The Mystery of the Stratemeyer Legacy

First aired on Ideas (01/11/11)

They have enthralled countless millions of North American children. From Tom Swift to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys and dozens more, serialized juvenile novels have thrilled generations of young readers.

It may come as no surprise that the authors on the series' covers, Victor Appleton and Carolyn Keane, are every bit as fictional as the characters inside. But what you might not know is that all of those novels were produced by a type of fiction factory called the Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded by a very real person, Edward Stratemeyer.

Born in 1862, Stratemeyer started writing books for young audiences at a time when there was essentially no publishing industry for young adults as such. By 1893, he had sold 49 dime novels and numerous stories and was beginning to realize that he might have a problem — he simply could not write enough books to satisfy demand.

So Stratemeyer came up with a solution. Inspired by the productive powerhouse of the assembly line, he started commissioning other writers to churn out books under several pseudonyms he already controlled. Thus was born the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

The syndicate produced bestsellers almost immediately, and from the period of 1910 to 1930 averaged 30 new titles a year. By the time of Stratemeyer's death in 1930, just before the appearance of Nancy Drew, he'd written 150 books, outlined close to 700 others and launched 125 series.

After his death, the syndicate was taken over by his two daughters, who had helped run the business since its inception. The fiction factory would eventually be taken over completely by one daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer, who would continue at its helm until her death in 1982. During that time, the Stratemeyer Syndicate weathered the Great Depression, the 1940s paper shortages and the social movement of the 1960s, all with great success. In 1987, the syndicate was purchased by Simon and Schuster. It continues to be one of the most successful producers of young adult books in literary history.

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