Monday Memories: Tom Swift and his Photo Telephone


This is the fifth of my Monday Memories series of posts. In these posts, I pull a book off my shelf, somewhat randomly, and tell you a bit about it. It's not a review of the book so much as a memory of the book, a bit about what might have been going on in my life when I read it, and my thoughts on who might like this book. 

The Book

Tom Swift and his Photo Telephone by Victor Appleton, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, Made in the United States of America. Copyright 1914.

Why This Book?

I have a small number of what today would be called Young Adult, or YA books, but which were published in my childhood and before. This is my latest addition to that collection. When I went to peruse my shelves for this week's article, I pulled open the bookcase door behind which those old books are stored, and this was the first one I saw. And I thought, "Well, that's the book for this week."

What's This Book About?

From memory:
It's about the young genius inventor Tom Swift and his photo telephone of course! I will admit I haven't actually read this book (yet) but I did read a few Tom Swift books in my childhood, at least one from the original series. 

From perusing the book after I pulled it off the shelf:
Our hero Tom Swift succeeds in making a "photo telephone" that can send a still photo over an electric wire from one telephone to another, allowing a person to see who's calling. The ingenious Tom also hooks up a phonograph to the phone to allow a recording of the call to be created. Amazing!

Also, Tom and his "chum" Ned pal around and get into a lot of "adventures", including using Tom's latest invention to catch a bad guy!

From a 1914 perspective - mad fun and adventure for growing boys!

From a 2021 perspective - well, today we'd have some privacy concerns with Tom's device and it's use by an unsuspecting public. And then there's also the overt racism regarding the Swift family's manservant. I don't think we'd let the young boys near this one in 2021!

More about the Tom Swift series:
Like the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew books, the Tom Swift series is the product of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, one of the first publishing concerns to focus on books for children rather than adults. Victor Appleton, the "author" of the series, is a pseudonym under which more than one writer worked. 

Over the course of the Tom Swift series the character grew up and got married (as did characters in some of the syndicate's other early series). Sales of the Tom Swift books dropped after that, prompting the Syndicate to impose a rule that the characters in their newer series should never age. As a result, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys continue as teenagers to solve mysteries in revised stories sold under the same old titles even to this day. 

Tom Swift, Jr - the son of the Tom Swift of my 1914 book, was introduced in the 1950s and has been the subject of several rounds of books using the new rules to stay young and of interest to children of the day. He even teamed up with the Hardy Boys for a two volume adventure in the early 1990's.

What Was Going On In My Life When I Read This?

Well, I did admit above that I haven't actually read this book yet. But here's my story - 

I love it when I'm in a used book shop and I come across old Hardy Boys books. I read ALL the Hardy Boys books that were available when I was a "tween" and young teen (later passing the collection on to my nephew). I recall my amazement later in life when I learned about the Syndicate that produced them, and that the books were actually rewritten on a regular cycle. I have bought a limited number of older versions of the books, just about a dozen or so, over the years. I also have a couple of Tom Swift books, and a few others from the Syndicate. 

I bought this Tom Swift edition a couple of years back on a trip to Duluth, MN at a place called Old Town Antiques and Books. It's a bit beat up, and it's clear this book was passed down and read by more than one generation of readers. Several pages have dog-eared or torn corners. At one point someone named Agnes owned the book, and her name and what I think is her address is on the inside cover.

Why Would Someone Like This Book?

I wouldn't recommend this book to young adults today. But if you read any of the Tom Swift Jr. books and are interested in seeing for yourself some of the history behind those stories, this book is worth looking up. A quick search on the internet shows it is available, with prices all over the map. There's even an ebook at Google Books, though I cannot tell if the content is the original 1914 book or not.

So that's my "Monday Memories" book post for this week. Do you still collect books from a series you liked as a child? Leave a comment below.