Who Was Edward Stratemeyer?

CULTURE | December 1, 2019

Edward Stratemeyer. Source: (stratemeyer.org)

Most people are familiar with the fictional characters of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. However, the name Edward Stratemeyer is less likely to ring a bell. So they would probably be surprised to learn that Stratemeyer was the man responsible for creating the aforementioned characters, whose books were published under the pen names Carol Keene and Franklin W. Dixon, respectively. Referred to as a children’s literature tycoon, Stratemeyer was both an author and a businessman, and he was responsible for many children’s books still popular today.

Stratemeyer was born on October 3, 1862, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was the youngest of six children born to German immigrants, though he was raised speaking English. He was an avid reader from an early age, with a particular interest in the stories of William T. Adams, who wrote under the pen name Oliver Optic, and Horatio Alger, Jr. As a teenager, these stories inspired Stratemeyer to write similar tales of his own. Between 1876 and 1877, his stories appeared in small papers such as Our Friend and The Young American. Even at this age, he liked to use pseudonyms, one of which was Ed Ward.

Nancy Drew book cover. Source: (pinterest.com)

After high school, he worked in his father’s tobacco store while using the basement of the store to open his own amateur printing press and publishing several short stories including “The Newsboy’s Adventure” and “The Tale of a Lumberman.” He sold his first story, “Victor Horton’s Idea” to the periodical Golden Days in 1889. He later moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he opened a paper shop while continuing to write stories in various genres and having them published in periodicals. In 1893, he was hired to write for the Street & Smith periodical Good News, eventually working as an editor as well.

Hardy Boys book cover. Source: (hardyboyscasefiles.com)

In 1894, he began to publish hardcover novels, beginning with Richard Dare’s Venture. His first four books were published by Merriam before the company collapsed due to the economic depression of the late 1890s. Undeterred, Stratemeyer continued writing and by 1897 had published twelve more titles through a new publisher, W. L. Allison. Some of these were published under Stratemeyer’s real name but he was also using pseudonyms during this time.

Horatio Alger Jr. Source: (thefamouspeople.com)

In the late 1890s, Stratemeyer had the honor of being asked to write as his favorite authors from childhood. He was first asked by Horatio Alger, Jr., whose declining health prevented him from writing or typing, to help finish one of his stories. However, Stratemeyer did not begin working with Alger until 1899, a year after he had also been asked to finish a Civil War series begun by Oliver Optic, who had died before completing the series.

Tom Swift series. Source: (stratemeyer.org)

Perhaps it was this experience with ghostwriting which led him to create the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate in 1905. At this time, Stratemeyer began hiring writers to complete novels based on his ideas and outlines. The novels were all published under pen names and often multiple authors would complete books in a single series. These ghostwriters were paid for the writing, but Stratemeyer held the copyright to the finished novels. It was through this syndicate that Stratemeyer published his most famous series including the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. Stratemeyer continued working with the syndicate until his death on May 10, 1930, after which time, his daughters, Harriet and Edna, took over. The two sisters ran the syndicate together for twelve years. Harriet continued to run the syndicate alone until her death in 1982.

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