how he was assigned to rewrite a dime novel called “The Buffalo Hunters” into a volume in the X-Bar-X Boys series. [see Garis, Roger C.  My Father Was Uncle Wiggily (McGraw-Hill, 1966).  p. 148-153.] 

Stratemeyer wrote to Roger Garis (24 Jun 1926) and stated that he preferred having writers “close by” and went on to mention that he had a writer in New Orleans (J.F. Carter) and one in far Ontario (McFarlane).  Stratemeyer had occasion to complain about Garis’ use of gambling in an X-Bar-X Boys story (29 Jul 1926).

Roger wrote the first six volumes in this series but none of the correspondence mentions a dime novel rewrite like the letters for the Nat Ridley rewrites do. Also, part of the NYPL collection are full outlines for each of the X-Bar-X Boys volumes. Finally, none of the literary properties owned by Stratemeyer was called “The Buffalo Hunters.” The closest example was a single volume, The Trail Boys of the Plains; or, The Hunt for the Big Buffalo (Sully, 1915), by “Jay Winthrop Allen” (W. Bert Foster).

This suggests that Roger misreported which series volume was rewritten from a dime novel either due to a faulty memory or because he thought that the hardcover X-Bar-X Boys series was more recognizable than the Nat Ridley series of pulp paperbacks.

Trail Boys of the Plains
The Trail Boys of the Plains was ghostwritten by W. Bert Foster. It was intended as the first book in a series but the expensive volume from Dodd, Mead did not get much sale in 1915.

As each Old Cap Collier story was rewritten to become a volume in the Nat Ridley series, Stratemeyer prepared a list of name changes for the characters and a page of plot and structure changes.

Nat Ridley instructions for rewrite
Instructions for ghostwriters to rewrite Old Cap Collier Library dime novels into Nat Ridley Rapid-Fire Detective stories.

Harriet Otis Smith, Secretary–part of the mystery legacy

Perhaps the greatest surprise in the NYPL archive was the discovery that Miss Harriet Otis Smith, Stratemeyer’s secretary, was responsible for one of the Nat Ridley rewrites. Prior to 1914, Stratemeyer had conducted most of his Syndicate business from a home office in the upstairs portion of his home in the Roseville section of Newark, New Jersey. During that period he employed an outside proofreader, Louis H. Patterson of Maplewood, to help with reading the manuscripts.

Release for Nat Ridley signed by Harriet Otis Smith
Release signed by Edward Stratemeyer’s secretary, Harriet Otis Smith for one of the Nat Ridley rewrites.

Smith first contacted Stratemeyer in April 1914 with an unsolicited manuscript called “The M.R.D.T. in the Kentucky Mountains.” In the letter, she stated that she also did typewriting and dictation. In his reply, he asked if she had ever taken down stories of 4,000 to 5,000 words a day. [Edward Stratemeyer to Harriet Otis Smith, 28 Apr 1914.]

She replied affirmatively. Stratemeyer opened his office at Madison Square in the Pullman Building in mid-October 1914. This placed him closer to the various publishers’ offices in New York City who published his books.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate offices had several addresses in New York City around the same location:

1914  17 Madison Ave, 12th Floor, Rooms 1204 & 1205.
1920  25 E. 24th St., 9th Floor  (20 Apr 1920)
1922  25 E. 24th St., 13th Floor  (10 Aug 1922)
1925  315 4th Ave (at 24th St.)  (21 Jan 1925, 1 Feb 1925, 28 May 1925, 4 Mar 1929)]

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Nat Ridley’s office in the stories was at Times Square, fairly close to Madison Square? When Stratemeyer made the offer to Smith he stated, “possibly I might be able to try you on original work, as you stated that was what you some-day hoped to do.”

Pullman Building, New York, Madison Square
Edward Stratemeyer’s first New York City office was in the Pullman Building overlooking Madison Square Park. The domed building on the right is Dr. Parkhurst’s Church. The tall tower center-left is the Madison Square Garden building as designed by Stanford White.

Smith proved to be a very capable assistant. In addition to taking down Stratemeyer’s correspondence, outlines and stories by dictation, which he praised highly for her ability to transcribe dialogue including dialect, she also read the stories and prepared summaries so he could ensure that the ghostwriters were following the outlines supplied. Stratemeyer stopped using outside proofreaders at this point.

Harriet Otis Smith ran the Syndicate offices during Stratemeyer’s vacations and provided him with valuable insights, as reflected in the letters written to him during these annual respites.

Smith continued to run the office after his death while Stratemeyer’s daughters handled the details of the estate and tried unsuccessfully to sell the company. When the sisters made a decision to move the Syndicate offices to New Jersey at the end of 1930, she resigned not wanting to commute each day from New York city.

The sisters hired Agnes Irene Pearson Albaugh (1901-1989) but they heard from Miss Smith from time to time and she even referred some ghostwriters to the Syndicate, including Grace May North Monfort (1876-1960), who wrote some volumes in the X-Bar-X Boys series. [Volumes 14, 16, 17.]

After ten of the eleven Old Cap Collier stories had been adapted into Nat Ridleys, Stratemeyer asked Howard Garis to write additional stories based on full outlines. Later Roger Garis wrote two of these, including one which was not published.

Chester K. Steele and Thomas K. Holmes – mysteries aimed at adults, not boys

One of the unanswered questions was why “Dash Dare on His Mettle,” a story which was modeled loosely on the Lizzie Borden murder case, was not used as a Nat Ridley.

It turns out that the story had already been adapted into a book several years before and was presumably still in print in a reprint edition as The Mansion of Mystery by “Chester K. Steele.” [Cupples & Leon, 1911.  Another title, “The Disappearance of John Darr,” was advertised in the original edition of The Mansion of Mystery but was not published.  It it unclear if this was going to be a new story or another rewrite from one of the Old Cap Collier stories that Stratemeyer wrote and controlled.]

When Stratemeyer’s rewrite of his Old Cap Collier story was published by Cupples & Leon in 1911, he was trying to branch out into the field of novels for adults. At the same time, he issued a book called Jess of Harbor Hill, the first volume in the Harbor Hill Romances, through the same publisher. 

The Mansion of Mystery was also to be the first in a series, to be followed by The Disappearance of John Darr. [Edward Stratemeyer to Cupples & Leon, 21 Jan 1911.]

Mansion of Mystery
The first edition of The Mansion of Mystery (Cupples & Leon, 1911) on the left and the cheap 1930s reprint for the dime-store market published under the International Fiction Library imprint of World Syndicate of Cleveland.

Howard Garis wrote two mysteries under the “Chester K. Steele” name based on Stratemeyer’s outlines, The Diamond Cross Mystery (Sully, 1918) and The Golf Course Mystery (Sully, 1919). However, neither of these stories were very good. In fact, when W. Bert Foster reviewed one of these at Stratemeyer’s request, he commented that

the young man is beginning to draw character pretty well; yet he gets off the track a good deal. That is lack of experience. He introduces people and incidents without seeing how they will “finish.” …I really believe this writer will some day turn out a first-class story.

Chester K Steele Mysteries
Two “Chester K. Steele” mysteries by Garis, The Golf Course Mystery (1919) and The Diamond Cross Mystery (1918).

Nearly a decade later, Foster wrote three Steele stories which were first published in Detective Story magazine: The Crime At Red Towers (E.J. Clode, 1927), The House of Disappearances (Chelsea House, 1927), and The Great Radio Mystery (Chelsea House, 1928). These stories were published in Detective Story as serials:

“The House of Disappearances,”  7 parts (22 Oct -3 Dec 1921).
“The Great Radio Mystery,”  6 parts (22 Jul – 26 Aug 1922).
“The Crime at Red Towers,”  5 parts (4 Aug – 1 Sep 1923).

Chester K. Steele mysteries
Two “Chester K. Steele” mysteries by Foster, The Crime at Red Towers (1927) and The Great Radio Mystery (1928).

In addition to these published “Chester K. Steele” stories, another Syndicate ghostwriter, Elizabeth Duffield Ward, wrote two drafts of a manuscript called “In the Lightning Flash” in 1922. Stratemeyer could not find a book or magazine publisher for this story. [Two manuscripts of this story may be found.  One is at the University of Oregon at Eugene in special collections related to the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  The other copy is located at New York Public Library in the Stratemeyer Syndicate Records Collection.]

Shortly after he turned in the initial Hardy Boys stories in February 1927, Leslie McFarlane was asked to write a story called “The Mystery Ranch” which was to be published in a pulp magazine and eventually in book form under the “Thomas K. Holmes” pseudonym, a name used for three other western stories for adults. [On 15 Mar 1927 Stratemeyer wrote that he wanted “Mystery Ranch” to be a “strong up-to-date yarn for men and women—not boys.”  He added on 23 March, “owing to criticisms being made on Sinclair Lewis’s ‘Elmer Gentry,’ I wish you to emphasize the fact that the pretended minister in ‘Mystery Ranch’ is an imposter.”]

After McFarlane completed the manuscript, it was offered to several magazines without success. Stratemeyer even let McFarlane offer it to the magazines with whom he had contact. After Stratemeyer died in May 1930, McFarlane returned the manuscript to the Syndicate.

Birth of the Hardy Boys

As stated at the beginning, Edward Stratemeyer’s most enduring connection to the mystery genre is through the long-running Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. The Hardy Boys were proposed to Grosset & Dunlap in August 1926 as negotiations with Garden City for the Nat Ridley and other paperback series were underway.

When he made the proposal for the Hardy Boys, there was a growing interest among the reading public for mystery stories and Stratemeyer felt that young people would enjoy them as much as adults did. There were special considerations for these stories imposed by Alexander Grosset. Subtitles were discontinued, specific references to crimes would be avoided in the titles, and the types of crimes would be limited.

The initial three titles were chosen in early September and Stratemeyer sent the outlines to Leslie McFarlane in early November 1926, after he had finished the manuscript for Dave Fearless and the Lost Brig which was the last published volume. Another manuscript, “Dave Fearless at Whirlpool River,” was written by McFarlane but not published.

After receiving the manuscript for the first Hardy Boys volume, The Tower Treasure, Stratemeyer wrote to McFarlane to tell him about changes which might influence the other volumes he was writing. The size of Bayport would go from 100,000 down to 50,000. He also complimented McFarlane, “it was a good idea to have Chet get off some of his jokes in the early part of the book.” [Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 7 Jan 1927.]

When Stratemeyer received the published versions of the first three Hardy Boys books, he complained to Grosset & Dunlap that he didn’t like the dark blue ink in the sky on the dust jacket of The Tower Treasure. He also spotted a typographical error in The Secret of the Old Mill. [Edward Stratemeyer to Grosset & Dunlap, 3 May 1927.] He outlined six more volumes in the series which were written by McFarlane.

Ghostwriters: Leslie McFarlane and Midred Augustine (Wirt Benson)

Mildred Augustine (1905-2002) began writing for Stratemeyer in 1926. She replied to the same advertisement that McFarlane saw in The Editor. Her first work for the Syndicate was to continue the Ruth Fielding series begun by W. Bert Foster.

Both Leslie McFarlane and Mildred Augustine were young people and they shared the milestones in their lives with Stratemeyer. In return, he congratulated McFarlane on willing the MacLean’s literary prize [Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 17 May 1927.], his theatrical venture [Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 16 Jun 1927.], his marriage and success with Mystery Stories magazine [Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 10 Apr 1928.], and the birth of his daughter.[Edward Stratemeyer to Leslie McFarlane, 25 Mar 1929.]  

Similarly, he offered to congratulations to Mildred Augustine upon her masters degree received from the University of Iowa [Edward Stratemeyer to Mildred Augustine, 8 Jun 1927.] and her marriage. [Edward Stratemeyer to Mrs. A.A. Wirt, 19 May 1928.]

Stratemeyer had extensive criticisms for Mildred Augustine’s first Ruth Fielding volume. By the second volume, Ruth Fielding at Cameron Hall, he praised her stating that it was “quite good—better than the first one” but added that it was too short and requested more material. [Edward Stratemeyer to Mildred Augustine, 26 Jul 1927.]  

Despite this, it is clear that Stratemeyer had a good overall opinion of her writing ability. When offering a new series to Barse & Hopkins, the unpublished “Rose Ella” series, he stated that he had “in mind one of our younger writers.” [Edward Stratemeyer to Barse & Hopkins, 28 Jun 1927.]

The Birth of Nancy Drew

Stratemeyer offered several new series ideas, including a “Stella Strong” [Edward Stratemeyer to Barse & Co., 1 Apr 1929] series to Barse & Co. and later to Grosset & Dunlap [Edward Stratemeyer to Grosset & Dunlap, 30 Sep 1929], and a “Nellie Fay” series to Grosset & Dunlap [Edward Stratemeyer to Grosset & Dunlap, 19 Jul 1929].  

In examining the proposals for these series, it is clear that there are some elements which made their way to the Nancy Drew series but these series were not primarily intended to be mysteries.

When proposing the “Stella Strong” series to Grosset & Dunlap, one suggested title was “The Secret of the Twin Towers.” [Edward Stratemeyer to Grosset & Dunlap, 30 Sep 1929]  One primary consideration in his negotiations with Alexander Grosset was that the new series feature a sole heroine rather than an ensemble. [Edward Stratemeyer to Grosset & Dunlap, 30 Aug 1929.]

The character named “Nancy Drew” and the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene” were selected by October 1, 1929 when Stratemeyer sent in the proposal for this series. The first outline was sent to Mildred Wirt two days later. [Edward Stratemeyer to Grosset & Dunlap, 1 Oct 1929, Edward Stratemeyer to Mildred Wirt, 3 Oct 1929.]

A popular legend surrounding the Nancy Drew series indicated that Stratemeyer was “bitterly disappointed” with Wirt’s treatment of the character in the first Nancy Drew story. [This appears in a few sources but the most detailed is derived from an interview with Mildred Wirt Benson by Linnea Martin, “The Ghost in the Attic,” Hiram Magazine, Summer 1988.]

However, there is no indication of this in the correspondence of the period. He acknowledged receipt of the manuscript for The Secret of the Old Clock on November 8 and sent an outline for the second volume on December 3. The outline for the third volume was send on December 11.

Although the correspondence with authors from this period include many criticisms of submitted manuscripts, no such complaint is present for the Nancy Drew series and Wirt was not asked to rewrite the story nor was there any indication that she would not write the next volume were it not for the intervention of the publisher, Grosset & Dunlap.

The Legacy of Edward Stratemeyer

By May 6, 1930, Stratemeyer’s assistant, Harriet Otis Smith, wrote to one of the Syndicate’s publishers to declare that Stratemeyer was very ill. He died on May 10. Smith wrote the full outline for the fourth Nancy Drew volume based on Stratemeyer’s paragraph-length title proposal which was approved by Grosset & Dunlap. Smith sent the outline to Mildred Wirt on June 3. Smith’s outline for the fifth volume was sent on July 7.

Meanwhile, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and her sister, Edna Stratemeyer, were busy settling the accounts of the estate of their father and considering who might buy the company. There was doubt among the sisters and Smith whether a young man named Wallace Palmer of Independence, Missouri, could raise $2,000 to buy the Syndicate.

Realizing that they could neither abandon their father’s business nor sell it, they made arrangements to continue it. They chose to move the offices nearer their home in Newark, New Jersey. The sisters did not do any actual writing until Edna wrote one of the Kay Tracey series volumes in 1940. This series for Cupples & Leon was begun the same year as the Dana Girls series for Grosset & Dunlap. This was possible because of the rising sales for Nancy Drew and other series, despite the Great Depression.

Stratemeyer’s literary legacy can be evaluated from several aspects but perhaps none of the works he was involved with over a span of nearly 55 years of amateur and professional writing and editing was as significant, in the long run, as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.