15 Mysterious Facts About ‘The Hardy Boys’

Frank and Joe Hardy have been blowing mysteries wide open for almost 90 years, combating ghosts, thieves, monsters, and shifty characters to the delight of several generations of kids. Fans of The Hardy Boys books might have caught a lot of the action along the way, but they may not realize that the series is its own shady case file that involves changing American tastes, furious librarians, and the shadowy, corrupt business of kids’ books. 


Not including graphic novels and planned releases, there have been well over 450 Hardy Boys titles published since their 1927 debut. This rough sum includes 38 titles from the original series that were entirely rewritten after 1959, releases by Grossett & Dunlap and digests from Simon & Schuster publishers, and the spinoff Clues Brothers, Undercover Brothers, Casefiles, Super Mysteries, and Adventures series, among others.  


Around the beginning of the 20th century, Edward Stratemeyer, who The New York Times called “a prolific hack with a nose for business” and “the Henry Ford of children's fiction,” had a revelation that would change children’s literature forever. Stratemeyer saw that, while most kids’ lit to date focused on moral instruction, kids themselves wanted to experience the same thrills their parents were getting from cheap series books that sold for a nickel to 10 cents a pop. When he started publishing books that delivered this excitement, he realized that children would become attached to certain authors, so it was better for them to be written using a pseudonym that he owned, than by an individual author who could leave. Thus, the high-output children’s series market was born. 


In the decades that followed, the Stratemeyer Syndicate employed a changing stable of ghostwriters to churn out Hardy Boys titles (under the shared pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon) in as little as three weeks. These writers also filled the pages of Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Tom Swift books at breakneck speed, usually for a flat per-book fee of between $75 and $125 with no royalties involved.


This group of ghost writers enabled Stratemeyer to build his literary empire, and while he sometimes provided bare bones storylines for his writers to work from, his instructions to Hardy Boys writers, the Times notes, “were basic: end each chapter with a cliffhanger, and no murder, guns, or sex.” 


Like many fiction and comic titles of the era, The Hardy Boys books coming out in the late 1920s and ‘30s showed a gritty, no-nonsense world (or the kids' version of it) where Frank, Joe, and their pals functioned as fearless private eyes, taking the pursuit of justice into their own hands because of authority’s impotence. Bumbling policemen often interfered with their investigations and even briefly jailed them as stuffy retribution for the boys’ ingenious work. In the second-ever Hardy Boys book, The House on the Cliff, Frank finds it necessary to put pressure on the local police chief in order to further real justice:

‘Of course, chief,’ said Frank smoothly, ‘if you're afraid to go up to the Polucca place just because it's supposed to be haunted, don't bother. We can tell the newspapers that we believe our father has met with foul play and that you won't bother to look into the matter [...]’

‘What's that about the newspapers?' demanded the chief, getting up from his chair so suddenly that he upset the checkerboard [...] ‘Don't let this get into the papers.’ The chief was constantly afraid of publicity unless it was of the most favorable nature.


Leslie McFarlane wrote 19 of the first 25 Hardy Boys books and, according to many, singlehandedly defined the kind of detailed, moody prose for which the original series is lauded. In his version of Bayport, the simultaneous kid-friendly hamlet/atrocious hotbed of crime the boys call home, the Hardy family isn’t as wealthy as other Syndicate heroes, the boys happily accept monetary rewards, and the town’s rich folk come across as daft and greedy. 

McFarlane clearly didn’t care much for the power structures in early 20th century U.S. culture, cops included. He wrote in his autobiography, Ghost of the Hardy Boys, "I had my own thoughts about teaching youngsters that obedience to authority is somehow sacred [...] Would civilization crumble if kids got the notion that the people who ran the world were sometimes stupid, occasionally wrong and even corrupt at times?”


As the Times reflected, McFarlane “breathed originality into the Stratemeyer plots, loading on playful detail” that enthralled a young reader. He paid particular attention to his descriptions of meals, and to the sumptuousness of food from a young boy’s perspective. At the end of 1927’s The Tower Treasure, he included the following bacchanalian scene: 

''For more than half an hour, they indulged in roast chicken, crisp and brown, huge helpings of fluffy mashed potatoes, pickles, vegetable and salads, pies and puddings to suit every taste, and when the last boy sank back in his chair with a happy sigh there was still food to spare.'' 


As a result of the 1953 United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, many publishers of children’s media worked hard throughout the '50s to get their stories in line with new legal and social standards for kid-appropriate material. Like other Stratemeyer Syndicate series, Hardy Boys books had often contained negative racial and gender stereotyping among its supporting and minor characters, many of which would shock modern audiences, but which were also considered unpalatable by readers in 1959. 


That year, the Syndicate started rewriting 38 of its original Hardy Boys titles to remove objectionable material, including many of the books’ most violent moments. Writers also tried to give the books a more modern feel with fewer tough words, streamlined action plots, and generally updated language. Fans of the original series found the new bowdlerized versions to be downright bland, but Salon explained that some of the changes were reasonable:

“Dropped from The Missing Chums is ‘“I’ll say,’ replied Lola slangily,” as is ‘“So!’ she ejaculated, as the boys appeared.” Chet Morton’s car is referred to in The Tower Treasure as a ‘gay-looking speed-wagon.’ In the revision, the car loses this description but gains a name, ‘The Queen.’ (In this case there appears to be a wit at work, making the change something less than a total loss for literature.)” 


Starting in 1959 and carrying on through today, the boys have seemingly done a 180 regarding their distaste for authority (and, some critics argue, indeed now work to defend The Man). In 1969’s The Arctic Patrol Mystery, for example, Frank appears to have evolved into the kind of conscientious young American that much media of the day promoted: 

“‘Great, Dad!’ Frank said, jumping to his feet. ‘With spring vacation coming up we won't miss any time at school!’

‘Are your passports up to date?’ his father asked.

‘Sure, we always keep them that way.’” 


Since the first Hardy Boys books were published, grown-ups have had trouble understanding their appeal—not just because the books contained violence and racial stereotypes, but because they were seen as literary garbage.

Even after the big cleanup in 1959, librarians continued to take issue with Syndicate works. "In our library traditionally we have never had this kind of mediocre book. Two-to-one my librarians [want to] uphold the superior selections we have," explained Virginia Tashjian, Chief Librarian for Newton, MA, to The Hour in 1978. The Spokane Daily Chronicle also noted in 1980 that the library banned Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys titles "because they 'lacked literary merit'” but still “retained Braille editions of Playboy magazine." 


In 1926 and 1927, the American Library Association surveyed kids in 34 U.S. cities, found that 'series books' were being read by 98% of respondents, and that "the books of one series [presumably the Bobbsey Twins] were unanimously rated trashy by our expert librarians [but] almost unanimously liked by the 900 children who read them."


Many of the Stratemeyer Syndicate's records are incomplete or lost, but estimates suggest that by 1975 Nancy Drew book sales had topped 60 million, Hardy Boys sales were over 50 million, and the Bobbsey Twins had hit 30 million. Since then, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series have been steadily selling around one to two million copies per year (including many older titles), putting Hardy Boys all-time sales at over 70 million.


Since the introduction of the Undercover Brothers series, Frank and Joe have been top agents for American Teens Against Crime (ATAC), a secret government agency co-founded by their father to utilize kid agents when grown-ups won’t do. The agency delivers its orders via special CD-ROM that can only be played for instructions once. After the initial listen, it plays music like any other CD.


No one can deny that The Hardy Boys series has stuck around due to popular demand, but decades later, critics still aren’t quite sure why. One idea is that the books are just fantastical, gripping, and vague enough to be relatable to any young reader. As a writer for Salon explained:

“Happily, the Hardy Boys series was unconcerned with reality [and the] boys’ characters basically broke down this way—Frank had dark hair; Joe was blond. [...] Generally, Frank was the thinker while Joe was more impulsive, and perhaps a little more athletic. I was blond, like Joe, and younger, like Joe. I liked Joe best. Franklin W. Dixon played me like a violin.”

Why a Major Error in 'A Wrinkle in Time' Was Never Corrected

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962, and thanks to the recent release of a big-budget Disney adaptation, the book is just as popular as ever. The book has earned its status as a modern classic, but according to the Daily Beast, there's something hiding in the text of every copy that is rarely seen in titles that have enjoyed such a long print run. The book features an error that's been reprinted millions of times, and unless you read Greek, you would likely never notice it.

The mistake falls on page 59 of the new Square Fish edition that was published to tie in with the new film. On that page you'll find a quote from Mrs Who, one of the three mystical beings that guide the protagonist Meg and her companions across the universe. Because verbalizing in her own words takes a lot of energy, Mrs Who communicates strictly by quoting great writers and thinkers from history. In this case, she's quoting the playwright Euripides in his original ancient Greek. She follows it with the English translation, "Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything," but Greek speakers will notice that the two quotes don't match up. The original line in Greek includes words that don't make sense together or don't exist at all.

How was such a glaring error able to go unnoticed in a major work for so long? The answer is that it didn't: L'Engle was made aware of it by a friend of Greek heritage in the 1990s. According to L'Engle's granddaughter, the writer could trace the typo back to the Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Classical Quotations, the book she pulled all of Mrs Who's quotes from. While transcribing the Euripides quote by hand she must have omitted a letter by accident. The quote was further removed from the original when the typesetter chose the Greek characters from her manuscript.

Even after hearing about the mistake, L'Engle didn't make fixing it her top priority. Instead she invested her energy into tackling other copyediting issues for the 1993 reprint, like removing all the periods from Mrs Who's, Mrs Which's, and Mrs Whatsit's names. When L'Engle died in 2007, the mangled quote was still standard in new copies of A Wrinkle in Time.

To date, only one English-language edition of the book contains the corrected quotation: the 1994 audiobook narrated by L'Engle herself. But the publishers of A Wrinkle in Time at Macmillan are apparently aware of the error, so the next printing may finally be the one that gets it right.

[h/t Daily Beast]

iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
When German Scientists Tried to Rename Bats and Shrews, Hitler Threatened to Send Them to War
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski

In The Art of Naming (The MIT Press), Michael Ohl, a biologist at the Natural History Museum of Berlin, delves into the art, science, language, and history of taxonomy. There are some 1.8 million known species—and scientists estimate that 100 million more await discovery. Every one will need a name. How does the process work? 

Ohl takes us into the field with the explorers and scientists at the forefront of naming the natural world, including Father Armand David, a French priest who was the first to describe the panda to the Western world; American paleontologists Edward Dinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who bitterly battled in the Bone Wars; and Polish biologist Benedykt Dybowski, whose unique naming system for crustaceans called gammarids (a.k.a. "scuds") resulted in tongue-twisters such as Cancelloidokytodermogammarus (Loveninsuskytodermogammarus) loveni.

In the excerpt below, Ohl tells the story of one of the little-known footnotes to World War II: When Adolf Hitler threatened the German biologists who wanted to rename bats and shrews. And, read on for the best bat nickname of all time: "bacon mouse."

—Jen Pinkowski


On March 3, 1942, a brief item with a rather peculiar headline appeared tucked away in the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper. "Fledermaus No Longer!" the bold letters proclaimed. The following short text was printed underneath:

"At its 15th General Assembly, the German Society for Mammalogy passed a resolution to change the zoologically misleading names 'Spitzmaus' [shrew] and 'Fledermaus' [bat] to 'Spitzer' and 'Fleder.' Fleder is an old form for Flatterer [one that flutters]. The Spitzmaus, as it happens, has borne a variety of names: Spitzer [one that is pointed], Spitzlein, Spitzwicht, Spitzling. Over the course of the conference, several important lectures were held in the auditorium of the Zoologisches Museum […]."

To this day, despite the problems announced by Germany's leading specialists on mammals on the pages of one of the capital's daily papers, fledermaus and spitzmaus remain the common German names for bats and shrews. Neither dictionaries nor specialized nature guides contain entries for fleder or spitzer (provided one disregards the primary definition of spitzer, which is a "small implement used for the sharpening of pencils").

Indeed, a swift response to the item in question arrived from an unexpected source. Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's private secretary, sent a message on March 4, 1942, to Hans Heinrich Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery. The missive contained remarkably unambiguous instructions from Hitler:

"In yesterday's newspapers, the Führer read an item regarding the changes of name ratified by the German Society for Mammalogy on the occasion of its 15th General Assembly. The Führer subsequently instructed me to communicate to the responsible parties, in no uncertain terms, that these changes of name are to be reversed immediately. Should members of the Society for Mammalogy have nothing more essential to the war effort or smarter to do, perhaps an extended stint in the construction battalion on the Russian front could be arranged. Should such asinine renamings occur once more, the Führer will unquestionably take appropriate measures; under no circumstance should terms that have become established over the course of many years be altered in this fashion."

There's no question that the "responsible parties" understood and responded to the injunction, which could hardly have been misinterpreted. On July 1, 1942, at least, a notice was printed in the Zoologischer Anzeiger—at that time, the "organ of the German Zoological Society"—that comprised a scant five lines. The notice has no byline and can most likely be attributed to the journal's publishers:

"Regarding the discussion [in earlier issues of the Zoologischer Anzeiger] about potential changes to the names 'Fledermaus' and 'Spitzmaus,' the Editors wish to make public that terms that have become established over the course of many years are not to be altered, following an announcement by the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture, as per the Führer's directive."

It's conceivable that Lammers forwarded Hitler's instructions (which had reached him by way of Bormann) to Bernhard Rust, the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture. Rust will then likely have ordered one of the "parties responsible" for the unpopular initiative to publish the retraction in the appropriate platform. The Zoologischer Anzeiger fit the bill, considering the fact that by 1941 it had already featured two articles debating whether the name spitzmaus should be changed.

What is the problem, though, that veteran scientists have with spitzmaus and fledermaus, those innocuous terms for the shrew and the bat? And how could it come to pass that Adolf Hitler—preoccupied as he was in 1942— should personally join in the campaign for the correct classification of these small mammals?


The common thread in these two unremarkable and familiar terms is of course the second word component, maus, or "mouse."

Fledermaus and spitzmaus … are (linguistically) first and foremost mice. By referencing certain characteristics in these compound words (fleder comes from flattern, "to flap"; spitz, or "point," refers to the shrew's pointy nose or rather head shape), it becomes possible to provide a clear name—or almost clear, at least, because there are many bat and shrew species, but more on that later.

Both names, of course, imply affiliation with mice, and that's the sticking point. In zoological terms, mice are a group of rodents known at the higher level of classification as Muroidea, "muroids" or the "mouse-like." The group includes quite the mix of animal groups, with occasionally curious names like zokor, blind mole-rat, spiny tree mouse, and Chinese pygmy dormouse, not to mention our pet hamsters and those domestic but unwelcome mice and rats. Common to all muroids are sundry and complex structural features in the skull, coupled of course with the oversized, continually growing incisors typical of rodents. Beyond that, although endless evolutionary gimmickry can revolve around this mouse theme (long or short legs, different fur colors and tail lengths, and much more), and even without biological expertise, most muroids tend to be identifiable as mice, if only vaguely.

Zoologically speaking, a mere mouse-like appearance is insufficient to denote a muroid. Instead, the specific anatomical features of the skull must be in evidence.

Field, house, and deer mice are familiar to many North Americans, although they typically live hidden away, and we don't often encounter them. These animals with the "mouse" base in their name are truly mice in the zoological sense.

The same cannot exactly be said for the bat and shrew—the fledermaus and spitzmaus—despite their names. Neither of them is even a rodent or, consequently, a muroid. Then what are they?

In the classification of mammals, a whole series of groupings is traditionally distinguished, usually assigned the rank of order within the class of mammals. Depending on scientific opinion, there are 25 to 30 of these orders of mammals. Rodents comprise one of these orders, to which muroids and several other groups of mammals belong.

Bats, meanwhile, are typical representatives of the order of flying mammals. Their scientific name is Chiroptera, from the Greek words chiros (hand) and pteros (wings). Chiroptera, then, means "hand-flier," which is a fitting name for bats and their closest relatives, flying foxes.

The systematic placement of the shrew, or spitzmaus, is determined in much the same way. They, too, fail to possess the mouse characteristics in question, although they do share traits with moles and hedgehogs, as well as with the solenodon (meaning "slotted tooth"), which is a venomous critter native exclusively to the Caribbean islands. They are now situated under the wondrous designation Eulipotyphla, but only since 1999. How they are related—along with ties to an array of other mammal families, such as tenrecs, desmans, and golden moles—has not been conclusively explained.

Experts have known for a long time—since Linnaeus's Systema Naturae at the latest—that neither bats nor shrews are related to mice, to which common parlance pays no heed. The fledermaus and spitzmaus comfortably maintain their spots in the lexicon.


One of the first mammal biologists to campaign for the standardization of German mammal names was Hermann Pohle. Born in Berlin in 1892, Pohle remained faithful to the city until his death and spent a large part of his life working at the natural history museum there. His career as a mammal biologist started early, when as a university student he worked as an unpaid hireling in the museum's famed mammal collection. Through diligence, endurance, and scientific acumen, he worked his way up to head curator of mammals. He thus held one of the most influential positions, of both national and international significance, in the field of systematic mammal research.

In 1926, Pohle—along with Ludwig Heck, the former director of the Berlin Zoo, and a number of other colleagues—founded the German Society for Mammalogy, of which he was the first head. Pohle thus had his finger on the pulse of mammal research, as it were, and he followed the history of the society over the next five decades "with keen interest," as one biographer noted.

In addition to his work as a researcher and curator of the mammal collection at Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History), Pohle's interests also lay with German mammal names. Not only did he push for standardization of names, Pohle also campaigned to have existing names assessed for scientific plausibility and changed, should they not pass (his) zoological muster.

In 1942, Pohle published a summary article addressing the question, "How many species of mammals live in Germany?" He appended a comprehensive list of all German mammals, each with its correct "technical name," as Pohle called it, as well as its corresponding German name. When it came to the various species of spitzmaus (of which the Germans have eight, incidentally, despite the long-standing impression that there is "the" one and only shrew) and the 16 species of bats that have the base word "fledermaus" in their name, Pohle consistently uses alternative terms. The eight shrew species thus became waldspitzer, zwergspitzer, alpenspitzer, wasserspitzer, mittelspitzer, feldspitzer, gartenspitzer, and hausspitzer. For the bats, the base of their compound name was changed to fleder: teichfleder, langfußfleder, wasserfleder, and so on, all the way to a term of particular elegance, wimperfleder.

Pohle's article, which predates the society's 15th General Assembly and Hitler's emotional veto by more than a year, is a particularly interesting source because he also shares his actual motivations for the suggested changes. His emphatic objective is to see "the term 'Maus' disappear, responsible as it is for laypersons' wont to lump the animals together with actual mice."

In the estimation of these laypersons, mice are something "ugly and destructive that must be fought, or ideally exterminated." Shrews and bats, harmless as they are to humans, are thus subject to the same brutal fate. Pohle hopes for a "shift in perspective" to occur, once the endangered animals are no longer referred to as mice.

What to do, then? Pohle would prefer the term spitz for spitzmaus, but it's already been assigned to a dog breed. Rüssler could also work, only it already applies to some other insectivore. That leaves spitzer, a name that emphasizes the pointy head as a distinguishing characteristic and is still available.

Pohle wants a name for bats without "maus" but happily with a nod to the animals' flying ability. Most names of this kind are already employed for birds, and "flatterer" or "flutterer" could only logically be used for a certain population of bats, namely, those bad at flying. "Flieger" or "flyer," another hot candidate, is also in use by various other animal groups.

But why, Pohle asks the reader, would one even need to say "fledermaus," when "fleder" actually makes perfect sense? Pohle mentions that the original meaning of "fleder" was different, but few people were aware of this fact anymore.

On the off chance that he was correct in this assessment, let it be noted that fledermaus can be traced back to the 10th century, to the Old High German "vledern" or "flattern" (the infinitive form of "flatterer"). The image of the bat as a "fluttering mouse" has existed since this time in many languages, including "flittermouse" in English. A number of other German terms exist for bats. In some regions of Germany, such as Rhineland-Palatinate and Southern Hesse, the Old High German "fledarmus" is said to have been used to describe nocturnal creatures, such as moths. There, bats were apparently called "speckmaus," instead of fledermaus, because while hibernating, they could be seen hanging like pieces of bacon (speck) in the smoke.

Pohle's dedication to promoting the protection of bats and shrews through a bold name change reached its temporary culmination a year later, when—at the 15th General Assembly of the German Society for Mammalogy in Berlin—a resolution was passed on a universal and binding adoption of the spitzer- and fleder-based names Pohle had suggested. The results are known: Hitler was not amused.


We can only guess at what Hitler's actual motive was in issuing such drastic threats to prevent the name alterations proposed by the German Society for Mammalogy. It could have been his outrage that in 1942—hard times because of the war—leading German intellectuals were concerned with something so unimportant and banal as the appropriateness of animal names. Perhaps this anecdote is just a further example of Hitler's hostility toward intellectuals.

It is ultimately unclear, even, to what extent Hitler was the driving force behind this directive or whether this is a case of subordinates "working towards the Führer," as historian Ian Kershaw describes it. Conceivably, after reading the Berliner Morgenpost, Hitler may have remarked negatively regarding the zoologists' plans. His circle—in this case, Bormann—may have immediately interpreted this as "the Führer's will" and sprung to action accordingly. As for Pohle and his colleagues, it can't have mattered much whether the "invitation" to the Eastern Front came directly from Hitler or was communicated in an act of premature obedience.

Whatever the case may be, Pohle's suggested name changes did not fail because of Hitler's intervention, which presumably resonated as little with the German-speaking public as the original notice. Pohle failed because he wanted to take the basic idea of a standardized naming system out of the scientific context and transfer it into the realm of vernacular. Everyday German is not formally and officially regulated, and like every other vernacular, it follows different rules than scientific speech. It is shaped by a multitude of factors and influences that have their own unpredictable dynamic, which leads to some word usages changing while others stabilize.

In kindergarten, we learn that small, furry four-legged animals with a tail are "mice." This act of naming fulfills the exact function expected of it. It "tags" specific linguistic content—a meaning—that is generally understood. The difference between muroids and insectivores, which is important to zoologists, has no application in everyday confrontations with "mouse-like" animals and makes no difference to most people. A mouse is a mouse, whether a striped field mouse or a shrew.


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