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W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records, circa 1873-1978, bulk 1890-1930

view W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records, circa 1873-1978, bulk 1890-1930 digital asset number 1
Creator:
W. Atlee Burpee & Co
Creator:
Burpee, W. Atlee (Washington Atlee) 1858-1915
Wm. Henry Maule (Firm)
James Vick's Sons (Rochester, N.Y.)
Physical description:
12,715 items
201 cubic ft
Type:
Account books
Collection descriptions
Advertising
Business records
Correspondence
Pamphlets
Trade catalogs
Place:
United States
Date:
1873
1873-1978
circa 1873-1978
bulk 1890-1930
19th century
20th century
Notes:
Washington Atlee Burpee (1858-1915) began a mail-order poultry and livestock business in 1876 in Philadelpia, which he soon expanded to include corn seed for chicken feed. In 1878, he founded W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the primary focus of which was to sell vegetable, fruit, and flower seeds through the mail. This company would go on to become one of the most notable seed distributors in the United States.
By 1888, Burpee's family home, Fordhook Farms, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was established as an experimental farm to test and evaluate new varieties of vegetables and flowers, and to produce seeds. He spent many summers traveling throughout the United States and Europe, visiting farms and searching for the best flowers and vegetables; certain plants he found were shipped to Fordhook Farms for testing. Plants that survived were bred with healthier specimens to produce heartier hybrids that were more resistant to disease. Other trial gardens were established in Lompoc, California and near Swedesboro, New Jersey.
David Burpee took over the family business upon his father's death in 1915. At that time, the Burpee Company had 300 employees and was the largest seed company in the world. It distributed over one million catalogs a year and received 10,000 orders a day. In response to food shortages caused by World War I, the Burpee Company helped promote a "war gardens" campaign that evolved into a "victory gardens" campaign during World War II. Both were aimed at city dwellers and instructed them on how to grow vegetables for their own consumption to aid in the war effort.
In 1947, Burpee merged with W. Henry Maule Co. In 1970, the Burpee Company was sold to General Foods; the corporate headquarters moved from Philadelphia to Warminster, Pennsylvania in 1974. David Burpee remained a consultant until his death in 1981. In 1991, Burpee merged with George J. Ball, Inc.
Summary:
The collection contains the records of W. Atlee Burpee & Company and includes accounting records, seed trial records, seed contracts, sales records, contracts, inventories, office correspondence, contest letters, seed catalogs, pamphlets, advertisements and advertising reports, daybooks, photographs and other items relating to the company and some of its competitors. The collection is not comprehensive and includes significant gaps.
Cite as:
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records
Topic:
Gardens
Trial gardens
Horticulture
Business
Mail-order business
Victory gardens
Seed industry and trade
Agriculture
Flowers
Contests
Vegetables
Local number:
AAG.BUR
See more items in:
W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records, circa 1873-1978, bulk 1890-1930
Data Source:
Archives of American Gardens

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