When science-fiction first made its way into the repertoire of dime novelists it was based on the technology of steam and it was not until the 1880’s that the various steam men, steam horses, steam-coaches, &c., made way for the new technology of electricity. The 19th century was often described as an ‘age of wonders,’ based on the technologies that changed the way people looked at the future.
The first hot-air balloon took to the air in 1783 with a sheep, a duck, and a rooster as passengers. Ballooning was the astonishment of the Victorian age and it showed up in lower class fiction in tales of aerial travels to the moon such as Daniel O’Rourke; or, a Visit to the Moon, by Crofton Croker (22 Sept 1838) which was published in London in Benjamin Cousin’s Franklin’s Miscellany. Steam was a new inspiration for inventors from the 17th century on, again linked to transportation as fuel for steam carriages and railroad trains. Clockwork machines were popular in side-shows, fairs and lecture halls. Often these primitive automatons were dressed in clothing and given the bodies and facial features of humans. All this was the stuff of science-fiction. In America dime novelists were inspired to invent mechanical men while inventors turned their attention to robotics.
The earliest of these novels was Beadle’s Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis which appeared in Irwin’s American Novels #45 in 1868 and was distributed by the “American News Company.” Beadle & Adams reprinted it in 1877 and 1885 as The Huge Hunter; or, the Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis. Also in 1868, the improbably named Zadock Pratt Dederick (most newspaper accounts pronounced it ‘Dedrick’), a Newark machinist, built a steam man seven foot nine inches tall weighing in at 500 pounds, and facetiously named by the workmen ‘Daniel Lambert’ after the famous Georgian fat man. He was aided by a young German immigrant named Isaac Grass. Steam was generated in the body or trunk, “which is nothing but a three-horsepower engine, like those used in our steam fire engines. The legs which support it are complicated and wonderful. The steps are taken naturally and quite easily. As the body is thrown forward up on the advanced foot, the other is lifted from the ground by a spring and thrown forward by the steam. Each step or pace advances the body two feet and every revolution of the engine produces four paces.” Cost of construction was $2000.
The fellow was attached to a common Rockaway carriage with spikes or corks on his feet to prevent slipping. In order to prevent the steam man from frightening horses Dederick intended to clothe it in felt or woolen undergarments, pantaloons, a coat and a vest in “the latest styles.”
“Daniel’s” face was “molded into a cheerful countenance of white enamel, which contrasts well with the dark hair and moustache. A sheet-iron hat with a gauge top acts as a smokestack.” Daniel wore gloves and was said to work on twenty cents worth of coal per day.
When news of the incredible steam man got about there was a rush on Dederick’s shop by the curious, who thronged the doorways and darkened the windows to view the skilled mechanics hard at work on “Daniel.” Many improvements were made including the addition of stronger springs so the steam man would not be so “weak in the knees,” and “upon steam being generated he stumped off like a live Trojan.”
On January 25 1868 it was reported that Dederick’s New Jersey steam man made a successful trial trip to the immense satisfaction of the citizenry. “It passed through Broad-street to Crump’s Garden, opposite Military Park, where the machine is to be exhibited to the public during the next week.”
By March 17, 1868 the Newark Steam Man was being exhibited at rented premises on Broadway directly across the street from Barnum’s Museum. There was a “clamorous” crowd but the reporter had to take Dederick’s word that “Daniel” was capable of walking, he seems to have run out of steam for the day. Dederick informed him that he was planning on marketing steam men for $300 each and that a “steam horse” was in the planning stages.
On May 1, 1868 an Ohio Democrat reporter grumbled that “people are out of patience with the steam man.” The Newark Courier summed up what many must have been thinking: “When will all this humbug, all about an iron boiler in a smock frock, be done with? That which is called “the steam man” never did, and in all probability never will, walk the length of his nose.”
One newspaper writer wrote of the problem facing inventors of mechanical men. “To construct a mechanical man is merely to triumph over mechanical difficulties -- the man being of no use, but merely a curiosity when created…”
In the spring and summer of 1875 another steam man was on display, this time traveling the United States and Canada by train with W. W. Cole’s New York and New Orleans Zoological and Equestrian Exposition. He was described in advertisements as the “$8000 Mechanical Wonder” and he “Actually Walks and Runs Alone.” Reviews were mixed. The Burlington Daily Hawkeye reported that “the steam man was the wonder of all who saw him,” while the Jackson Sentinel opined that that “The Calliope was not exactly a facsimile of the instrument depicted on the show bills and the “steam man” was a fraud of the first water. At least we are so informed by all who saw him. We didn't.”
Advertisements pictured an iron man, steam pouring out of a funnel in its head wearing jodhpurs and knee-length boots. The images I have are fuzzy but this steam man appears to be smoking a cigarette. If the steam man was as shown in the advertising art he was probably not Dedrick’s creation. This one had a very human appearance and wore pants, but was not attached to any wagon.
Ellis’s Steam Man of the Prairies was resurrected in 1876 by the publisher Norman L. Munro in The Boys of New York. Norman Munro published it from its beginnings on August 23, 1875 to July 13, 1878, Volume III No. 152. Tousey and Small took over with No. 153, July 20, 1878 and carried it through to 1894, although Small’s name eventually disappeared from the masthead. The first installment of Harry Enton’s serial, The Steam Man of the Plains; or, The Terror of the West (1876), featuring Frank Reade, was published in Volume One No. 28 of The Boys of New York (1875-1894). The Steam Man of the Plains was followed by Frank Reade and His Steam Horse, and Frank Reade and His Steam Team.
Harry Enton’s real name was Harry Cohen, a medical student freelancing on the side for publisher Norman Munro. Cohen’s (1854-1927) stories were reprinted in The Five Cent Wide Awake Library and The Frank Reade Library.
From The Steam Man of the Plains; or, the Terror of the West, in Boys of New York:
‘Charley Gorse beheld a metallic imitation of a man. The figure was about twelve feet high from the bottom of the huge feet to the top of the plug hat which adorned the steam-man’s head. An enormous belly was required to accommodate the boiler and steam chest, and this corpulency agreed well with the height of the metallic steam chap. To give full working room to the very delicate machinery in the interior, the old giant was made to convey a sort of knapsack upon his shoulders. The machine held in its arms in the position taken by a man when he is drawing a carriage.
Charlie glanced up at the face of the monster and beheld a huge pair of glass eyes and an enormous mouth.
“Now then,” said Frank, “the lamp will be in his head, and his eyes will be the headlights. His mouth holds the steam whistle. Here, in his belly, we open a door and put in fuel, and the ashes drop down into his legs and are emptied from the moveable kneepan, and without injury to the oiled leg-shafts, for they are inclosed in a tube. That is why the fellow’s limbs are so large. These wire cords increase the power in one leg, and cause that leg to go much faster, and in that manner we get a side movement and can turn around.
“Go on,” said Charlie, who was intensely excited, “its feet are spiked like a baseball player’s are spiked, to prevent the machine from slipping under speed,” said Frank. “Then you notice that its legs are very long, and very far apart, so as to give it balance. This stop-cock on the side will let on or shut off steam.”
Frank returned in No. 48 in Frank Reade and His Steam Horse. Tousey continued the Frank Reade stories and in 1883 was issuing Frank Reade, Jr. and His Airship.
Another author of scientific dime novels was the mysterious Fred Hazel (possibly a pseudonym) who wrote for the The Boys’ Champion (1881-1883). The Electric Horse; or, the Demon of the Plains was his first effort and appeared in No. 17 and 18. The Boys’ Champion No. 30 and 31 carried The Flying Marvel: or, The Emperor of the Air. Fred Hazel is noted as the author of Nobody’s Child, Lotta, the Young Lady Detective, The Electric Circle, and Lost In Cloudland. None of these stories appeared in The Boys’ Champion and may even have been invented titles to make the author seem more renowned than he actually was.
Fred Hazel’s The Flying Marvel: or, The Emperor of the Air was also derivative of Harry Enton’s stories. It is possible that Harry Enton was the author known as ‘Fred Hazel’ since his name appears on the last Boys’ Champion serial “Young Sullivan” in 1883.
“Passing above Niagara Falls, they soon were floating over Canada, and keeping to a course a little north of west, they kept Lake Erie in sight for a long while.
Skirting Lake Huron until the straits of Mackinaw were reached, they laid their course westward across Lake Superior.”
In The Electric Horse the mysterious “something” that Ike Anderson is building in his parlor is the talk of the town. After the death of his father a German American boy, Bob Stump, comes to live with Ike and his sister, Maggie. Ike shows him the secret of his “something.”
“By shiminy Christmas! It is made of iron isn’t it?” asks Bob. “It is a horse,” said Ingenious Ike, slowly and with emphasis, “It is an Electric Horse!”
A description follows:
“During this time the wooden skeleton of a horse had been completely enclosed by plates of iron- or, more properly steel- shaped so as to conform to the out-line of a well-formed horse.
The upper edge of each plate was tucked up under the lower edge of the plate above it, and ingeniously riveted together, and by the joining together of many plates, the horse was formed.
Then the wooden frame-work or skeleton was removed from the interior.
The horse was a giant in stature, and Bob could walk right under his belly without scraping his head even if he stood on tip-toes.
In the horse’s belly was an iron flap or door, which, on touching a hidden spring, dropped down, leaving a sort of door up through which a person could climb into the interior of the body.”
Two powerful electric batteries, connected to wires, and magnets powered the Electric Horse. Now it was time to put it to the test:
“Ike touched a spring in the horse‘s belly, and the moveable plate falling, left an opening into the body, from which a short rope ladder fell simultaneously with the moving of the plate.
Up into the body Ike went.”
After a successful test, Ike and Bob pack food, guns and ammo.
“Then one night, just after the clock had struck the hour of twelve- Ike- climbing inside the Demon caused it to advance toward the door.”
The hired man wakes up and flees at the awesome sight, while Bob and Ike say their tearful farewells to Maggie.
“A couple of minutes later the road was reached, and as Ike turned the electric steed’s head away from his home he muttered:
“Off for the plains!”
The story was not earth-shaking, but was a good read, and, as far as I know The Electric Horse never returned. The Boys’ Champion No. 26 contained a new serial called The Ocean Mystery; or, The Cruise of the Octopus by Howard De Vere which was another Verne-type submarine adventure. An author using the name Harry Kennedy contributed a few fantastic tales to Boys of New York in 1880; The Flying Man; or, The Adventures of a Young Inventor and Across the Continent in the Air.
Frank Reade stories were based on steam technology while electricity begat Frank Reade Jr. Frank Reade’s airships and submarines were usually equipped with powerful searchlights which illuminated adventures above and blow the sea.
Harry Enton wrote the first three Frank Reade stories and the majority afterwards were penned by Luis Senarens (1863-1939). Senarens began writing at the age of fourteen and it was Jules Verne’s writing that influenced him when he began writing for Frank Tousey’s publications.
“I had heard of the steam-propelled iron man at the Philadelphia Centennial and I built my first stories around this unique creature. The advancement of electrical science some years later led to the expansion of this idea into the greater and newer field.”
Senarens account leaves out Edward S. Ellis and Harry Enton’s contributions.
“Verne read many of my earlier stories, and he frequently wrote to me and encouraged me in my work. After he had written ‘Around the World in Eighty Days,’ a story that afterward proved to be entirely plausible, Verne, it seems, ran out of steam and he did little more along this highly imaginative line.”
Senarens was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1863, the son of a Cuban tobacco merchant, and was already writing under a dozen names while still attending St. John’s College of Arts and Sciences. He sold his first story at 14 and was earning $200 a week at 16. Eventually he would produce 1500 novels and short stories totaling over 40,000,000 words under 27 different pseudonyms among them “Noname,” “Frank Reade Jr.,” “Captain Howard,” “W. J. Earle,” “Ned Sparling,” and “Kit Clyde.”
Senarens first story was sold to publisher Frank Tousey, who was under the illusion that he was dealing with an adult rather than a schoolboy who would not graduate from St. John’s until he was 23 years old in 1885. The two did eventually meet and Frank Tousey hired Senarens as an editor on his numerous story papers. By the age of 30 he had become president of Frank Tousey Publications.
“In the early ‘70’s,” Senarens said, “Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea’ had created a sensation throughout the world and everyone was reading it. It was Verne’s writings that stimulated my imagination when I began writing for the Tousey publications. Young America was seeking tales of adventure in those early days.”
“I hit on the idea of introducing mechanism into these stories as a means of giving the readers something new and startling. Our stories were intended for the young minds, but we early decided that it was necessary to describe things in detail, and to make our plots as plausible as possible. Of course there were no airships and no submarines and we didn’t conscientiously believe that there ever would be airships or submarines, but in dealing with our stories we tried to make the plots consistent.”
Luis Senarens died Tuesday, December 26, 1939, age 76, in King’s County Hospital of heart failure. During his extraordinary career he forecast the modern submarine, the armored car, the airplane and the dirigible. His Frank Reade Jr. stories spawned numerous boy inventor imitators. Foremost were Jack Wright, Tom Edison Jr., and Electric Bob. Senarens was a huge influence on Edward L. Stratemeyer, who wrote the Tom Swift series of boys’ books for the next generation.
The success of Frank Reade led to further adventurers like the Jack Wright series, first published in The Boys Star Library and featured in Golden Weekly. Street & Smith’s Nugget Library offered up ‘Philip Reade’s’ Tom Edison Jr. and the New York 5¢ Library had Electric Bob. Tousey published The Adventures of Harry Franco in Wide Awake Library in 1880. The Aldine Publishing Company in London, England reprinted many of the Frank Reade stories with dazzling new cover art. These were shipped all over the British Empire by Gordon & Gotch, a firm still supplying newsstands with British and Australian periodicals to this day.
*Dederick’s fantastic story is told in “Science Fiction and the Dime Novel” by Everett F. Bleiler, AB Bookman’s Weekly 23 October 1995. That article along with much additional information unearthed by Joseph Rainone appeared in the superbly illustrated “The Frank Reade Weekly” by Joseph Rainone, NY: Almond Press 2005. Joseph also alerted me to Crofton Croker’s Daniel O’Rourke; or, a Visit to the Moon. Images of Dederick's Steam Man are HERE. Mechanical Marvels of the Nineteenth Century is HERE.
*“The Five Cent Wide Awake Library” by Joseph Rainone, NY: Almond Press 2005
*“Juvenile Thrillers that Foretold the Wonders of Science,” New York Tribune, 8 Aug 1920 p.9
*““Frank Reade Jr.” Dreamed ‘Em and They Came True,” newspaper article, no date.
*Images courtesy Joe Rainone and E. M. Sanchez Saavedra.
Part II HERE