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Bless My Collar Button, If It Isn’t Tom Swift
the world’s greatest inventor
December 1976 | Volume 28, Issue 1
By the sixth book they were on first names, and in 1911 they exchanged their first kiss. By 1920 he was calling her “little girl” and sharing rewards. In Airline Express , when Tom was experiencing a cash flow problem, Mary turned over her inheritance to him. “Take all I have,” she said simply. “I’m glad to invest in anything Tom has to do with.”
Of course the real starring roles in the books were played not by the characters but by Tom’s wonderful inventions. Most of them came after similar devices had been announced in the press, but some of them actually preceded the real thing. His color television was twenty years ahead of its time. His electric rifle, first produced in Tom’s Shopton laboratory in 1911, anticipated the first Browning machine rifle by five years. Although Tom’s rifle fired a charge of electricity instead of a bullet, it was similar to Browning’s 1916 rapid-fire repeater. Tom’s “wizard camera,” which was constructed in 1912, was eleven years ahead of Victor’s original portable motion-picture camera. His electric locomotive was in service two years before the Jersey Central ran its first diesel electric, and his photo telephone was eleven years ahead of the Bell Laboratories’ first successful phototelegraphy process.
Only twice in the thirty-eight books of the series did Stratemeyer and Garis allow their fantasies to outstrip reality, and permit Tom to come up with ideas that were not workable, either then or in the future: a process for using lightning to make artificial diamonds that could not be distinguished from the genuine article, and a silent airplane engine.
Each book of the series was constructed around a supermachine of some sort, dreamed up by the boy genius and built by his own hands (with the help of chums and workmen) in his own workshop. Usually there were secondary inventions too. A speedy vehicle, designed to win a great race, would have a totally new kind of battery or gear assembly designed by Tom. Inventions would use a new kind of fuel, or a new process to get under way. Everything, plausible or not, was desribed in great detail. For example, Tom’s sky racer, the Hummingbird , in which he won a $10,000 prize in 1911, was able to reach a speed of 100 m.p.h., although Wilbur Wright had built one only two years earlier that had amazed the world by attaining 37 m.p.h. Tom’s ship was “a cross between the Bleriot and the Antionette, with the general features of both but with many changes and improvements.”
There is no record of what Wilbur Wright thought of Tom’s design, which was in so many ways superior to his own. Undoubtedly Tom’s racer would have vibrated itself into powder had it not been for his “ingenious” and “secret” device.