Steampunk Wiki

Inventor/adventurer Frank Reade, Jr.

Luis Philip Senarens (1865-1939) was a highly prolific boys' fiction author who began writing professionally at the age of 12. At 14, he began an association with publisher Frank Tousey's periodical Boys of New York by writing the first of hundreds of adventures about Frank Reade, Jr., teen-aged inventor extraordinary. Tales such as Frank Reade, Jr., and His Steam Wonder (dealing with a steam locomotive and caboose constructed to run on roads and over plains instead of on tracks) and Frank Reade, Jr., and His Electric Boat flowed from the boy's pen under the guise of "Noname." And while his real name was unknown to the public, the precocious Senarens did not reveal his actual age to his publisher for two years.

So popular were Reade's "invention" stories that the character was given his own weekly title in 1892 (also written by Senarens under the Noname pseudonym) titled the Frank Reade Library. Over the course of 191 issues readers learned about a remarkable array of robots, air craft, submersibles, armored vehicles, and powered land and sea vessels.

In a bit more than thirty years, Senarens wrote some forty million words and 1,500 individual stories under 27 pseudonyms, rarely leaving his home in Brooklyn, New York. His prophetic output was so enormous that he earned the nickname, the AmericanJules Verne. Verne, himself, in fact, borrowed from Senarens the basic idea of grand steam-powered inventions for his own The Steam House (1880) and acknowledged it in a letter to the 14-year-old (who was too embarrassed to reply right away for fear his age might be discerned from his handwriting).

David Buckley has an informative webpage with pictures of early robots and mechanical men, as well as background on stories of steam-driven robots.