Literature: Tom Swift

1910's to 30's Stratemeyer Syndicate kids' series following the adventures of boy inventor Tom Swift. Each book began with Tom inventing some new gadget that conveniently proved essential to resolving the plot. Invented or popularized many Gadgeteer Genius tropes.

While popular in his time, Tom proved to have less staying power than his Stratemeyer stablemates Frank and Joe Hardy and Nancy Drew, perhaps because of how quickly his "cool technology" was superseded in the real world. An Atomic-age attempt to revive the franchise with a new series starring his son failed when people started questioning the wisdom of atomic-powered airplanes and automobiles. If anything Tom Swift Jr.'s Gee-whiz tech went obsolete even faster than his father's did.

Revived IN SPACE! in the early 1980s, in Southern California in the 1990s and in the first person in the 2000s.

Origin of the "Tom Swifty", such as "Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily or "How was your colonoscopy?" asked Tom probingly. This is something of a Beam Me Up, Scotty! (or "Play it again, Sam") situation, as while Stratemeyer was eager to employ adverbs and reluctant to use the plain verb "said", actual "Tom Swifty" puns were rare.


  • Antiquated Linguistics: Inevitable, due to the time they were written.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Probably the Ur-Example.
  • Either/Or Title: All of the books in the original series, such as Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle; or, Fun and Adventure on the Road
  • First Contact Math: Tom Swift Jr. and his father communicate with aliens this way.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Possibly the Ur-Example of this trope too.
  • Kid Detective
  • Mad Libs Catch Phrase: Mr. Damon in the first series always said some form of "Bless my [noun]!"
  • Minovsky Physics: The radiation-blocking Tomasite plastic can block radiation, and is a good neutron reflector. Period. Apart from that, it's just a strong, hard plastic. The repelatron device can do one thing: Push on the specific combination of elements it's been tuned to. The potential complications and the difficulties of keeping the things properly tuned are not ignored.
  • MST: Tom Swift's War Tank is one of the more extensive MSTings available.
  • Parrot Exposition: Notoriously overused in the earlier novels and the source for much of the humor in the aforementioned MSTing.
  • Raygun Gothic including the inevitable Zeerust
  • Revival: Tom Swift Jr. in the 1950s, and again in the 1980s, and again in the 90s, and for good measure in 2006.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The adventures of Tom Swift the Somethingth, interstellar traveller.
  • Said Bookism
  • Sidekick: Mr. Damon and Ned in the original series, Bud in the 1950s, Ben in the 1980s, Rick in the 1990s. Given who they're playing the Sidekick to, they also get to be The Watson.
  • Story Arc: The "Jr." novels had an ongoing arc about Tom's interaction with the alien "Space Friends". Since the arc never really went anywhere before the series ended, it's arguably also an Aborted Arc.
  • Teen Genius: Tom, of course, and his twin sister as well in the 90's version. Tom is probably the Ur-Example of this trope as well.
  • Tom Swifty: Trope Namer, though as mentioned actual examples are rare.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation of Tom Swift's War Tank has examples of:

  • The Ditz: Ned.
  • Fourth Wall Breaking: Ned's stupidity becomes so severe that Joel and the bots run out of ways to riff him and are forced to ask the readers for help.
  • Idiot Ball: Ned and Mr Damon keep a firm grip on this at all times, but it seems that anyone who isn't Tom gets their sticky mitts on it at some point.
    Servo: Ah, it all becomes clear, now. The residents of Shopton, except for the Swifts, share a collective intelligence. Someone else in town must be buttoning their coat and thereby placing a strain on the town's remaining IQ resources.
  • Invincible Hero: Lampshaded by Servo:
    Servo: I've never read any of the books in this series, and I'll bet I know everything there is to know about him already. He's really good at everything that he does, which is everything done by any American of his age and class. Girls admire him, but he only has pure love for one. He's Roger Ramjet played straight. He is, in effect, every bit as annoying as every Mary Sue ever penned.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    Joel: Meanwhile, back on the Swift plant, Eradicate and Koku had undergone a change since their Master had been away....
    Servo [as Eradicate]: I disagree — even given Rossini's questionable reusage of material from his earlier operas, "The Barber of Seville" is one of the greatest Opera Buffas ever written; even the renowned Verdi himself said as much.
    Crow [as Koku]: True, my friend, but I still think you're downplaying Mozart's "Don Giovanni" too much — that raised the level of Opera Buffas to unknown levels which Verdi himself only matched with "Falstaff," some eighty years later.
  • Overly Long Gag: Crow, Servo and Joel's description of Swift's Cold-Blooded Torture. Justified in that it lasts as long as it takes for Mr Damon and Ned to realize that Tom Swift, inventor extraordinaire and tank engineer, may have possibly been kidnapped by the German spies they know full well are prowling around Shopton.
  • Running Gag: "I get paid by the word, you know."
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Crow destroys Tom's airfield as revenge for ditching him in a biplane over the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Ned. Oh boy, NED.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Tom Swift has a tank to test. He wants to see how it fares when driven through a building. He spots a barn in a farmyard. Does he stop and ask the farmer's permission first? No.