Edward Stratemeyer, the genius behind the series you probably read as a kid

January 5, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism.

If you were a child in the 20th century, chances are that you owe a great deal to Edward Stratemeyer.

Chances are, too, that you have never heard of Edward Stratemeyer.

But as a young person, you probably did read books like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, Baseball Joe, the College Sports Series, the Bobsie Twins or any number of other series of books. They were cheap, and they were accessible. They weren’t great literature, by any means, but they taught us to love stories and to love reading.

The genius behind all of these books was Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930), a New Jersey born writer who was creative, prolific, and first-in-his-class book producer and marketer.

As a teenager, Stratemeyer had his own printing press and understood the printing and distribution process intimately. He began writing stories then but didn’t sell his first story to a magazine until he was 26. 

In 1899, Stratemeyer published the first of his Rover Boys series, which became widely popular. Stratemeyer did not invent the series formula, but he recognized its potential, and in 1905, he formed the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate through which he hired journalists to write stories based on his ideas and outlines. He would pay his writers a flat fee and keep the copyright for himself. Thus was born series such as The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Nancy Drew. 

While clothbound books at the time could sell for as much as two dollars each (a princely sum), Stratemeyer convinced his publisher to sell them for fifty cents. The profit margin on these books would be just a few pennies, but Stratemeyer was convinced that the volume of sales would more than compensate for these small profits. He was right. His books sold millions of copies and in turn made him many millions of dollars.

Stratemeyer lived a quiet life with this family in New Jersey and never sought publicity for himself. He also made a ton of money. After his death, Stratemeyer’s work continued, and his legacy entertained millions of young readers even into the twenty-first century. 

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