Though Hammett himself worked for a time as a private detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco (and used his birth name "Samuel" for the story's protagonist), Hammett called Spade "a dream man" with "no original". As the author wrote of the character in 1934:
Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.
Hammett reportedly drew upon his years as a detective in creating many of the other characters for The Maltese Falcon, which reworks elements from two of his stories published in Black Mask magazine in 1925, "The Whosis Kid" and "The Gutting of Couffignal". The novel itself was serialized in five parts in Black Mask in 1929–30 before being published in book form in 1930 by Alfred A. Knopf.