Nancy Drew Through the Decades

Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old ClockBorn in 1930, the teenage sleuth Nancy Drew is still going strong over eight decades later.

The Nancy Drew story begins in 1930, with the publication of the first books by Grosset & Dunlap. Courageous, intelligent, resourceful and caring — from the very beginning Nancy exhibited all the qualities that have made her beloved by generations of readers. The teen sleuth was the last brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, owner of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, who had already created such popular series as the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and the Hardy Boys. Seeing a need for a girls’ mystery-adventure series, he created Nancy and hired a young journalist to write the stories based on plot outlines that he provided her. The Secret of the Old Clock, by “Carolyn Keene,” was published in 1930 — the same year that Edward Stratemeyer died. His daughter Harriet Adams carried on the work of supervising the series and later wrote many of the books herself.

In 1979 the Stratemeyer Syndicate made an agreement with Simon & Schuster to publish new books in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, in a digest format aimed at readers ages 8-11. In 1982 Harriet Adams died, and in 1984 Simon & Schuster purchased the Syndicate, thereby becoming both owner and publisher of Nancy Drew.


Pocket Books updated the property to mirror the lives and interests of Nancy’s most recent generation of readers. In her latest cases Nancy solves mysteries in settings with which young readers identify — backstage at a rock concert, inside a teen magazine, or at a high school. Her loyal girl friends Bess Marvin and George (Georgia) Fayne are still at her side, ready to follow her on her latest adventure and lend her support, as is her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson.

The core of the Nancy Drew publishing program, the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, continues to be published six times a year by Pocket Books’ Minstrel Book imprint. Pocket Books has nearly ten million copies in print of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.


In August 1986 Pocket Books/Archway paperbacks took a major step to broaden Nancy’s audience by appealing to older readers. A new series — the Nancy Drew Files — was launched in the adult-size paperback format with a new book published every month. Featuring cunningly crafted, fast-paced mysteries tinged with romance and with covers portraying a very up-to-date Nancy Drew, the books immediately captured the hearts of teen readers. With more than 17 million copies in print and numerous appearances on the bestseller lists of Publishers Weekly, B. Dalton, and Waldenbooks, the Nancy Drew Files series issued 124 titles in 11 years.

From 1995 to 1997, Simon & Schuster sent Nancy, Bess and George off to fictitious Wilder University as college freshmen in a more sophisticated and romantic 25-book series called Nancy Drew on Campus. There are more than 1.5 million copies of these books in print.


In September 1994 the youngest readers met an eight year-old Nancy solving her very first mysteries in the Nancy Drew Notebooks. This illustrated digest series of first chapter books is published every other month by Minstrel Books. There are currently 1.5 million copies in print of 25 titles.

Nancy has also been teamed with Frank and Joe Hardy in a special series for teens called the Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys Super Mysteries. There are more than four million copies of 36 titles in print.

In 1991, Applewood Books Press began publishing Nancy Drew Facsimile Editions of the original Nancy Drew novels from the 1930s. Each of these editions include introductions by prominent writers, including Nancy Pickard, Sara Paretsky, Margaret Maron and Jane Smiley. At present there are 11 books in this series.


Nancy Drew’s popularity is both enduring and international — she is currently translated into French, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Spanish, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Malaysian.

   — Lisa Schulman

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