As a fan of The Happy Hollisters, you’ve probably also heard of similar series books like The Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew. If you enjoyed any of these books while growing up—or have recently rediscovered them—you have one man to thank for bringing these exciting, wholesome stories into your life: Edward Stratemeyer!
Born in 1862 in New Jersey, Edward Stratemeyer was a prolific writer of short stories, inexpensive paperbacks known as “dime novels,” and magazine articles. His numerous publications eventually caught the eye of one of his favorite authors, Horatio Alger, Jr,. who presented Stratemeyer with a life-changing opportunity: as Alger was nearing the end of his life, he wanted Stratemeyer to complete any unfinished works at the time of his death and publish them under Alger’s name. Stratemeyer finished and published two of Alger’s novels after his death, and the experience gave Stratemeyer the idea to organize a group of ghostwriters who could write books based on outlines he created.
Stratemeyer founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1905 and chose to focus on children’s books. He created book outlines that usually included details like basic character descriptions, the beginning and ending of the book, and any important plot details. He then assigned the outline to a ghostwriter, who would then use it to create a full manuscript. This system meant that books could be written rather quickly; this was lucrative both for Stratemeyer, who was able to produce many new books on a rapid schedule and for the ghostwriters who worked for him, many of whom had regular full-time employment and took ghostwriting jobs on the side.
After Edward Stratemeyer died in 1930, his daughters, Harriet and Edna, took over their father’s business, and his book packaging model continued to thrive. The Stratemeyer Syndicate grew to include a large roster of dedicated ghostwriters who often worked together to outline and write their books. One of these ghostwriters was Happy Hollisters author Andrew Svenson (also known by the pen name, “Jerry West”) who was hired as a writer in 1948 and later rose to head of the Boys’ Series Division and partnership with Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. He outlined, edited, and/or wrote more than 80 books during his time with the Syndicate, including all 33 Happy Hollisters, 30 Hardy Boys, a handful of Bobbsey Twins, and one Nancy Drew, among others.
The Stratemeyer Syndicate churned out many hundreds of children’s books, some of which developed into massively popular series that still play a role in today’s pop culture. Along with big names like The Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew, other series developed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate include:
- Tom Swift
- Dana Girls
- Honey Bunch and Norman
- Bret King
- Wynn and Lonny
- Mel Martin
Many of the series developed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate were mysteries, though many also revolved around sports, like the Mel Martin series (baseball) or Wynn and Lonny (autoracing). Most of the books were written under pseudonyms, which allowed various writers to work on each project. This means that household names like Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys) and Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew) aren’t real people!
The books also tended to follow a similar formula, based on tenets established by Edward Stratemeyer. All books were written to have series potential and were supposed to end with a cliffhanger or a promise of upcoming excitement that would entice readers to buy the next volume. The books were also required to be morally “clean,” and characters in Stratemeyer Syndicate books were not to age or get married. The plots avoided sex or gratuitous violence and often showed characters relying on their own wits or skills to get to the bottom of a mystery, like Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue often do in The Happy Hollisters.
While their formulaic approach and quick publication schedule sometimes drew some criticism, books created by Stratemeyer Syndicate writers saw great success, and it’s thought that in the first half of the 20th century, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was responsible for the majority of books read by children in the United States. By producing classics like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and of course, The Happy Hollisters, the Stratemeyer Syndicate played an important role in the world of children’s books and led to the creation of many characters that readers still love today!
By Libby Svenson Kennedy
Research Notes, Andrew Svenson Archives of The Hollister Family Properties Trust