Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera

or, Thrilling Adventures While Taking Moving Pictures

By Victor Appleton    Book #14 ę1912

~ Alternate Titles ~

Tom Swift and His Electric Camera1

or, The Perils of Moving Picture Taking2

Review by JP Karenko, June 2005

Full-color image courtesy of Carl Swanstrom

 Image of a White Quad and Duotone dustjacket is courtesy of Mark Snyder


Note: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct, today.

Summary: No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:

The story opens with Tom bored out of his mind. It's been 6 months since his Escape From Captivity, and working on his noiseless airship motor pales in comparison. He is introduced to a "moving picture promoter," one James "Spotty" (Wait!-I know what you are thinking-says he) Period. This portly gentleman, who has the annoying verbal habit of interrupting even himself engages Tom to build a revolutionary electric powered motion picture camera. Tom is then tasked with cruising the world, playing  Paparazzi. Mr. Period is in need of spectacular newsreel films to show in theaters, both as filler and for travelogues. Mr. Amos Nestor, Mary's father, is a prime stockholder in Period's company, and Tom takes on the challenge, not just for the money, but as a chance to bond with the man who may become his future father-in-law.

The camera is designed in a week, built in 3 more and "perfected" shortly thereafter. (Sigh, such efficiency!) Tom also builds from scratch, a new super-sized airship, the Flyer, along the same impractical lines as his previous biplane/dirigible creations, Red Cloud, Black Hawk and Falcon. This one has all the usual luxuries, plus a pressurized cabin, transcontinental range, a machine shop (including a forge)-and a darkroom. Considering Falcon already had transcontinental capability, this one must be a monster in size.

Danger-animal, mineral, vegetable and meteorological-lies everywhere.  Tom gets it all on film.

You can probably guess the outcome, but you'll have to read the story (or go to a theater) to be sure.

This book is available, online.  Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera

1 p218 Closing text Tom Swift in Captivity

2 p219 Advertising flyleaf Tom Swift in Captivity


Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)

Koku or August ˝ Eight foot plus native giant purloined from the South American jungles in Book #13. Now in the employ of  Tom Swift as a bodyguard, manservant, and devoted companion. He has learned English well, except for a propensity to sound a bit like Yoda from Star Wars. Much is made of his name change to August. Except for the initial to-do, he is always referred to as "Koku," his original name. Competently pilots the Flyer, and is given his very own Electric Rifle, after saving Tom's life.

Tom Swift ˝ Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Home˝schooled at a college level by his father, Barton Swift. Athlete and hunter. Familiar with how to stalk game and firearms.  Loves all things mechanical. Is a decent cook, too. In this episode, he shows a reckless streak that is near suicidal. When he gets a camera in his hands, his brain shuts down and common sense flies away..

James ("Spotty" or "Jim") Period --  Short, stout, fussy individual with a spit-on-the-griddle energy that drives everyone around him to distraction. Repeats himself endlessly, even to interrupting himself in the middle of his own sentences. Preoccupied with how much money he is losing by taking the time converse. Would do well to say things once and move on, or use a telephone instead of traveling so much.'

Ned Newton - So far, has never been described. Chum & companion of  Tom, Apparently no longer employed at Shopton National Bank.(Probably fired for spending so much time gallivanting around the world.) He is now a regular fixture in Tom's adventures.

Mrs. Baggert ˝ Housekeeper & mother figure. Kindly, and "loves Tom like a son." Employed by the Swift family since the time Tom's mother died. She is short of stature and has to stand on a soap box to kiss Tom goodbye on one of his voyages. Excitable, she seems to expect fatalities after any mishap involving Tom's inventions.

Mr. Wakefield Damon ˝ Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. Apparently no longer overweight and sickly, as originally described. Has not crashed any vehicles, lately, either-He has had issues with keeping mechanical contrivances and even horses, under control.

Barton Swift ˝ Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents.  In this episode, described as having aged greatly, probably due to Tom's extended absence while captive.. Still at work on a new gyroscope device.

Eradicate Sampson, A.K.A. Eradicate or Rad ˝ Rad's middle names, (Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln,) are no longer used. Aged stereotypical Negro journeyman jack˝of˝all˝trades. "Eradicates dirt." Now is in full-time residence on the Swift estate, and maintains his own chicken coop. Heavy deep˝south accent and Uncle Remus attitude. Caretaker of Boomerang, a cantankerous, aged and now ailing, mule.

Rad is now described as feeble, aged and tottering, too old to go on adventures with Tom any longer. This causes him much distress, as rival Koku drops into the empty spot in Tom's crew.

Male Prowler-No name or description. Appears to have set a deadfall trap for Tom, in his workshop.

Unnamed Town Doctor-Ministers to Tom after he is overcome by noxious gas in his shop.

Wilson Turbot-No description given. Rival of James Period. Tries to hire away Tom, and buy his camera. Sabotages Tom's efforts when refused.

William Eckert-No description given. 2nd Rival of James Period. In league with Turbot, above.

Samuel Rastus Washington Jackson Johnson-No description given, except as 2nd cousin to Rad. Caught on film "counting Rad's chickens" after dark, during a test of the Wizard Camera. Chased off the property.

Mr. (Amos) Nestor-No description, other than as Mary's father. First name never mentioned in this story, even though he is a principal character. Mrs. Nestor doesn't even rate a mention.

Miss Mary Nestor-Love interest of Our Hero. Passing mention only in this tome.

Crew & Officers of SS Belchar-Passing mention only. No descriptions given.

Famous Paranoid Millionaire-Passenger on SS Belchar. No description given. Wants to hire away Koku as a bodyguard.

Calcutta Agent of Mr. Period- No description given. Passing mention.

Mr. & Mrs. Janeway- No descriptions or first names given. Christian missionary friends of  Illingways. Run a Congo mission station, near Stanley Falls.

Bruce Montgomery-British agent of Turbot & Eckert. Burgles Tom's camera, late in story.

Wade Kenneth-British agent of Turbot & Eckert. In league with Montgomery, above.

US Consul, Lima Peru-No name or description. Passing mention.



Major Inventions


Tom Swift starts this tale working on parts to his "noiseless airship," (the Falcon with a modified power-plant) which will be utilized in the next volume. He also invents the Wizard Electric Powered Moving Picture Camera. It is revolutionary, in that it is small, lightweight and does not have to be cranked by hand. Current technology cameras of that day were muscle powered. The WC has an on-board electric light so that pictures may be taken after dark, and can be set to run either on a timer or by a hard-wired remote control. Power is provided either by a storage battery or external power provided by a dynamo. It is a small square box with the lens (and presumably the light) on the front. Another feature is the ability to change films in daylight without using the usual "dark bag" and a window that allows the operator to see how much film remains for use. (My father's 1950 Kodak 8mm movie camera had to have film changed in shade or near-darkness and still showed streaks from light leakage if the film was not handled carefully.)  Originally mounted vertically in the floor of Tom's airship, a series of reflectors is built as an accessory that allows the camera to be pointed horizontally while in flight "for better views." In spite of the small size, film reels lasted a long time. 40 years later, my Dad's 8mm had a run time of about 7 minutes. The film was actually 16mm wide and was only exposed down half its' width. At the end of the roll, the film was removed, flipped over and the other half exposed. Much editing and splicing ensued to make home-movie watching practical. Tom's magic box did not have such limitations.


The Flyer was also custom built just for the trip. It is now pressurized for high altitude travel, and has a darkroom on board as well as the usual De Luxe accommodations. Anyone who has read any of the previous stories knows about these behemoth floating Rube Goldberg airships. Parking space at the Swift's house must be getting tight. Tom now has at least 4 dirigible/biplanes, plus the Scooter, Lark, Butterfly and Vulture Air Glider.





Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata

It's amazing how much technology has changed in 95 years. Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of all the modern gadgets that I've come to take for granted. Modern transportation, Hollywood motion pictures, movie SFX and my little Sony digital Handycam are a few.  I wonder what people will be taking for granted 100 years from now, and what they will think of our times, mores and attitudes?

Attitudes,  Prejudices and Circumstances ˝  When Tom gets a camera in his hands, concern and common sense fly out the window. To get "interesting scenes" of elephants, he flies the monster airship over a herd of pachyderms. This of course spooks them, prompting a stampede. Folks on the ground, now in danger of life and limb, are righteously upset. Tom just shrugs it off as the cost of doing business. Later, we see him on the slopes of an erupting volcano, shooting away while the ground opens at his feet. Sigh, the immortality of youth'  The usual prejudices abound, with Englishmen being referred to as "strange," and native peoples being called "black beggars."  Koku, on the other hand has moved up the food chain, a bit. He rescues Tom several times, and when it is determined that he is a crack shot with a rifle, Tom gives him his very own Electric Rifle to keep, in gratitude. It is the only one ever to be given away, even to Ned or Mr. Damon (neither of which handles a gun very well, in my opinion.)

On p36 Tom & Ned chase a burglar "pantingly." This is the first usage of what will eventually become  the short-lived craze of the late 60's, "Tom Swifties." On p88 the sailors on a commercial steamship sound like a bunch of Hollywood pirates peppering their conversation with "shiver me timbers," et cetera.


Errata˝  Mr. Damon is left in Waterfield, NY, for this volume. The current score of his many moves between there and Waterford stands at 9-Waterfield, 2-not recorded, and 5-Waterford for 14 volumes, to date.  The numbers don't total, because two volumes have him residing in both places at the same time.

Typos were few and far between. On p45, a chat (chap) is referred to, on p76, they develope films, on p78 happening only has one 'p', and on p189 the foamy rock coming from the volcano as two 'm's, pummice.

Tom is said to film tigers in the Congo Free Republic. Lately, some of the cats have been relocated to Africa to try and save them from extinction, (mainly further south) but in those days, it just proved that office dwellers should do better research, especially for boy's adventure books.


Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy ˝ I spend a lot of time piddling on the design of Tom's airships. The Flyer is no exception. It is a super-sized version of previous dirigible/biplane hybrids, and in addition to the usual leaky gas bag filled with explosive lifting gas, it now sports a pressurized oxygen-enriched cabin. The author(s) must have been called to task about anoxia while flying over places like the Himalayas and Alps' In any case, this monster gets down and dirty around an erupting volcano, and in a real world, Tom would be a Crispy Critter or a Sizzling Swift Sausage. Another feature of this new machine is its' notorious unreliability. It breaks down several times in the most inconvenient times and places, making the occupants scramble to keep from being burned, buried or eaten.



Tom works on a "new sort of electricity" early in the story. I'll assume the authors meant "electric storage cell," as acid is being used during this part of the tale. Tom is not said to have any protective gear-gloves, goggles or even an apron-and gets an acid burn on his hand. My old Chemistry instructor would have had him in detention and banned from the lab for such careless behavior. As it is, he ends up overcome by fumes, but makes the usual miraculous recovery with no lasting ill effects. In today's world, the publisher would probably get sued for promoting unsafe experimental practices by inventor-wannabe readers.


Camera Tech -- When the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey came out in 1968, (almost 40 years ago!) I was 2 years into engineering college and was totally enthralled with the advanced hardware being casually shown "in everyday use." The tablet computers ( my Palm Pilot is smaller-Nyah nyah') and the micro-sized video cams were most impressive to me. These were the days when a "portable" (video) camera was a shoebox sized monster and the associated recorder was "bigger than a breadbox," and a lot heavier.  The camera shown in the film (see below) was near magic. My 2001 Sony Digital Handycam is the realization of that "science fiction." It is a bit more bulky than the device shown in the movie, (see clip, below) but my camera's tech is already 3 years old and newer machines (not to mention video capture cell phones!) are much smaller. Tom Swift would have drooled at the chance to take one of  these on his expeditions..




2001 Cam (SFX)                              2001 Cam (Reality)

Antique camera images below are courtesy of


Tom's "competition" at the time of this story, probably used a camera similar to this 1908 Pathe Pro hand cranked model. It was heavy, bulky and not real reliable.



The 1924 (12 years into Tom's future)  Kodak Cine A was considered to be one of the very first electric powered cameras. Note the hand crank on the side "just in case."

Tom's Wizard Camera was truly ahead of its time. Where the fantasy part of this device comes in, is that it was designed in one week, built in three and perfected (except for the innumerable "adjustments") in another four. The optics, special sprockets, gears and internal parts would have been hard to come by, even for a miracle worker like Tom in such a short time. It also used a "special type of film." My opinion of all this progress for one man working alone? Balderdash.


Geography & Environment ˝ Shopton is now a "town." It had been described as a "sleepy village."

Tom's workshop is now huge and has a "front office." Something that bothers me a bit is the "part of his submarine" hanging from the roof of he shop. Not sure I'd want to spend any time under that much mass.

Tom & Co. are now true world travelers. They start in New York, cruise to Calcutta, India, and see the Durbar. They then fly to the Punjab to see elephants and tigers. The next hop is to Berne, Switzerland for an avalanche. >From there, they fly to Congo, to record a tribal war and more animals, and then hop back to Paris, France. Another steamship ride lands them in Colon, Panama. Then they proceed to fly over the (under construction) Panama Canal, and down the west coast of South America to Arequipa, Peru.


1911 Durbar with Edward V presiding.

While in India,  they visit the Durbar, an ornate, pompous ceremony "held in an attempt to overawe and dazzle the local populations." These festivals were an attempt by the British to emulate their Moghul predecessors. They were held in all manner of sizes and states, but there were three particularly impressive Durbars all held in Delhi. One, held about the time of this story, was to celebrate the Coronation of George V as King of England. It's likely that this is the one Tom & Co. attended.

They hang out in Africa, again, but only run into hostile Black tribesmen as opposed to the smaller Red Pygmy ones. While there, they make new friends at the Stanly Falls Missionary Station.

Stanley Falls, Congo-"Darkest Africa"

Arequipa Province, Peru ˝ Home of  El Misti



Maps Courtesy of Microsoft Map Point


Volcano El Misti, Seen From Arequipa Plaza. 

Photo courtesy of


Eternal snow can be seen on the summit of 19,100 ft "el Misti" (The Gentleman) above. "Chachani" and the "Picchu Picchu" are two other famous local volcanoes. The Pacific coast is two hours travel to the west. All of these volcanoes are listed as extinct, and have not erupted (at least in our universe) since the mid-1600's. El Misti totally destroyed Arequipa during that last eruption. The city has also been devastated by earthquakes twice, since then. Shaken, but not stirred, as it were'


Photographing Volcanic Eruptions (and endangering your friends' lives) For Fun & Profit.


Buzzing around an erupting volcano hanging under a leaky gas bag filled with highly flammable "lifting vapor", is not a good way to "Make friends and Influence People," regardless of what kind of photos you get. Setting the aforementioned airship down on the slope of the mountain during the fireworks is beyond "plucky." It's suicidal. Here are several ways to die while getting the "snapshots of a lifetime:"


The following is from


The most abundant gas typically released into the atmosphere from volcanic systems is water vapor (H20), followed by carbon dioxide (C02) and sulfur dioxide (S02). Volcanoes also release smaller amounts of others gases, including hydrogen sulfide (H2S), hydrogen (H2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen chloride (HCL), hydrogen fluoride (HF), and helium (He).. The volcanic gases that pose the greatest potential hazard to people, animals, agriculture, and property are sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen fluoride. None of these gases are good for you to breathe. Enough CO2 would also stop Flyer's motor.


Volcano Photograph by C.G. Newhall on September 23, 1984

Pyroclastic flows descend the south-eastern flank of Mayon Volcano, Philippines. Maximum height of the eruption column was 49,000ft above sea level, and volcanic ash fell within about 31 miles toward the west.

Unlikely Tom & Co. could fly over this kind of dust cloud.


Lava Flow Photograph by J. Dvorak in 1983

One of the chief threats of lava flows to property owners (and aeronauts) is that the flows may burn buildings and homes (and aeroplanes!) even if the flow doesn't reach the structure. This house caught fire from the intense heat of an advancing lava flow (note red glow of flow left of the house).

Basalt has the highest temperature of any lava, typically between about 1170-1100âC (~2140-2000âF). The other lava types (andesite, dacite, and rhyolite) form cooler flows with temperatures between about 1000-800âC (~1800-1500âF); some flows can still move slowly at temperatures as low as about 600âC ~1100âF).

JP Karenko 7/10/05

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