Tom Swift is the central character in five series of more than 100 volumes of American juvenile science fiction and adventure novels that emphasize science, invention and technology. Originally created in 1910 the character was created by Edward Stratemeyer, the founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book-packaging firm. His adventures have been written by different ghostwriters over the years. Most of the books are published under the collective pseudonym of Victor Appleton. The 33 volumes of the second series use the pseudonym Victor Appleton II.
Translated into many languages, the books have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Tom Swift has also been the subject of a board game and a television show. Development of a feature film based on the series was announced in 2008.
Several prominent figures, including Steve Wozniak and Isaac Asimov, have cited "Tom Swift" as an inspiration. Several inventions, including the taser, have been directly inspired by the fictional inventions. "TASER" is an acronym for "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle."
In his various incarnations, Tom Swift, usually in his teens, is inventive and science-minded and is portrayed as a natural genius. In the earlier series, he is said to have had little formal education, the character originally modeled after such figures as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. In most of the five series, each book focuses on Tom's latest invention, and its role either in solving a problem or mystery, or in assisting Tom in feats of exploration or rescue. Often Tom must protect his new invention from theft and abuse by villains but Tom is always successful in the end.
The longest-running series of books to feature Tom Swift is the first, which ran for forty volumes. Tom Swift (technically Tom Swift, Jr.) was also the name of the protagonist of the 33 volumes in the Tom Swift Jr. Adventures, 11 volumes in the third Tom Swift series, 13 volumes in the fourth, and a half-dozen more in the most recent series, Tom Swift, Young Inventor, for a total of 103 volumes over all series. In addition to publication in the United States, Tom Swift books have been published extensively in England, and translated into Norwegian, French, Icelandic, and Finnish.
Original series (1910–1941)
In the original series, Tom Swift lives in Shopton, New York. He is the son of Barton Swift, the founder of the Swift Construction Company. Tom usually shares his adventures with close friend Ned Newton, who eventually becomes the Swift Construction Company's financial manager. For most of the series, Tom dates Mary Nestor. It has been suggested that his eventual marriage to Mary led to the series' demise, as young boys found a married man harder to identify with than a young, single one; however, after the 1929 marriage the series continued for 12 more years and eight further volumes. Regularly appearing characters include Wakefield Damon, an older man, whose dialogue is characterized by frequent use of such expressions as "Bless my brakeshoes!" and "Bless my vest buttons!"
Tom's inventions are not at first innovative. In the first two books of the series, he fixes a motorcycle and a boat, and in the third book he develops an airship, but only with the help of a balloonist. Tom is also at times unsure of himself, looking to his elders for help; as Von der Osten puts it, "the early Tom Swift is more dependent on his father and other adults at first and is much more hesitant in his actions. When his airship bangs into a tower, Tom is uncharacteristically nonplussed and needs support." However, as the series progresses, Tom's inventions "show an increasingly independent genius as he develops devices, such as an electric rifle and a photo telephone, further removed from the scientific norm". Some of Tom's inventions are improvements of then-current technologies,
Second series (1954–1971)
In this series, presented as an extension and continuation of the first, the Tom Swift of the original series is now the CEO of Swift Enterprises, a four-mile-square enclosed facility where inventions are conceived and manufactured. Tom's son, Tom Swift, Jr., is now the primary genius of the family. Stratemeyer Syndicate employee Andrew Svenson described the new series as based "on scientific fact and probability, whereas the old Toms were in the main adventure stories mixed with pseudo-science". Three Ph.D.s in science were hired as consultants to the series to ensure scientific accuracy. The younger Tom does not tinker with motorcycles; his inventions and adventures extend from the center of the Earth (in Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster ) to the bottom of the ocean (in Tom Swift and His Diving Seacopter ) to the moon (in Tom Swift and the Race to Moon ) and, eventually, the outer solar system (in Tom Swift and His Cosmotron Express ). Later volumes in the series focused increasingly on the extraterrestrial "space friends", as they are called throughout the series. The beings appear as early as the first volume in the series, Tom Swift and His Flying Lab (1954). The Tom Swift, Jr., Adventures were less commercially successful than the first series, selling 6 million copies in total, compared with sales of 14 million copies during the first series.