Tom Swift Explained
Tom Swift is the young protagonist in several series of juvenile adventure novels which began in the early twentieth century and continues to the present. Each such series stars a hero named Tom Swift who is a genius inventor and whose breakthroughs in technology (especially transport technology) drive the plots of the novels, placing them in a genre sometimes called "invention fiction" or "Edisonade". Some of the later heroes might be considered the same character after a rebooted continuity, but in at least one series, Tom Swift was identified as a relative of the original Tom Swift. The first books were outlined by Edward Stratemeyer and his Stratemeyer Syndicate, written by ghostwriters and all credited to the house name of Victor Appleton.
The first and second series are connected directly and constitute one continuous saga, beginning with Tom Swift ("Senior") and proceeding with stories about his son Tom Swift Junior. The original character and others from the first series make frequent appearances in the second. The third series has a young character named Tom Swift, but strict continuity with the preceding series was dropped, the milieu was futuristic and the theme was less "invention" than interstellar exploration. The fourth and fifth series, each independent of its series predecessors, returned to the "young inventor" plotting approach, though, in the case of Tom Swift IV, with a stronger science-fiction element than was usual in the original Tom Swift or Tom Swift Jr. series. The traditional pseudonym of "Victor Appleton" ("Victor Appleton II" in Tom Swift Jr.) was used for all five series by their authors, fleshing out plots and formulae provided by series owners and editors. The later series have had brief runs in comparison to the first two series.
Original Tom Swift series (1910-1941)
The locale is the little town of Shopton in upstate New York, near Lake Carlopa. In comparison to son Tom Jr., Tom Sr.'s aerial, mechanical, and electrical inventions are closer to the real world state-of-the-art at the time of their writing. While some of Tom Sr.'s inventions are not well-founded in a scientific sense, others elaborated developments in the news and in popular magazines aimed at young science and invention enthusiasts. Presenting themselves as a forecast of future possibilities, they now and then hit close to the mark. Some predicted inventions that came true include "photo telephones", vertical takeoff aircraft, aerial warships, giant cannons, and "wizard" cameras. However some other devices, such as magnetic silencers for motors, have not appeared yet.
Tom's adventures are also more closely tied to events and public issues of the time than are the later series. Tom used his Electric Runabout to avert a run on a bank. During the Great War, Tom was secretly working on his War Tank and could not enlist, leading to fears that he was a slacker. Several of his inventions related to the war. He was called Tom Swift Senior after Tom Swift Junior appeared in the subsequent series.
Editorially directed and plotted by Edward Stratemeyer and, later, by his daughter Harriet, the books appeared under the pseudonym Victor Appleton, but were actually written by Howard Garis for most of the novels, and W. Bert Foster, John Duffield, and Thomas M. Mitchell for a few others. Like the series and character, the pseudonym was created by Stratemeyer as part of his Stratemeyer Syndicate.
Several researchers and authors (most notably John Dizer) have noted a parallel between Tom Swift's early career and that of real-life aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss.
Regular characters from the original Tom Swift series (1910-1941)
- Tom Swift — The main character, a lad living with his widower father on their small estate in upper New York state about the time of the First World War and thereafter. His age is unstated, but it is indicated that he ages during the series from late teens to early twenties (and there is a possible hint that he commenced his invention career, prior to the first volume, at age 16). Tom is by no means confined to his workshop or laboratory and is in good physical shape, which is fortunate as his adventures are inevitably strenuous. He is portrayed as a decent, bright, brave, handsome, and quick-witted "American boy".
- Barton Swift — Tom's old and rather frail father, also an inventor, who has served as Tom's main educator and mentor. He takes some part in some adventures, but is too old to go on many of the journeys.
- Ned Newton - Tom's friend and sidekick. Remains a friend of Tom's into adulthood, as seen in the second series. Humorous, dependable, and absolutely loyal — in the parlance of the time, a brick. Originally an employee of the local bank, he eventually became the financial manager of the Swift Construction Company.
- Wakefield Damon — Eccentric nearby resident whom Tom met in the 1st book. His most prominent characteristic is his practice of using unusual expletives ("Bless my dynamite cartridge!"), earning him the nickname of "the blessing man". An older man, Mr. Damon, deceased by the era of the Tom Swift Jr. series, is memorialized by having his name sentimentally attached to one of Tom Jr.'s inventions, the Damonscope radiation detector.
- Eradicate "Rad" Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson — An old black man who does freelance janitorial work for the Swifts. Provides comic relief in a very dated (Minstrel show) manner considered unacceptable today (though with a long pedigree in fiction of this type, including that of Verne). Illiterate, Sampson once packed a gift from Tom to Mary in a leftover box labelled dynamite, an incident which is often referenced later. Despite the racially stereotyped behavior and pronunciation, he accompanies Tom on several of his adventures and demonstrates his loyalty and courage many times.
- Andy Foger — The nearest thing in the first series to an arch-enemy. He is a boy about Tom's age whom Tom keeps running into (he almost ran into Tom Swift in Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle), resulting in a rivalry between them extending over several volumes. Usually referred to by the narrator as a "bully", his antipathy to Tom sometimes approaches murderous extremes. Has money (legally or otherwise) and uses it to attempt to match Tom's public repute and fame. He usually comes to grief before the end of each novel.
- Koku — A giant Tom picked up on a trip to Patagonia, he usually does work guarding the Swift place and engaging in heavy lifting as needed. Has a limited grasp of the English language.
- Mary Nestor — Tom's girlfriend and later wife; mother of Tom Swift Jr. and his sister Sandra. Tom and Mary's honeymoon was in one of Tom's inventions, his House on Wheels.
Books in the original Tom Swift series
- Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle
- or, Fun and Adventure on the Road, 1910
- Tom Swift and His Motor Boat
- or, The Rivals of Lake Carlopa, 1910
- Tom Swift and His Airship
- or, The Stirring Cruise of the Red Cloud, 1910
- Tom Swift and His Submarine Boat
- or, Under the Ocean for Sunken Treasure, 1910
- Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout
- or, The Speediest Car on the Road, 1910
- Tom Swift and His Wireless Message
- or, The Castaways of Earthquake Island, 1911
- Tom Swift Among the Diamond Makers
- or, The Secret of Phantom Mountain, 1911
- Tom Swift in the Caves of Ice
- or, The Wreck of the Airship, 1911
- Tom Swift and His Sky Racer
- or, The Quickest Flight on Record, 1911
- Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle
- or, Daring Adventures on Elephant Island, 1911
- Tom Swift in the City of Gold
- or, Marvelous Adventures Underground, 1912
- Tom Swift and His Air Glider
- or, Seeking the Platinum Treasure, 1912
- Tom Swift in Captivity
- or, A Daring Escape by Airship, 1912
- Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera
- or, Thrilling Adventures While Taking Moving Pictures, 1912
- Tom Swift and His Great Searchlight
- or, On the Border for Uncle Sam, 1912
- Tom Swift and His Giant Cannon
- or, The Longest Shots on Record, 1913
- Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone
- or, The Picture That Saved a Fortune, 1914
- Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship
- or, The Naval Terror of the Seas, 1915
- Tom Swift and His Big Tunnel
- or, The Hidden City of the Andes, 1916
- Tom Swift In the Land of Wonders
- or, The Underground Search for the Idol of Gold, 1917
- Tom Swift and His War Tank
- or, Doing His Bit for Uncle Sam, 1918
- Tom Swift and His Air Scout
- or, Uncle Sam's Mastery of the Sky, 1919
- Tom Swift and His Undersea Search
- or, The Treasure on the Floor of the Atlantic, 1920
- Tom Swift Among the Fire Fighters
- or, Battling with Flames in the Air, 1921
- Tom Swift and His Electric Locomotive
- or, Two Miles a Minute on the Rails, 1922
- Tom Swift and His Flying Boat; or, Castaways of the Giant Iceberg, 1923
- Tom Swift and His Great Oil Gusher; or, The Treasure of Goby Farm, 1924
- Tom Swift and His Chest of Secrets; or, Tracing the Stolen Inventions, 1925
- Tom Swift and His Airline Express; or, From Ocean to Ocean by Daylight, 1926
- Tom Swift Circling the Globe; or, The Daring Cruise of the Air Monarch, 1927
- Tom Swift and His Talking Pictures; or, The Greatest Invention on Record, 1928
- Tom Swift and His House on Wheels; or, A Trip around the Mountain of Mystery, 1929
- Tom Swift and His Big Dirigible; or, Adventures Over the Forest of Fire, 1930
- Tom Swift and His Sky Train; or, Overland Through the Clouds, 1931
- Tom Swift and His Giant Magnet; or, Bringing Up the Lost Submarine, 1932
- Tom Swift and His Television Detector; or, Trailing the Secret Plotters, 1933
- Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport; or, Foiling the Haargolanders, 1934
- Tom Swift and His Planet Stone; or, Discovering the Secret of Another World, 1935
- Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope, 1939 (Better Little Book)
- Tom Swift and His Magnetic Silencer, 1941 (Better Little Book)
The first 25 Tom Swift Sr. books are in the public domain and available as downloadable texts from Project Gutenberg.
The New Tom Swift Jr. Adventures series (1954-1971)
The first series is continued and extended. Now Tom Sr. is the CEO of a four-mile-square "invention factory" (and private airport) called Swift Enterprises. Though Tom Sr. engages in various kinds of research and still does a bit of inventing, it is now his son who carries on the tradition of the famous name. His inventions poke a bit into science-fiction territory as the series progresses (extraterrestrials named the space friends appear as early as the first volume) but there is still an emphasis on plausible scientific and engineering developments, however doubtful certain of the details. In one way or the other, these adventures extend from the center of the Earth to the bottom of the ocean to the moon and, eventually, the outer solar system; with stops along the way at African antimatter volcanoes, lost New Guinea cities, and various wandering asteroids.
Regular characters from The New Tom Swift Jr. Adventures series
- Tom Swift Jr. - The son of Tom Swift Sr. (see above). He is 18 years of age throughout the run of the series, and is described as lanky, blond, crew-cut, possessed of deep-set blue eyes, and closely resembling his famous father. Virtuous, brave, and very very smart. Typically depicted in illustrations as wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and slacks, even under the sea.
- Tom Swift Sr. - The protagonist of the previous series, now married to his longtime sweetheart, Mary. Tom Sr., unlike his own father, is still relatively young and vital at the time of Tom Jr.'s adventures and frequently assists his son from behind the scenes while operating the huge family business, Swift Enterprises.
- Mary Nestor Swift - Tom Sr.'s wife and the mother of Tom Jr. and Sandra. An occasionally fretful, attractive homebody, known for her cooking. Never joins the menfolk on their adventures.
- Sandra "Sandy" Swift - Tom's year-younger sister. Sandy is pert and blond, also headstrong and brave. She is not quite as scientifically focused as her famed brother, toward whom she is less than reverent, though she clearly idolizes him. A trained pilot and aircraft demonstrator.
- Bud Barclay - Tom's best friend, who accompanies Tom on all his adventures. Utterly devoted, and a dependable quipster and sometimes prankster. A highly qualified pilot in his own right. He is black-haired, the same age as his pal though a bit shorter and huskier, described as a natural athlete who likes to play for fun. Bud's knowledge of science and engineering is rudimentary, prompting many an explanation by Tom (and thus helpful exposition for the reader). By dating Sandy, he keeps his social life within the world of the Swift family.
- Phyllis Newton - Daughter of Ned Newton and Tom Jr's customary social date.
- Charles "Chow" Winkler -- A comic relief character, successor to both Mr. Damon and Rad Sampson. A roly-poly "former chuck wagon cook" born in Texas, he is an older man, beloved for his gaudy western shirts, cowboy hats, bizarre culinary concoctions (like Armadillo Stew), and for such expressions as "Brand my space biscuits!". He accompanies all Swift expeditions — even in outer space — as the Swifts' executive chef.
- The series also offers a good many recurring characters of lesser rank, in contrast to the original series. Most are Swift Enterprises employees, such as Harlan Ames, Phil Radnor, Hank Sterling, Arvid Hanson, Slim Davis, George Dilling, Art Wiltessa, and Miss Trent — the two Toms' office secretary and the lone female among recurring Swift Enterprises characters.
Books in The New Tom Swift Jr. Adventures series
- Tom Swift and His Flying Lab 1954
- Tom Swift and His Jetmarine 1954
- Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship 1954
- Tom Swift and His Giant Robot 1954
- Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster 1954
- Tom Swift and His Outpost in Space 1955
- Tom Swift and His Diving Seacopter 1956
- Tom Swift in The Caves of Nuclear Fire 1956
- Tom Swift on The Phantom Satellite 1956
- Tom Swift and His Ultrasonic Cycloplane 1957
- Tom Swift and The Deep-Sea Hydrodome 1958
- Tom Swift and His Race to the Moon 1958
- Tom Swift and His Space Solartron 1958
- Tom Swift and His Electronic Retroscope 1959
- Tom Swift and His Spectromarine Selector 1960
- Tom Swift and The Cosmic Astronauts 1960
- Tom Swift and The Visitor from Planet X 1961
- Tom Swift and The Electronic Hydrolung 1961
- Tom Swift and His Triphibian Atomicar 1962
- Tom Swift and His Megascope Space Prober 1962
- Tom Swift and The Asteroid Pirates 1963
- Tom Swift and His Repelatron Skyway 1963
- Tom Swift and His Aquatomic Tracker 1964
- Tom Swift and His 3-D Telejector 1964
- Tom Swift and His Polar -Ray Dynasphere 1965
- Tom Swift and His Sonic Boom Trap 1965
- Tom Swift and His Subocean Geotron 1966
- Tom Swift and The Mystery Comet 1966
- Tom Swift and The Captive Planetoid 1967
- Tom Swift and His G-Force Inverter 1968
- Tom Swift and His Dyna-4 Capsule 1969
- Tom Swift and His Cosmotron Express 1970
- Tom Swift and The Galaxy Ghosts 1971
There is also a paperback "Tom Swift Activity Book" connected to the Swift Jr. series and an exceedingly rare Tom Swift game.
Third Tom Swift series (1981-1984)
A third Tom Swift series, unofficially called TSIII, differs from all the others. Instead of placing Tom and Swift Enterprises in a contemporary American context on Earth, the setting is primarily outer space. Tom and a troupe of friends of both sexes, a robot named "Aristotle", and several races explore the universe in the starship Excedra, using a faster-than-light drive which Tom has reverse-engineered from an alien space probe. This series maintains only an occasional and loose connection to the continuity of the two previous series. (The title character is specifically stated to be the son of "'the great Tom Swift'"  and to be "already an important and active contributor to the family business, the giant multimillion-dollar scientific-industrial complex known as Swift Enterprises."  .) Strangely, Shopton and Swift Enterprises has mysteriously moved from upstate New York to New Mexico.
Books in the third Tom Swift series
- The City in the Stars 1981 (by Bill Rotsler & Sharmon Divono)
- Terror on the Moons of Jupiter (by Bill Rotsler & Sharmon Divono) Introduction of Aristotle the Robot
- The Alien Probe (by Bill Rotsler & Sharmon Divono)
- The War in Outer Space (by Bill Rotsler & Sharmon Divono)
- The Astral Fortress (by Bill Rotsler & Sharmon Divono)
- The Rescue Mission (by Bill Rotsler & Sharmon Divono)
- Ark Two 1983
- Crater of Mystery 1983
- Gateway to Doom (by Bob Vardeman)
- The Invisible Force
- Planet of Nightmares 1984
- Chaos On Earth (Never released, manuscript available at the New York Library)
- Microworld (Never released, manuscript available at the New York Library)
Eleven titles were released in paperback by Wanderer Press, an inprint of Simon & Schuster. The first 10 were also printed for libraries in hardcover with dust jackets. Neal Barrett, Jr. and Mike MacQuay also wrote some of the books. A twelfth (Chaos on Earth) and thirteenth (Microworld) book were written, but never published.
Fourth Tom Swift series (1991-1993)
See main article: Tom Swift IV. The fourth series starring the young inventor is entirely set on Earth (with occasional space trips to the Moon) and makes some slight narrative reference not to the third series but rather back to the Tom Swift Jr. series. Characters named Harlan Ames and Phil Radnor make an appearance, and the fourth series sees that Tom's new nemesis, Xavier "the Black Dragon" Mace, has acquired a facility at Lake Carlopa in New York State previously owned by "Swift Enterprises."  The location of Swift Enterprise's '4 mile complex' is now outside Los Angeles.
The fourth series is perhaps the most rigorously connected to the science and technology of its time; for example, one of Tom's inventions for improving telescope resolution using a laser has in fact been implemented, and information technology plays as important a role in TSIV as do the super-vehicles the series has always been associated with.
The fourth series engendered two spin-off Ultra Thriller books in which Tom joined forces with another Stratemeyer Syndicate property, the Hardy Boys. This two-volume series was released using the Franklin W. Dixon pseudonym of the Hardy Boys books; however, these titles are generally viewed as being part of the fourth Tom Swift series.
Books in the fourth Tom Swift series
- The Black Dragon 1991
- The Negative Zone
- Cyborg Kickboxer
- The DNA Disaster
- Monster Machine
- The Aquatech Warriors
- Moonstalker 1992
- The Microbots
- Fire Biker
- Mind Games
- Mutant Beach
- Death Quake 1993
- Quantum Force
Books in the Hardy Boys & Tom Swift Ultra Thrillers series (1992-1993)
See main article: Ultra-Thriller.
- Time Bomb 1992
- The Alien Factor 1993
Tom Swift: Young Inventor series (2006 - 2007)
The fifth series of books starring Tom Swift is a series of paperback books. Many fans refer to this series as Tom Swift V. The books in this series are written in first person narrative style, which is a break with the style of the previous series, but similar to the Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers and Nancy Drew Girl Detective paperbacks also being published concurrently. As of January 2008, this is the first Tom Swift series with under 10 publications.
Books in the Tom Swift: Young Inventor series
- Into The Abyss June, 2006
- The Robot Olympics June, 2006
- The Space Hotel October, 2006
- Rocket Racers January, 2007
- On Top Of The World May, 2007
- Under the Radar October, 2007
- Extraterrestrial Highway February 2008 (unpublished)
There are ISBN's registered for volumes 8-11 in this series, however, the titles are unknown and it is unknown if any manuscripts exist.
Modern influence and references
The impact on contemporary culture that the character and the invention theme of the books have had is indicated by:
Willie Aames appeared as Tom Swift along with Lori Loughlin as Linda Craig in a television special, "The Tom Swift and Linda Craig Mystery Hour", which aired on July 3, 1983.(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0306144/)
Asteroid (1941) Tomswift is named in honor of this fictional inventor.
In Thomas Pynchon's short story "The Secret Integration" (1964), the "boy genius" Grover is tormented by Tom Swift books which constantly appear around his home. Discussing the matter with his friend Tim, he wonders whether his parents are trying to make him into an inventor or a racist (the latter because of the stereotypes applied to Eradicate Sampson).
A Tom Swifty is a type of pun ("'I just invented a better lightbulb,' said Tom brightly."), supposedly suggested by the narrative habits demonstrated in the early Tom Swift series. Such adverbial puns do not, in fact, appear in the canonical series.
A reference to Tom Swift is made in Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World in which the protagonist calls the state-of-the-art elevator he's in a "Tom Swift elevator".
The electric police weapon called the Taser was so named after Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle. The "A" is gratuitous; the character's middle name was never provided.
The format of the book titles is also occasionally used humorously or satirically, as for example Tom Swift and His Electrical Girlfriend.
Computer developer Steve Wozniak has stated that he grew up reading Tom Swift Jr., whom he regarded as the epitome of creative freedom, scientific knowledge, and the ability to find solutions to problems. For him Tom Swift also represented the potential rewards that invention might bring. "Spirit of American Innovation: The Personal Computer is Born"
Computer designer Lee Felsenstein was creating the Tom Swift Terminal, as described in chapter 9 of "" to be used in the Community Memory project. Though never finished, the terminal's design influenced the "Sol" computer he created for Processor Technology.
In an episode of the 1980s television series Moonlighting, David refers to Maddie's astronaut boyfriend as "Tom Swift".
In the "Princeton, February 1916" episode of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles", young Indiana Jones is seen reading "Tom Swift and his Electric Runabout" at the start of the episode, which seems to be an inspiration for the episode as Indy helps recover Thomas Edison's stolen new invention- an electric car.
Notes and References
- Appleton, Victor, pseud. (1981). The City in the Stars, p. 38. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-41115-2.
- Appleton, Victor, pseud. (1981). The City in the Stars, p. 10-11. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-41115-2.
- Web site: News archive. 2008-06-10. 10. 1997. Locus (magazine).
- Appleton, Victor, pseud. (1991). The Black Dragon. New York: Simon Pulse. ISBN 0-671-67823-X.