“Radio Boys” series by Allen Chapman and others
“Allen Chapman” was a pseudonym of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a “book packager,” to use a modern phrase, which was responsible for many popular juvenile series books published between 1905 and 1986, including the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew books, among others. The Syndicate produced some 1,600 volumes which were written from outlines by hired “ghostwriters” for a flat fee (ie no royalties). Over the 75+ years of their operation, the Syndicate hired about 100 different ghostwriters for their series. Some writers completed only a short story or a partial manuscript while some others wrote more than 100 volumes. In one case, Howard R. Garis, wrote more than 315 books for the Syndicate.
The “Allen Chapman” name was used on several Syndicate series and many writers worked on books published under that name. One story may have been written by the founder of the Syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer (1862- 1930), but the others were by hired writers. For example, the Chapman name was used on the Ralph of the Railroad series and five different writers were involved in the ten volumes in the series. The first five were written by Weldon James Cobb (1849-1922), the Syndicate’s first ghostwriter, followed by two books by Walter Bertram Foster (1869-1929), one book by John William Duffield (1859-1946), one by Roger Carroll Garis (1901-1967), and one by John Franklin Carter (1881-?).
In 1911, the first Stratemeyer Syndicate book featured a radio theme. This book, TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIRELESS MESSAGE, (Grosset & Dunlap, 1911) was written by Howard Roger Garis (1873-1962) and published under the “Victor Appleton” name. The spark-gap radio was not described in great detail but it did help Tom and his friends escape from Earthquake Island on which they were marooned.
In 1912, Weldon J. Cobb suggested to Stratemeyer that they start a “wireless boys” series of some sort. Edward passed on this idea by saying that he had already supervised one story and had another in the works. He had Cobb write THE BOYS OF THE WIRELESS, (Cupples & Leon, 1912) which was published in 1912 under the “Frank V. Webster” pseudonym.
A non-Syndicate series written by John Henry Goldfrap (1879-1917) and published under the “Capt. Wilbur Lawton” pseudonym was the Ocean Wireless Boys series, published by Hurst between 1914 and 1917. Goldfrap wrote several series for Hurst which were published under various pen names.
One of Stratemeyer’s female writers was Josephine Lawrence (1892-1978), a writer for the NEWARK SUNDAY CALL and author of several books under her own name as well as Syndicate volumes. In 1921 she worked on some stories which were broadcast on the Call’s radio stations, among the first broadcast stations in the U.S.
As broadcast radio became a popular fad in 1922, several publishers tried to capitalize on this enthusiasm. Naturally, this was not the first time that multiple series were created around a given event. The foundation of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910 saw several series, often with little or no connection to the activities of real Boy Scouts, published by between 5 and 10 publishers. Some of the non-Syndicate radio series to be established in 1922 include:
- The Radio Boys series (A.L. Burt, 1922-31) by Gerald Breckenridge
- The Radio Boys series (M.A. Donohue, 1922-23) by various writers
- The Radio Detectives series (Appleton, 1922) by A. Hyatt Verill
- The Radio-Phone Boys series (Reilly & Lee, 1922-28) by Roy J. Snell
- The Bill Brown series (Hurst, 1922) by Wayne Whipple & S.F. Aaron
along with many single titles in longer series.
Syndicate ghostwriter, St. George Rathborne (1854-1938) suggested that Stratemeyer create a “radio boys” series. Stratemeyer paid for the idea this time and barred Rathborne from writing such stories for other publishers.
He later released Rathborne from this contract so he could try to make some money with the idea. At the same time, Stratemeyer planned the Allen Chapman Radio Boys series. Twelve of the thirteen volumes were written by John William Duffield based on Stratemeyer’s outlines. The final volume, published in 1930, was written by Howard R. Garis.
Each book in this series featured an introduction by Jack Binns, the radio expert for the NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE who had the distinction, as “wireless operator” of the sinking S.S. Republic, of sending the first Marconi “CQD” message ever to bring about a major rescue at sea according to the April 1934 article on the Stratemeyer Syndicate in FORTUNE magazine anonymously written by Ayres Brinser.
Jack Binns wrote a book called THE FLYING BUCCANEER: A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE IN THE SKIES (NY: Nicholas L. Brown, 1923). In the listing in the WorldCat database is given birth and death dates of (1884-1959) but the biographical entry in WHO WAS WHO IN AMERICA, Volume 3, describes a corporate executive, not a radio expert. Most likely, the author of the aviation book is the right person but the dates were misattributed by a library cataloger. A few other “Jack Binns” are listed in the Social Security Death Index.
The Chapman Radio Boys books were reasonably successful in the first year, 1922, and it is quite possible to find the volumes published in 1922 and 1923. After this point, the sales dropped off significantly.
As you can see, the sales in 1929 towards the end of the series were very small which is why these books are so hard to find. The series ended in 1930, cutting off sales for all itents and purposes.
John William Duffield (1859-1946) was a prolific writer for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Between 1916 and 1936, he wrote about 116 stories for the Syndicate. Prior to writing the three volumes in the Rushton Boys series, wrote a series about a character named Bert Wilson (1913-1914), which included one radio-themed title, BERT WILSON, WIRELESS OPERATOR (Sully & Kleinteich, 1913).
Duffield attended Colgate and graduated from the college in 1882 and its seminary in 1884. He was listed as a book publisher between 1900 and 1910, a bookseller in 1910, and head of a Booklovers’ Society in 1916 according to New York City Directories. He was also a reporter for the NEW YORK TIMES and author of eight signed book reviews in the last five months of 1921. He wrote two signed articles for the TIMES’ CURRENT HISTORY series of books about WWI in 1918 and 1922.
In addition the Bert Wilson books, Duffield wrote two volumes in the Radio Boys series which were published by M.A. Donohue of Chicago: THE RADIO BOYS IN THE FLYING SERVICE (M.A. Donohue, 1922) and THE RADIO BOYS UNDER THE SEA (M.A. Donohue, 1923). He also wrote some Boy Scout books in a series published by Saalfield of Akron, Ohio under the “Major Robert Maitland” pseudonym. Duffield’s Syndicate books include selected volumes in the Bobby Blake series, Baseball Joe series, Don Sturdy series, Bomba the Jungle Boy series, and Ted Scott series, among others.
His daughter, Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward (1895-1983), also wrote for the Syndicate. In addition to her own Lucille Payton series (1915- 1918), between 1916 and 1936 she wrote 71 manuscripts for the Syndicate. She wrote the fourth and final volume in the Radio Girls series (1922-23). The first three volumes were written by Walter Bertram Foster.
The final volume in the 13-volume Chapman Radio Boys series was written by Howard R. Garis, the author of more than 315 Syndicate manuscripts and a very large number of books and stories on his own, including the famous Uncle Wiggily stories which were published weekly in the newspapers for about fifty years, beginning in 1910. Many of these stories were collected into books.
One of the main competitors to the Chapman Radio Boys series, published by Grosset & Dunlap, was one published by A.L. Burt and written by Gerald Breckenridge (1889-1964). A respected researcher, Everett F. Bleiler, has written that Breckenridge’s name was Gerald B. Breitigam though there is a Social Security Death Index record for Breckenridge.
Roy Judson Snell (1878-?) wrote the Radio-Phone Boys series. Some books were published under the “James Craig” pseudonym but most were under his name. Other Radio series were much shorter and sold very poorly. This makes series like the Radio Detectives series by Alpheus Hyatt Verrill (1871-1954) published by Appleton are extremely difficult to find. The Hurst editions of the Ocean Wireless Boys series are hard to find as well. These stories were also reprinted in pulp paperback format by Arthur Westbrook and the fragile nature of these books makes them very hard to find as well.
Many ordinary series had single volumes which had radio as a theme such as TOM SWIFT AND HIS WIRELESS MESSAGE (Grosset & Dunlap, 1911) and two volumes in the Boy Inventors series: THE BOY INVENTORS’ WIRELESS TRIUMPH (Hurst, 1912) and THE BOY INVENTORS’ RADIO TELEPHONE (Hurst, 1915). Even the Bobbsey Twins participated in a “radio play” in a volume published in a 1937 volume written by Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward. The Hardy Boys solved a mystery involving short-wave amateur radio called THE SHORT-WAVE MYSTERY (Grosset & Dunlap, 1945) by “Franklin W. Dixon” (Leslie McFarlane (1902-1977)) which was first published in 1945 and later republished with the same title and an extensively revised plot in 1966.
And of course there were many nonfiction juvenile books to teach young people about the wonders of electricity and show them how to make telegraph and telephone wireless receivers and transmitters