Happy centennial, Tom Swift!

Happy centennial, Tom Swift!


Tom Swift, the original geek-kid/adventurer/maker, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the original copyright this July. The books, over 100 of them, were written by a stable of authors writing as Victor Appleton. All the stories involve the “boy inventor” creating some amazing new bit of technology and having an adventure with it.

Like many inventors, Tom started small: in the inaugural book, he merely modified his motorcycle. But soon he developed a “photo telephone” that predated the fax machine, a giant magnet to rescue a stranded submarine and a “house on wheels” that anticipated the modern motor home.

John Dizer, author of two guides to the Tom Swift phenomenon, summed up the books’ early appeal: “If Tom could invent something, so could we. With honesty and hard work, we could harvest the reward for our inventions. We might even become rich. Tom did.”

Yes, they’re formulaic pulp — but they show a smart kid taking the initiative to create something cool. Nothing wrong with that! [Thanks, Daniel!]

12 thoughts on “Happy centennial, Tom Swift!

  1. James Keeline says:

    As noted in the Smithsonian article linked in this post, we are hosting a convention for the 100th anniversary of the first Tom Swift books in San Diego, July 16-18. Details may be found at http://TomSwiftEnterprises.com

    We will have two live performances in the form of radio dramas based on Tom Swift and the Visitor From Planet X (1961, Fri July 16 4:00 pm, UCSD Geisel Library) and Tom Swift and His Airship (1910, Sat July 17 7:30 pm, Sheraton Mission Valley). Both of these events are free and open to the public.

    The convention will have presentations on Saturday and Sunday (9-5) as listed on http://TomSwiftEnterprises.com/program along with sale tables and historical displays.

    If you are in reach of San Diego, hop in your airship and join us.

    James Keeline

  2. yachris says:

    We can also thank him for Tom Swifties, he commented:


    1. James Keeline says:

      The Tom Swifties began in 1963 and the originators attributed them to the sentence structure used in the first Tom Swift book series. The structure of the Tom Swifties follows:

      “Quotation,” said Tom .

      However, this particular sentence structure is actually somewhat uncommon in the original books. It can be found here and there but it is not the dominant structure as most people think it is.

      Instead, the books adopted a writing style of the period where overuse of “said” was minimized and alternatives were selected.

      “Quotation,” Tom.

      These “verbs of speech” included “cried,” “murmured,” “returned,” “asked,” “whispered,” etc. The scope and variety is impressive but it’s much harder to make a joke from them.

      The traditional Tom Swifties are great fun and will be a part of the 100th Anniversary Tom Swift Convention when wordsmith Richard Lederer gives many interesting examples of them.

      However, it is a bit unfortunate that the one thing that Tom Swift (of any generation) is remembered for is something that he didn’t really do much, if at all. I’d rather see people be impressed by descriptions of a photo telephone from 1914, 50 years before the Bell Labs picturephone of the 1964 NY World’s Fair or an efficient battery to use in a car or one of the many innovative aircraft designs from the books. The Tom Swift series did much to popularize technology, as Jules Verne did in the 19th Century, and inspire people to follow in his footsteps and try to achieve the things for our world that they read about in the books.

      1. James Keeline says:

        The system swallowed some of my punctuation.

        A traditional Tom Swifties pun format:

        “Quotation,” said Tom [adverb ending in -ly].

        What is normally found in the Tom Swift books:

        “Quotation,” [verb of speech] Tom.

  3. Tom Hale says:

    I read every Tom Swift book in my middle school library. They had me loving sci-fi before I read my first real sci-fi, Rendezvous With Rama by Bova I think. I was around ten years old and have been in love w sci-fi ever since.

    1. DanYHKim says:

      He was living in Sri Lanka, and so had ample exposure to the Hindu pantheon.

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net

View more articles by John Baichtal