Patten was enthusiastic. He knew next to nothing about military schools, so he read a number of brochures and books about them. Having made notes, he thereupon wrote the first story in four days. He christened his hero Frank Merriwell, explaining, "The given name of Frank was taken to express one of the hero's characteristics—open, on the level, aboveboard, frank. Merriwell was formed by a combination of two words: 'merry'—expressive of a jolly, high-spirited nature—and 'well'—suggesting abounding physical health."
Patten adopted the pseudonym "Burt L. Standish" because of his love for Longfellow's poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish. Street & Smith accepted the story and offered Patten a contract to write Merriwell stories for three years, each story to be 20,000 words long, the salary a flat $50 a week with no royalties. Patten signed for several reasons. "One," he said, "was that I was married and wanted a steady weekly income. Secondly, my father had been crippled by a fall and it had become necessary for me to support my parents. A third reason was that I believed I'd always be able to turn off my weekly Merriwell yarn in four days, which would leave me two extra working days a week in which to labor at the great American novel, which I still dreamed of writing."
The first story,
Frank Merriwell; or, First Days at Far dale, Volume I, Number 1, appeared on April 18, 1896, and it began:
Thump! A shrill howl of pain.
"Stop it! That's my dog!"
"Oh, it is? Then you ought to be kicked, too! Take that for your impudence!"
Cuff! A blow from an open hand sent the boyish owner of the whimpering poodle staggering to the ground, while paper bags of popcorn flew from his basket and scattered their snowy contents around.
"That was a cowardly blow!"
The haughty, over-dressed lad who had knocked the little popcorn vendor down, after kicking the barefooted boy's dog, turned sharply as he heard the words, and found himself face to face with a youth of an age not far from his own.