Luther Burbank wants you to work for him. Can’t type? Then he’ll teach you how, free. And if you don’t want a desk job (or can’t spel gud) they’re hiring at the post office, which is ramping up to be one of the largest mail depots on the West Coast.

The Luther Burbank Press in the old Odd Fellows’ building, corner of Third street and Exchange avenue. The south side of the Empire Building can be seen at the far right)

Santa Rosa was transformed in 1912 as hundreds of young people, mostly women, began working in the big building on Third street next to the courthouse. Where elsewhere downtown local women worked in laundries, as sales clerks and telephone operators, all types of business office work was still almost exclusively a man’s domain, so it was quite unusual for a company to specifically advertise salaried, clerical jobs were available to “girls.” For the company to also run a free typing school was remarkable. For all this to happen in little Santa Rosa, with a township population of about 14,000, was nothing short of revolutionary. The Press Democrat gushed it “opens up a large and entirely new field for the young men and women of Santa Rosa, enabling them to make metropolitan wages for metropolitan work right here at home.”

The employer was the Luther Burbank Press, a new enterprise setup by the non-profit Luther Burbank Society, with the mission of publishing a set of books about Burbank’s plant breeding. It had no connection with the Luther Burbank Company, which was also created a few months earlier to sell Burbank seeds and plants commercially.

The Burbank books wouldn’t be finished for a couple of years, but the women were needed to prepare a mass mailing of epic proportions, sending out 170,000 letters nationwide. Subsequent mailings would be larger still. “No other concern on the Pacific Coast, and few in America, have mailed so much first class matter as the Luther Burbank Press is mailing,” the PD remarked, “[more than] Sears, Roebuck & Co., Montgomery Ward & Co., and other well known mail order houses.”

After the operation was underway, the Press Democrat sent a reporter to describe the doings:

In the main hall, designated as the mailing room and general office, some seventy young ladies, most of them products of the school recently conducted by the Burbank Press for instruction in typewriting and later employment of girls in their office here, were busily engaged. A score or more of typewriting machines were merrily clicking away. At other desks young ladies were comparing lists and sorting the name cards, thousands upon thousands of them, each card being alphabetically arranged in cabinets, each desk and cabinet representing one of the States.

Today it might seem odd the PD reporter also noted, “Still another room in this large establishment is the rest room for the young ladies” but keep in mind the fashions and customs of 1912; women still wore faint-inducing bustles, and having a couch available for a short lie-down was no frivolous luxury. And as the Burbank Press employment ads for “girls” seemed to favor teenagers living at home, it probably assured upright parents their delicate little Gladys wouldn’t be competing with strange men for the water closet.

With an avalanche of mail going out and Burbank Press buying $7,000 worth of stamps at one time – an astonishing amount of postage, considering it cost only 4¢ to send a letter – Santa Rosa’s post office was upgraded to “first class” status. What exactly that meant in 1912 is unclear except for them ordering another “electric stamp canceller,” but today it would mean an boost in pay grades as well as an expanded staff – the mailroom, shown below in a photograph from an October 6, 1912 Press Democrat article – looks downright crowded. Having first-class post office status lent no weight to the size or importance of the town, despite the Press Democrat declaring this “a matter of much significance;” we were still small potatoes compared to places such as Westerville, Ohio (pop. 2,000) which sent over forty tons of mail a month, thanks to it being headquarters of the Anti-Saloon League of America.


The Luther Burbank Society articles of incorporation were filed with County Clerk William W. Felt, Jr., on Saturday. The corporation is not formed for profit and there is no capital stock of the concern.

The objects are set forth in the articles “to assist in perpetuating the record of forty years’ experience of Luther Burbank and the furthering of the widespread distribution of Burbank’s writings.”

Luther Burbank’s old homestead is the principal place of business. It has John P. Overton, James R. Edwards and Robert John for directors.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 18, 1912

After several ineffectual attempts to commercialize the lifework of Luther Burbank, the world-famous horticulturalist, and corner the profits for a privileged class, a Luther Burbank Society has been organized, charted by the State of California, and with a definite purpose of seeing that the work of the great scientist be given to posterity without favor or entail.

The society has no capital stock, no power to incur debts or to earn profits. Its purpose is solely to assist Luther Burbank in the widespread dissemination of his teachings, so that the greatest number may profit in the greatest degree. It has an extensive membership with names of nation-wide fame on the roll. Burbank is the honorary president, and the name of Mrs. Phoebe Hearst immediately follows the list, so far as it is prepared, concluding with Nicholas M. Butler of Columbia University. The membership is limited to 500, and by means of the moderate membership fee the society will make possible the mechanical production of books of a quality which will do honor to the author and the matter which they contain. The aim is to place the wizard’s knowledge in convenient book form at nominal cost before every farmer, gardener or horticulturist in the world. The home of the organization is located at Burbank’s grounds at Santa Rosa, and its activities will have his personal guidance and cooperation. A partial list of the membership follows.


– Press Democrat, December 3, 1912

Few people realize the immensity of the work being done by the Luther Burbank Press of this city at the present time. Robert John and John Whitson, managers of the editorial and business departments respectively, are making preparations now for printing the first volume of “Burbank and His Work.” So large has grown the business of this company that it was necessary for them to secure the old Odd Fellows’ building on Third street and turn it into a school and business department.

In conservation on Friday Mr. Johns stated that one of the most liberal offers ever given to young ladies to secure permanent work and a schooling in typewriting is being allowed by the Burbank Press to secure aid in promoting the work they have in hand. A school with expert teachers has been established in the Odd Fellows building, where the young ladies are given a course in typewriting and when competent are given permanent positions.

The object of this school is to enable the publishers to combine the managing departments in Santa Rosa. If sufficient aid can be secured a large building will be erected here and the school and business department conducted there.

The immensity of the book that is to be published is shown when it is known that it will take between two and three hundred tons of paper to print the works. There are to be 12 volumes with about 400 pages in each volume, and about 20,000 copies of each volume. The first books are expected to reach the local department within the next ninety days.

The wonderful discovery made recently by members of this company in photographing the true colors of plants, has enabled them to print one of the most wonderful volumes ever seen. By the new process of photographing a great deal of expense is saved and a much better color developed than by the former method of painting.

Employment can be secured by 300 girls and young men from the Burbank Press. At the present time they are preparing copy for the publishers and when the books begin to arrive the mailing and correspondence will furnish considerable work.

The school in Odd Fellows’ building started Friday morning with a number of pupils present.

In reply to a speech made recently before the Ad Men’s Convention in San Francisco by Mr. Johns, one of the men stated that there were not enough presses in San Francisco to print the books being published by the Burbank Press in the short space of time necessary. Consequently the management has had to send their printing to the east, and there divide it among the largest companies.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 2, 1912

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT has published the story of the mailing from the Santa Rosa postoffice last week by the Burbank Press of 170,000 letters, each bearing four cents postage, and comment has already been made on the amount of labor entailed, both in the mailing department of the concern sending out the vast number of letters and on the clerks of the postoffice.

There are some other important incidents in connection with the enormous amount of mail matter being sent out from a city the size of Santa Rosa within a week. For instance, there was the purchase of $7,000 worth of postage stamps at one time, a notable increase in business, jumping the Santa Rosa postoffice from a second class to a first class postoffice. This in itself is a matter of much significance.

Then it must be taken into consideration that each of the 170,000 letters bore the Santa Rosa postmark and that the letter inside has a Santa Rosa date line and also signalized the city as being the home of Luther Burbank, the distinguished scientist whose fruit and flower wonders have attracted the attention of the civilized world. A big stroke of publicity for Santa Rosa when it is again considered that the letters will be read in 6,200 cities and towns of importance in different parts of the United States. Just think of that! A boost for Santa Rosa in 6,2000 places at the same time!

There is still greater promotion to come. In November the Burbank Press will mail 450,000 more letters to all parts of the United States, and thousands upon thousands more letters will follow in the early months of the next year. The biggest mailing house on the Pacific Coast, located in Oregon, only sends out 300,000 letters per year and held the record until the Burbank Press started something that will easily wrest the honors away and land here in the City of Roses.

Naturally the inquiry has been made, “Why are all these thousands of letters being sent out?” As is well known, the Burbank Press, a concern in which a number of the great men of the country are interested, will shortly issue the first set consisting of twelve volumes of the only complete work ever published of Luther Burbank and his achievements. In fact, nothing like it has ever been dreamed of. The publication will attract the admiration of the whole world. The advance sheets indicate this. And so these letters are being sent out to the leading men and women of this land apprising them of the wondrous nature of this great work on Burbank and his creations. In passing it might be mentioned that the volumes are profusely illustrated with colored pictures of the Burbank productions, photographed in garden and orchard by the wonderful process discovered by the wonderful process discovered by Robert John, which reproduces on the negative the exact color tints of the flower or fruit photographed. Some time since The Press Democrat mentioned the wonderful addition to photographic art made by Mr. John.

At the invitation of Messrs. John and Whitson, a Press Democrat representative visited the company’s offices in the old Odd Fellows’ building at Third street and Exchange avenue on Friday afternoon just to gain an insight into the immensity of the business the Burbank Press is engaged in while exploiting the great Burbank book.

In the main hall, designated as the mailing room and general office, some seventy young ladies, most of them products of the school recently conducted by the Burbank Press for instruction in typewriting and later employment of girls in their office here, were busily engaged. A score or more of typewriting machines were merrily clicking away. At other desks young ladies were comparing lists and sorting the name cards, thousands upon thousands of them, each card being alphabetically arranged in cabinets, each desk and cabinet representing one of the States.

It was truly a busy scene in the big building the Burbank Press leased some time ago as its general office here. From the main room just mentioned the newspaperman was shown into another room containing folios of names and addresses–over a million and a half of names. As replies are received to communications they are noted on these lists together with any corrections that may be necessary. The system adopted is one of the most complete and at the same time most modern, another indication of the immensity of the publicity work the Burbank Press will do.

Off the main office room–the former lodge room of the Odd Fellows–is the other large room which was used as a school room when the girls were being given their instruction in typing. At present desks, seats and typewriting machines occupy the school room, but it is the intention of the management to start up the school again when more copyists are needed. Still another room in this large establishment is the rest room for the young ladies.

Everything is kept in apple-pie order in the offices and mailing room. More equipment has been ordered and will be installed in the main room. One of the pictures that are herewith produced, was taken in the mailing room at the time when the 170,000 letters were being prepared for the trip to the postoffice. The other shows the mail clerks at work handling the immense quantity of letters in the Santa Rosa postoffice.

But in addition to the thousands of letters in the special lot, hundreds of others touching various phases of the work are being forwarded. Then, a sheet of editorial and new suggestions has been prepared and this is being sent out to the newspapers of the land so that still wider publicity will be given Santa Rosa, the Burbank Press and, of course, the books. The gentlemen in charge of the Burbank Press certainly know how to provide publicity that should crown their efforts with success. They are sparing no pains or expense in the system they have adopted to bring to the attention of the world something of which they and the publishers they represent can be justly proud. They have also developed the right spirit of patriotism to city and home talent in that they are employing in the offices mailing and other departments as far as possible. They are also buying their postage stamps at the Santa Rosa postoffice and mean to continue to do so. Already the office has had to send a requisition on ahead for another electric stamp canceller.

In addition to the big offices of the Burbank Press occupying the old Odd Fellows’ hall, Messrs. John and Whitson have their private offices in the old Luther Burbank residence across from the new home the scientist built on Santa Rosa avenue. An inspection was permitted Friday afternoon of the camera and lens that takes the colors true to life already referred to. A delightful half hour was spent in looking through some of the piles of negatives already secured. A large cabinet with its many drawers is practically filled with the negatives. Some three thousand pictures have been taken. The work is perfect. The prints of the negatives are a revelation. The first volume of the Burbank books, which will be ready to issue from the eastern publishing house about the first week in November, contains 113 of these colored pictures. The popularity of the book is assured and it will be a faithful record of the life work of the greatest man of his time in the realm of horticulture, and in consequence a most valuable addition to the libraries of the world.

– Press Democrat, October 6, 1912

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