Imagine my surprise when I found an excellent copy of the 1912 edition of Tom Swift And His Air Glider for $10, and talked them down to $8 – having seen the damn thing for sale on E-Bay for upwards of $40. It’s the 12th book in the series.
The character ‘Tom Swift’ 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 (just like the more familiar Hardy Boys!). 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.
How cool are these books, well, aside from utilizing then cutting edge technologies such as aeroplanes in the books, sometimes they even anticipate inventions.
For example: Taser… it’s an acronym that stands for “T.” – (the 10th book in the series was called Tom Swift And His Electric Rifle, published originally in 1911). The real taser was invented in 1974.
How’s that for an homage to a fictional character?!
In fact, it is said that the Tom Swift character was modeled after such luminaries as: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss.
The book series contain wordplay puns, that as a writer I admire. In fact, these wordplay puns owe their origin to the books, and are known as either “Swifties” or “Tom Swiftly”. Two examples are:
- “I lost my crutches,” said Tom lamely;
- “I’ll take the prisoner downstairs,” said Tom condescendingly.
Anyhow, although I’m in the process of reading it, I can at least give you the gist of it:
Young inventor Tom Swift, while testing out am aeroplane he designed and built lands for emergency repairs, discovering that his magneto has worn out owing to poor-quality platinum.
He meets a Russian who says that he has a brother in a Siberian prison, and knowledge of a lost platinum mine – which is all Tom Swift needs to start a new adventure… well that and a new type of aeroplane/glider that the world has not yet seen.
The mention of the magneto… well… let me just give you a brief excerpt of that, which, if I was back in 1912 would have impressed upon my imagination to become a pilot – this is about magneto ignition, and is written in the book as such:
The magneto of an aeroplane performs a service similar to one in an automobile. It provides the spark that explodes the charge of gas in the cylinders, and platinum is a metal, more valuable now than gold, much used in the delicate parts of the magneto.
Wow… Okay, maybe something like this description of the aeroplane warming up is more your cup of tea:
“Come on back, and finish pumping up the tires,” he shouted to Ned. “I’m going to stop her now, and then I’ll give her the pressure test, and we’ll take a trip.”
Having cleared his eyes of smoke, Ned came back to his task, and this having been finished, Tom attached a heavy spring balance, or scales, to the rope that held the airship back from moving when her propellers were whirling about.
“How much pressure do you want?” asked Ned.
“I ought to get above twelve hundred wit the way the motor is geared, but I’ll go up with ten. Watch the needle for me.”
It may be explained that when aeroplanes are tested on the earth the propellers are set in motion. This of course would send a craft whizzing over the ground, eventually to rise in the air, but for the fact that a rope, attached to the craft, and to some stationary object, holds it back.
Now if this rope is hooked to a spring balance, which in turn is made fast to the stationary object, the “thrust” of the propellers will be registered in pounds on the scale of the balance. Anywhere from five hundred to nine hundred pounds of thrust will take a monoplane or biplane up. But Tom wanted more than this.
Once more the motor coughed and spluttered and the big blades whirled about so fast that they seemed like solid pieces of wood…
I read that, and not only did I learn how the pioneers of aviation prepped an aeroplane prior to flight in 1912, but it made me want to fly one of those old crates even more!
It is obvious from the descriptions that the writer(s) of the day talked to actual pilots and engineers in 1912 or earlier to provide such wonderful descriptions for the reader! Descriptions that are lost to time unless you were there, as few if any newspaper articles could provide such a description… perhaps owing to space, plus the fact that people wanted to read about the actual flight!
Anyhow… Tom Swift… present for your edification. Just don’t get in my way when I’m buying a copy.
For the record, Simon & Schuster owns the current publishing rights to Tom Swift, and you can find new copies for sale – but only if you search carefully.