Stratemeyer Syndicate

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The Stratemeyer Syndicate was the producer of a number of mystery series for children, including Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the various Tom Swift series, the Bobbsey Twins, the Rover Boys, and others.


1899-1929: Beginnings[edit]

Created by Edward Stratemeyer, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was the first book packager to have its books aimed at children, rather than adults. The Syndicate was wildly successful; at one time it was believed that the overwhelming majority of the books children read in the United States were Stratemeyer Syndicate books, based on a 1922 study of over 36,000 children country-wide.[1]

Stratemeyer's business acumen was in realizing that there was a huge, untapped market for children's books. At a time when most children's books were aimed at moral instruction, the Stratemeyer Syndicate specialized in producing books that were meant primarily to be entertaining. In Stratemeyer's view, it was not the promise of sex or violence that made such reading attractive to children; it was the thrill of feeling grown-up and the desire for a series of stories. Stratemeyer believed that this desire could be harnessed for profit. He founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate to produce books in an efficient, assembly-line fashion and to write them in such a way as to maximize their popularity.

The first series that Stratemeyer created was The Rover Boys, published under the pseudonym Arthur M. Winfield. The Rover Boys books were a roaring success: A total of 30 volumes were published between 1899 and 1926, selling over five million copies.[2] The Bobbsey Twins first appeared in 1904 under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope, and Tom Swift in 1910 under the pseudonym Victor Appleton.[3]

Stratemeyer published a number of books under his own name, but the books published under pseudonyms sold better. Stratemeyer realized that "he could offer more books each year if he dealt with several publishers and had the books published under a number of pseudonyms which he controlled."[4] Stratemeyer explained his strategy to a publisher, writing that "[a] book brought out under another name would, I feel satisfied, do better than another Stratemeyer book. If this was brought out under my own name, the trade on new Stratemeyer books would simply be cut into four parts instead of three."[5]

Some time in the first decade of the twentieth century Stratemeyer realized that he could no longer juggle multiple volumes of multiple series, and he began hiring ghostwriters, such as Howard R. Garis[3] and Leslie McFarlane.[6] Stratemeyer continued to write some books, while writing plot outlines for others.

While mystery elements were occasionally present in these early series, the Syndicate later specialized in children's mystery series. This trend was begun in 1911, when Stratemeyer wrote and published The Mansion of Mystery, under the pseudonym Chester K. Steele. Five more books were published in that mystery series, the last in 1928. These books were aimed at a somewhat older audience than his previous series. After that, the Syndicate focused on mystery series aimed at its younger base: The Hardy Boys, which first appeared in 1927, ghostwritten by Leslie McFarlane and others; and Nancy Drew, which first appeared in 1930, ghostwritten by Mildred Wirt Benson, Walter Karig, and others. Both series were immediate financial successes.[6]

1930-1978: Peak[edit]

In 1930, Stratemeyer died of pneumonia, and the Syndicate was inherited by his two daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Edna Stratemeyer. Attempts to sell the company failed, due to the Depression. Left with no other choices, Harriet and Edna began to run the million-dollar empire. In the Depression years, the sisters ran the wildly successful The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, while introducing others, such as The Dana Girls (1934). By the end of the decade, Edna had relocated to Florida with her husband. They began selling real estate, and thus, limited her involvement with the Syndicate. During the war, rationing caused limited resources, and forced the Syndicate to cancel several series. After the war, Edna sold her share to Harriet, and the sisters became estranged. In 1947, ghostwriter Howard R. Garis introduced Adams to up-and-coming writer Andrew E. Svenson. The next year, Svenson began ghostwriting for The Hardy Boys series. Harriet was impressed by Svenson, beginning a professional relationship that lasted for over twenty-five years.

Now running the company on her own, Harriet moved the company's offices from New York City to her hometown of East Orange, New Jersey. In the decade, Harriet relaunched The Dana Girls, and launched other series such as Tom Swift Jr. and The Happy Hollisters; the former was a sequel series to the Tom Swift series, which was one of her fathers' first series. Also, Grosset & Dunlap began pressuring the Syndicate to revise The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories. Since the late 1940s, the publishers had been receiving an increasing number of letters, with complaints by parents offended by several racist stereotypes present in the books. Harriet originally refused, feeling it was unnecessary at the time.[7] With both the publishers' pressure, and the progressing civil rights movement, the Syndicate began revising both series in 1959. This extensive project would last for eighteen years.[7] This also proved to be a daunting task to the company. Several earlier Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books were written before the Second World War, and were set in – and touched upon – the prohibition and depression eras. Several books in both series had their plots altered substantially, or had an entirely new story created in their place. These revisions eliminated the racist text, updated cultural elements, made the characters less rebellious and more wholesome, and shortened stories by five chapters.

In 1961, Harriet made Svenson a full partner in the Syndicate. The revisions continued aggressively during the sixties, with two to three titles in both series coming out per year. Harriet also began revising The Bobbsey Twins, although most books were not revised, due to it being impracticable (as the series had begun twenty to thirty years before both The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew). Harriet also began approving some more modern projects: The Tollivers was about a middle class African-American family who solve mysteries; Wynn and Lonny was about brothers who were race car drivers and solve mysteries; and Christopher Cool was an agent in the vein of James Bond, which included several minority characters, such as an Apache Indian and a Japanese-American.

In the 1970s, the company went through a somewhat tumultuous time. Svenson died in 1975, from prostate cancer. The company also began to make less profit than usual; it has been suggested Grosset & Dunlap began keeping some royalties from Harriet, now in her eighties. Some editors also wished to bring the series more up-to-date with the disco scene, which Harriet refused to do. Harriet also wished to switch to the paperback market, feeling they were cheaper to make and there could be more books published per year (as the Syndicate was releasing only one book per year per series). Grosset & Dunlap refused Harriet's proposal.

1979-1986: Decline[edit]

In 1979, the Stratemeyer Syndicate left Grosset & Dunlap, and began a new contract with Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster were willing to publish new Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys titles in paperback, and brought new promotion to both series that Grosset & Dunlap would not do. In 1980, Grosset & Dunlap sued both parties, citing "breach of contract, copyright infringement, and unfair competition".[8] The ensuing case let the world know, for the first time, that the Syndicate existed; the Syndicate had always gone to great lengths to hide its existence from the public, and ghostwriters were contractually obliged never to reveal their authorship. Both parties counter-sued, with Harriet claiming she held full rights to the Syndicate series. Eventually, Grosset & Dunlap was awarded the rights to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew volumes that they had published, but the Syndicate was judged free to take subsequent volumes elsewhere.[9]

Adams died in 1982, shortly after the verdict was given. In 1986, Simon & Schuster purchased the syndicate from its partners — Edward Stratemeyer Adams, Camilla Adams McClave, Patricia Adams Harr, Nancy Axelrod and Lilo Wuenn — and turned to Mega-Books, a book packager, to handle the writing process for new volumes.[10]

Writing guidelines[edit]

"They don't have hippies in them," [Adams] said ... "And none of the characters have love affairs or get pregnant or take dope."[11]

All Stratemeyer Syndicate books were written under certain guidelines, based on practices Stratemeyer began with his first series, the Rover Boys.[3]

  • All books would be part of a series.
  • To establish more quickly if a series was likely to be successful, the first several volumes would be published at once. These first volumes are often called "breeders". [12]
  • The books would be written under a pseudonym. This would provide apparent continuity of authorship, even when an author died, and would disguise the fact that series were written by multiple ghostwriters and plot-outliners.
  • The books would look as much like contemporary adult books as possible, with similar bindings and typefaces.[12]
  • The books would be of a predictable length.
  • Chapters and pages should end mid-situation, to increase the reader's desire to keep reading.[12]
  • Each book would begin with a quick recap of all previous books in that series, in order to promote those books.[12]
  • Books might also end with a preview of the next volume in the series: "Nancy ... could not help but wonder when she might encounter as strange a mystery as the recent one. Such a case was to confront her soon, The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes".[13]
  • The books would be priced at 50 cents, rather than the more common 75 cents, $1.00, or $1.25.[14]
  • Characters should not age or marry. Protagonists of early series such as the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and Ruth Fielding did grow up and marry, but sales dropped afterwards, prompting the Syndicate to make a rule that characters never marry.[15]

Criticism of Syndicate books[edit]

For decades, libraries refused to carry any Syndicate books, considering them to be unworthy trash.[6] Series books were considered to "cause 'mental laziness,' induce a 'fatal sluggishness,' and 'intellectual torpor.'"[16] Series books were considered to ruin a child's chances for gaining an appreciation of good literature (which was subsequently shown by one study[17] to not be the case), and to undermine respect for authority: "Much of the contempt for social conventions ... is due to the reading of this poisonous sort of fiction."[18]

Franklin K. Mathiews, chief librarian for the Boy Scouts of America, wrote that series books were a method, according to the title of one of his articles, for "Blowing Out the Boys' Brains",[19] and psychologist G. Stanley Hall articulated one of the most common concerns by asserting that series books would ruin girls in particular by giving them "false views of [life] ... which will cloud her life with discontent in the future."[20]

None of this hurt sales, however; Stratemeyer was unperturbed, even when his books were banned from the Newark Public Library as early as 1901, writing to a publisher: "Personally it does not matter much to me. ... Taking them out of the Library has more than tripled the sales in Newark."[21]


Foreign Publications[edit]

Some syndicate series were also reprinted in foreign countries. The first appearance seems to be the first Ted Scott Flying Stories book, published in Germany in the early 1930s as Ted Scott Der Ozeanflieger. The artwork was always changed when reprinted in other countries, and sometimes character names were as well. Other series reprinted outside the States include Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, The Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins (Australia, France, Norway, Sweden, UK). These other series first appeared around the 1950s outside the States.

The second Stratemeyer Syndicate series to be reprinted outside the United States appears to have been the first two books in the Don Sturdy series, although an exact date of printing is unknown. Only two Don Sturdy books were printed in Britain (the other being The Desert of Mystery). Two British forms of The Big Snake Hunters are known to exist, both printed by The Children's Press, one from the 1930s and another with different cover art from the 1950s.


  1. ^ Romalov (1995), 118.
  2. ^ Rehak (2006), 8.
  3. ^ a b c Billman.
  4. ^ Keeline, "Stratemeyer Syndicate."
  5. ^ Rehak, (2006), 25.
  6. ^ a b c Andrews, Dale (2013-08-27). "The Hardy Boys Mystery". Children's books. Washington: SleuthSayers.
  7. ^ a b Rehak (2006), 243.
  8. ^ Johnson, Deirdre. Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Page 16.
  9. ^ Johnson, 17.
  10. ^ Plunkett-Powell (1993), 29.
  11. ^ Klemesrud (1968).
  12. ^ a b c d Billman, Carol. The Secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.
  13. ^ Keene, Carolyn. The Moonstone Castle Mystery. Page 178.
  14. ^ Plunkett-Powell, Karen. The Nancy Drew Scrapbook. Page 16.
  15. ^ Kismaric and Heiferman (2007), 20.
  16. ^ Romalov (1995), 115.
  17. ^ Ross (1997).
  18. ^ Rehak (2006), 97.
  19. ^ Romalov (1995), 117.
  20. ^ Romalov, Nancy Tillman. "Children's Series Books and the Rhetoric of Guidance: A Historical Overview." In Rediscovering Nancy Drew. Dyer, Carolyn Stewart, and Nancy Tillman Romalov, eds. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995. Page 116.
  21. ^ Rehak, Melanie. Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. NY: Harcourt, 2005. Page 97-98.

See also[edit]


  • Billman, Carol (1986). The Secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Ungar. ISBN 0-8044-2055-6.
  • Johnson, Deirdre (1993). Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Twayne. ISBN 0-8057-4006-6.
  • Keeline, James D (2008). Cornelius, Michael G; Gregg, Melanie E, eds. "The Nancy Drew Mythtery Stories" in Nancy Drew and Her Sister Sleuths. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-3995-9.
  • Keeline, James D. "Stratemeyer Syndicate". Retrieved 19 April 2009.
  • Kismaric, Carole; Marvin Heiferman (2007). The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Fireside. ISBN 1-4165-4945-5.
  • Klemesrud, Judy (4 April 1968). "100 Books - and Not a Hippie in Them." The New York Times, p. 52. Accessed through ProQuest Historical Newspapers on 22 May 2009.
  • Plunkett-Powell, Karen (1993). The Nancy Drew Scrapbook: 60 years of America's favorite teenage sleuth. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-09881-2.
  • Rehak, Melanie (2006). Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. Harvest. ISBN 0-15-603056-X.
  • Romalov, Nancy Tillman (1995). Dyer, Carolyn Stewart; Romalov, Nancy Tillman, eds. "Children's Series Books and the Rhetoric of Guidance: A Historical Overview" in Rediscovering Nancy Drew. University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0-87745-501-5.
  • Ross, Catherine (May 1997). "Reading the Covers Off Nancy Drew: What Readers Say About Series Books". Emergency Librarian. 24 (5).

External links[edit]