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The Tom Swift Books

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If you were a child growing up in the United States during the 20th Century, chances are you may have read books from the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

Edward Stratemeyer put together a team of writers who, especially in the first half of the century, produced a large number of series for children, primarily boys. The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew (their most successful offerings for small children and girls, respectively), the Hardy Boys, Don Sturdy, and the X-Bar-X Boys are just a sampling of the Syndicate's output. The most popular series (and most collectable today) are the Tom Swift books, which cover 95 books and four different Toms.

Tom Swift wasn't merely an inventor; he was a genius. The ultimate lesson of the books is simple; hard work and clean living makes for success. Whatever the problem, however formidable the opposition, Tom could always triumph with time and effort. Not exactly an original formula; but it has been a long-term winner for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Let's look at the series.

The Tom Swift Series

The Tom Swift Series accounts for 38 volumes, published from 1910 to 1935. A Syndicate pseudonym, Victor Appleton, is credited as author. Most of the books were written by Howard Garis, best known for his Uncle Wiggly books. Tom, his friend Ned Newton, Tom's girlfriend Mary Nestor, and others are featured. Tom's inventions may seem quaint today - a giant searchlight, a camera, a motorcycle - but they did the trick at the time. The series' popularity is thought to have waned because Tom married Mary in a late book and from then on chastity was more rigidly enforced. The greatest drawback for modern readers is embodied in Eradicate Sampson, a black character who is too often portrayed as a Stepin Fetchit1 stereotype.

The Tom Swift Jr Series

The Tom Swift Jr Series numbers 33 volumes, published from 1954 to 1971, credited to Victor Appleton II. James Lawrence was the primary writer. Tom and Mary have a teenaged son, Tom Jr, who greatly benefits from the huge industrial empire built up by his father. With his friend Bud Barclay, his sister Sandra, and Ned Newton's daughter, Phyllis, Tom invents spacecraft, robots, and even makes contact with aliens from another solar system. In keeping with the Cold War ethos, Tom often has to face the foreign agents of Brungaria, a nation intent on world domination. Foreigners are suspect, and espionage rampant. The peculiar charm of the first series is updated and maintained in these books.

The Later Series

The third series consists of 11 volumes, published from 1981-1984. William Rotsler and Sharman DiVono collaborated on the first six. Continuity is slowly being abandoned. Victor Appleton is back as the credited author. The hero is not Tom III, but merely Tom Swift. What happened to his ancestors?

The fourth series ran for 13 volumes in 1991-1993, and is again credited to Victor Appleton. No one author wrote more than three or four books. It is a Tom Swift series by virtue of the fact that the hero is named Tom Swift.

1Stepin Fetchit was a black comic vaudeville character played by the actor Lincoln Theodore Monroe Perry, who later went on to star in many Hollyood productions.

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