Abstract: Dick Merriwell, the Problem of Generational Readers, and the Business of Making Boys

Ryan K. Anderson


Street and Smith publishing had a problem in 1901: their flagship dime novel, <i>Tip Top Weekly</i> (1896-1912) did so well that they now found themselves negotiating the demands made by the original readers of the serial and new readers regarding the direction of the story. The house's introduction of Dick Merriwell in "Frank Merriwell's Brother; or, Training a Wild Spirit" represented its attempt to satisfy both groups of readers, who wanted a story that told them how they might live as a manly boy. This was important because Street and Smith made cloth-bound novels by using their dime novels as a form of audience research. Deciding which storylines merited reprinting depended on reader validation, so maintaining a holistic audience remained important to making money. But, as long as the house included readers as direct participants in creating the Merriwell saga they gave them power to handicap their production methods. This had less to do with any shortcoming in their particular creative process than with reflecting Progressive Era changes in the publishing business in general and the continuing bifurcation of adolescence.