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  • W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
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    W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records, circa 1873-1978, bulk 1890-1930.
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    W. Atlee Burpee & Co. creator.
    W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records, circa 1873-1978, bulk 1890-1930.
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    W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records, circa 1873-1978, bulk 1890-1930.
    Phy. Description: 
    12,715 items.
    201 cubic ft.
    Digital Reference: 
    Finding aid
    Bio / His 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.
    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.
    Finding aids: 
    Finding aid is available.
    Loc. of Assoc. Material: 
    Seed catalogs can be found in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Branch Library Trade Literature Collection.
    Cite as: 
    Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records.
    Access to original images by appointment only. Researcher must submit request for appointment in writing. Certain items may be restricted and not available to researchers. Please direct reference inquiries to the Archives of American Gardens:
    Archives of American Gardens encourages the use of its archival materials for non-commercial, educational and personal use under the fair use provision of U.S. copyright law. Use or copyright restrictions may exist. It is incumbent upon the researcher to ascertain copyright status and assume responsibility for usage. All requests for duplication and use must be submitted in writing and approved by Archives of American Gardens.
    Gardens -- United States
    Trial gardens
    Mail-order business
    Victory gardens
    Seed industry and trade
    Form / Genre: 
    Account books -- 19th century.
    Account books -- 20th century.
    Business records
    Trade catalogs
    Repository Loc: 
    Smithsonian Gardens, PO Box 37012, Capital Gallery, Suite 3300, MRC 506, Washington, DC 20013-7012
    Local Number: 
    Burpee, W. Atlee (Washington Atlee), 1858-1915.
    Wm. Henry Maule (Firm)
    James Vick's Sons (Rochester, N.Y.)
    Item Information
    RepositoryCall No. 
    Archives of American GardensAAG.BURAdd Copy to MyList

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