burbank1913

THE UNDOING OF LUTHER BURBANK, PART I

If only we could send messages to the past: Skip the play, Mr. Lincoln; double-check your navigation, Amelia Earhart; Elvis, dump the pills; Luther Burbank, beware the men running operations in your name because they are about to destroy your reputation.

Burbank drifted through the years 1913-1915 unaware, for the most part, the people he trusted were undoing everything he had struggled to build for over thirty years. The root of the problem was the same weakness Burbank had shown before; he wasn’t paying attention because he just wanted to work with his plants (his similar tribulations with the Carnegie Institution and the years 1905-1910 are covered in the four part “BURBANK FOLLIES” series). “I have no time to make money,” he told the Press Democrat in 1912. “I’ve more important work to do.” Add in his complete lack of any executive management skills and it’s no great surprise that things went so wrong.

(RIGHT: Color photograph of Luther Burbank, 1913. Frontpiece for volume 1, “Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries”)

This article covers just 1913, the year Burbank turned 64, and the issues with the Luther Burbank Society and Burbank Press. The problems of the Burbank Company – which sold seeds and live plants – first became apparent in 1914 and will be covered in a following essay. The 1915-1916 crash of the entire empire will be the final part of this series.

First, a note on sources: The most common reference about Burbank is Peter Dreyer’s 1985 biography, “A Gardener Touched With Genius” (sold at the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens). Dreyer drew upon unpublished correspondence, the manuscript of a critical biography which never made it to print and Walter L. Howard’s book-length 1945 monograph, “Luther Burbank A Victim of Hero Worship.” A professor of botany at UC/Davis, Dr. Howard knew Burbank (who respected him as a colleague) and also interviewed many in Burbank’s sphere. After reading “Victim” front-to-back this week, I came to realize Howard’s research – and often his exact words – can probably be found on every page of Dreyer’s book.

I am not starting a bonfire and calling out Dreyer for plagiarism, but he should have identified Howard as a primary source in the text and footnotes to a far greater degree. This is not simply a matter of academic etiquette; Dreyer’s work also mirrors those parts of Howard’s book which were weak. For example, both authors dismissively called Oscar Binner a “professional promoter,” unaware he had a storied career as a top Madison Avenue ad man. It was Binner who transformed “Luther Burbank” into a nationally-known brand name, an important part of the Burbank story glossed over in Howard’s work and an omission inherited by Dreyer. (For more on Binner and Burbank, read “SELLING LUTHER BURBANK.”)

Binner and Burbank had a fractious relationship stretching back to 1908. Burbank loathed the grubby chore of making money; a profile in “The County Gentleman” magazine said his friends agreed he was “simple as a child” when it came to business affairs and was resigned to depending on others to market his name and works for him.1 Binner believed Burbank was a genius in need of the kind of handling he could uniquely provide. In a private letter to Nellie Comstock, he wrote: “I do not misunderstand L. B. not a bit of it. L. B. misunderstands himself. When he finds himself, then he will see what is best for him and best for all time and all the world.”2

Binner abruptly disappeared from the picture in the spring of 1912. An item in the Republican newspaper reported he became an invalid because of an enlarged heart; he returned East and a couple of years later resumed his ad agency on Madison Avenue, dying in 1917. But before leaving Santa Rosa he undoubtedly played a role in setting up the Burbank Society, which was formed the month after he left, and the Burbank Press which was created shortly thereafter. The money to buy him out and fund the new startups came from an investment group formed by William M. Abbott, a Solano county land developer and litigation attorney for a San Francisco railway. (Among the more interesting investors were C.W. Post of breakfast cereal fame and beer baron Gustave Pabst.)

“From the beginning everything was planned on a grand scale,” Walter Howard wrote. “The essential advertising of Burbank had already been done, for he had been publicized as few men have been during their lifetime. He had a legion of followers whose admiration was based on sentiment, and his name already was becoming a legend. The time seemed to be ripe for cashing-in on his popularity.”3

The Burbank Society was the non-profit parent of Burbank Press, both aimed at promoting the encyclopedic work about his plant-breeding methods. Of course, that multi-volume set did not yet exist in 1912, despite five years of writing by a string of editors hired by Binner and an earlier publisher. Even though there was no foreseeable completion date, they began selling subscriptions for the books immediately.

“Advertise before you start to manufacture your article,” Robert John, one of the three directors of the Society told the San Francisco Advertising Association that August. “I am of the opinion that goods may be sold much easier before manufacture than after.”

In a few short months, the Society/Press ramped up a massive direct mail marketing campaign sending out 170,000 advertisements, making it the largest operation of its kind on the West Coast. Taking over the old Odd Fellows’ building on Courthouse Square, they had 75 employees, mainly young women, typing and filing and mailing correspondence and the Santa Rosa post office had to be upgraded to handle the volume. For more, see the Press Democrat articles transcribed below and read “LET’S ALL WORK FOR LUTHER BURBANK.”

While the PD was thrilled about all those envelopes being mailed, some recipients were less than happy about the junk mail. A magazine for southwestern ranchers commented, “The Luther Burbank Society has been conducting a campaign for funds and membership throughout the United States for a number of months in a manner which has placed Mr. Burbank in a very equivocal position and has as a matter of act made his name largely a joke throughout the country.”4

(RIGHT: “One End of the Correspondence Room” Press Democrat, November 2, 1913)

One pitch was an invitation to be a charter member of the Luther Burbank Society which supposedly would be limited to a roster of 500. Members would receive proofs of book chapters as they became available and invited to help edit and comment (none of that would happen). In gratitude this elite corps would be allowed to purchase the books as they became available for the low, low price of $15 per volume. Walter Howard told the story that he was a junior instructor in the botany department in the University of Missouri at the time. “My own invitation stressed the importance of quick acceptance as it was pointed out that only a few of the most important people of the United States were being invited and that I had the honor of being one of the number. To empahasize this point the invitations bore serial numbers. Mine was somewhere in the seventies,” he wrote. Howard threw it out, believing it had been sent to him by mistake. Then a few weeks later the same offer appeared again, and with an even lower serial number. So this was what kept their large office pool so busy.

There was still the matter of finishing and publishing the Burbank books – which were, of course, supposedly the main reason for the Society/Press to exist. When Binner abruptly exited, Prof. Edward Wickson, the esteemed head of the U/C Agricultural College was plowing away on the task; one of the few in the scientific community who had always championed Burbank, he was at least the fifth editor to work on the project.

The Burbank Press dismissed him, refusing to pay or even acknowledge his contributions – while still using his name in advertising literature. Wickson begged Burbank for help in resolve these affronts but Burbank demurred, telling his old friend he didn’t want to get involved. This incident did much to sour Burbank’s relationship with any remaining sympathetic academics. When Howard stopped by to Santa Rosa in 1915, Burbank seemed puzzled by his isolation. “Why is it you people don’t vist me oftener? Professor Wickson used to come to see me and now even he doesn’t come any more. What have I done[?]”5

In Prof. Wickson’s place they hired Dr. Henry Smith Williams, a prolific author of popular science magazine articles and books. His most prominent work to that date was a five-volume series, “A History of Science” which reviewers found heavy on imaginative writing concerning the discovery of fire and smelting but quickly skating past events like Lavoisier’s development of modern chemistry.

On the Burbank project Williams continued to embellish and play fast and loose with facts. “Even though Burbank furnished him with tens of thousands of words – in answer to questions – the insatiable editor did not find this enough for his purposes. In discussing the scientific aspects of plant breeding he interpolated paragraphs and sometimes whole pages of his own ideas, palpably not Burbank’s,” Howard remarked, adding Williams would also fluff up descriptions so “the most commonplace incidents in a gardener’s life, such as budding and grafting, were made to appear marvelous.” And here’s the worst of it: Since the entire set was supposedly written by Luther Burbank in first person, the result was that Burbank came off as an idiot to educated readers. But hey, at least Dr. Williams worked fast and the first volume was ready for the printers before the end of 1913.

Until those books started selling – and in great quantity – Burbank Press needed income; its payroll was $6,000 per month (about $150k today) and Luther had been promised an advance of $30,000 plus royalties on every book.

To raise money, Burbank Press announced an unusual $300,000 bond issue in late 1912, only a few months after the company was formed. Full page ads appeared in both Santa Rosa newspapers that November offering a five year $500 coupon note, with $125 of Burbank Press stock thrown in to sweeten the deal. The bond promised a seven percent return at a time when blue chip bonds had returns in the 3-5 percent range. It was, in short, a high-risk junk bond.

The bond advertisement mentioned Burbank as often as possible, trying to make appealing the sizzle of his name instead of the financially risky steak. To Burbank followers this pitch was familiar; almost exactly a year before, the Oscar E. Binner Co. had tried to sell stock in exactly the same way, right down to the 7% return. (Copies of both ads are shown below.) Binner’s stock offer has a strong whiff of fraud; we now know even the writing was far from finished at the time, but his ad promised the books would be available for sale by May 1912. There’s even correspondence between himself and editor Wickson from that January showing the work was mired in delays because Burbank was “in conflict with himself.”6

It would take a Wall street historian to say whether all of this was legal at the time (today there are consumer protection laws to prevent the sort of bond-stock deal offered by Burbank Press from being sold directly to the general public). But another player in our story had already made a fortune through promoting junk stock: John Whitson, the vice-president of Burbank Press. He was also a fugitive, but nobody in Santa Rosa apparently knew that.

The Luther Burbank biographers are almost completely silent on the managers of the Burbank Press. President Robert John – the sell’em before you make’em speech guy – was mentioned elsewhere as a former New York reporter. He was working with Binner in 1912 and was apparently the creator of the impressive color photographs which appeared in the complete “Methods & Discoveries” set (an article about that work is still being researched). After Burbank Press crashed he became involved with motion pictures.

It’s very doubtful anyone involved with Burbank – with the possible exception of Oscar Binner or Robert John – knew much of John Whitson’s past. He was a Russian originally named Mark David Kopeliovich who went by the aliases of Whitson and Edmund Kopple. Starting in 1905, ads began appearing in New York City newspapers advertising shares in the “Whitson Autopress Company,” which supposedly had developed a revolutionary new kind of printing press capable of printing up to 5,000 sheets an hour with no human operator. It looked like a Sure Thing and stock was being sold direct to the public with a promised return of – wait for it – seven percent.

From sources currently available online we only know that in 1906 investors lost their money and Kopeliovich-Whitson walked away with an estimated $200,000. The company may have failed because he couldn’t deliver real, working machines – or maybe it fell apart because he went on the lam with his girlfriend, having abandoned his wife and two children.

In January 1906, Dr. Dicran Dadirrian, an Armenian-born pharmacist, sued John Whitson AKA “Edward R. Copple” for alienation of his wife’s affections, asking the court for $50,000 in damages. The chemist said that a “stout dark man” started popping up every time he and his wife were in public. Sometimes she and the man would steal away for hours in his automobile. Meanwhile, Mrs. Copple finds a note in her husband’s pocket from Mrs. Dadirrian and discovers the pair were about to flee to Europe.

A few weeks later, a Reno, NV paper reported Mr. Kopeliovich showed up and asked to change his name to John G. Whitson. He told the court he had been using that name since 1900 and had also used “Kopple” as a shortened form of his Russian original. But now he had decided Kopeliovich was just too lengthy and there was “a notorious or reputed crook” using the name “E. A. Kopple” (without mentioning it was himself). The name change to Whitson was granted because, you know, Reno.

After the pair spent most of the rest of 1906 in California, Whitson returned to Reno just before Christmas to seek a divorce from the wife he abandoned. He claimed she had deserted him and her whereabouts were unknown; their children were not mentioned. A notice of divorce was published in a Nevada weekly paper. Whitson and his fiancee – who may or may not still have been married to Dr. Dadirrian – were off to London for their nuptials. Not to get too far ahead of the story, but it turned out the Reno divorce wasn’t valid and Whitson was finally arrested shortly after Burbank Press collapsed.

And so Burbank’s year of 1913 ended with the celebrated horticulturist unaware the VP of Burbank Press was a bigamist who had no apparent background in publishing but experience selling chancy stock. The books he hoped would establish his legacy as a great scientist were being ghost-written by a hack. And on the edge of Courthouse Square, a platoon of young women were churning out an ocean of envelopes sent on his behalf, almost all destined to be soon crumpled in the wastebaskets of distant gardeners.

November 9, 1911 Chicago Tribune –  November 2, 1912 Santa Rosa Republican

 

 

 

1 “Luther Burbank–Limited” by Barton Currie in “The County Gentleman”, reprinted in the Press Democrat, July 26, 1913

2 Oscar Binner letter to Nellie Comstock, February 25, 1910; Luther Burbank Home and Gardens archives

3pg 388, “Luther Burbank A Victim of Hero Worship” by Walter L. Howard, Chronica Botanica ,1945-6

4pg 390, ibid

5pg 316, ibid

6pg 185, “A Gardener Touched With Genius” by Peter Dreyer, 1985

 

 

 

300,000 LETTERS BURBANK PRESS
First Consignment of 20,000 Mailed at Santa Rosa Postoffice on Wednesday Night

The Luther Burbank Press delivered the first 20,000 letters to the Santa Rosa Postoffice on Wednesday Night of a 300,000 consignment which will go through the mails within the next fifteen days.

This means that 20,000 letters per day for fifteen days will have to be handled by the postoffice employees. A force of seven men was put at work at 7 o’clock Wednesday night and with the assistance of Postmaster H. L. Tripp and Assistant John Pursell, themselves, the entire batch will be worked up and sent off in the Thursday morning main at 5:50 over the Southern Pacific.

This consignment of mail alone means $6,000 receipts for two-cent stamps sold by the Santa Rosa office. The letters are all being routed by States and tied up in packages for each town by the clerks before they are placed in the mail sacks and will not be touched again until they reach the State to which they are directed.

In addition to this batch of 300,000 letters the Luther Burbank Press has notified the office that it wants 25,000 ten-cent stamps of the Panama-Pacific Exposition issue for immediate use as well as about the same quantity of postcards in sheets of forty eight cards each. These cards will be printed and enclosed with other matter in envelopes which will require between 10 and 12 cents postage each. All this is to be furnished the office within a very short time, a portion of it while the present big order is running.

– Press Democrat, September 11, 1913

 

DR. H.S. WILLIAMS IS CHIEF EDITOR OF BURBANK PRESS

In line with its policy of building a large and permanent organization in Santa Rosa, the Luther Burbank Press now announces the arrival of Dr. Henry Smith Williams of New York, who is to assume the position of Chief of Editorial Staff.

Dr. Williams, perhaps better than any other living author, is known as foremost in the field of popular science writing. Almost every issue of such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Everybody’s and the other standard high class periodicals contains something from his pen, as well as the scientific journals which are eager for his lucid and interesting presentations of scientific and technical subjects.

Dr. Williams enjoys the distinction of having first placed himself at the head of his particular division in the medical profession, after which, at an age at which most men are content with their laurels, he entered a new field and became the greatest living popularizer of natural science and history in America.

In addition to his voluminous current writing, he numbers among his books such works as “The Historian’s History of the World”, in 25 volumes, of which he was the author, “The Story of the Nineteenth Century Science”, “The History of the Art of Writing”, “The Effects of Alcohol”, “A History of Science”, “The Science of Happiness”, “Race Conquest”, “Every Day Science”, and many other single volumes and sets of which he has been the author, which give him unmistakable range among the great educators of the generation.

The Luther Burbank Press, in its quest for a head for its Editorial Department, found that eleven out of twelve of the foremost editors consulted referred instantly to Dr. Williams as the best obtainable man for the place, and the twelfth editor said afterward that he had suggested another only because he believed Dr. Williams could not be persuaded to give up his work in New York.

Dr. Williams brings to his present task in Santa Rosa the fullest equipment as scientist, as historical investigator and as a popular writer. He has the rare faculty of being able to write entertainingly on scientific subjects, and has done more, perhaps, than any other living writer to popularize the many branches of science.

Mr. Burbank after more than ten years of labor is now finishing his manuscript, and Dr. Williams first work will be to assist Mr. Burbank in the final arrangement of these writings. Dr. Williams will live at the Overton Hotel for the present.

– Press Democrat, October 16, 1913
A MODEL BUSINESS ORGANIZATION—THE LUTHER BURBANK PRESS
Glimpses of Santa Rosa Institution Where Newest Ideas in Scientific Management Find Application, and Where New Standards of Business Efficiency Have Been Set.
VIEW OF THEIR BUSY WORK ROOMS, SHOWING MODERN CONVENIENCES

“Here,” said the General Manager of the Luther Burbank Press, to a Press Democrat writer, as he picked up a letter which had just been opened, “is an order for a set of the Burbank Books in the $81.00 edition.

“It comes, as you see, from a small town in Iowa, and is but one of something over one hundred orders in this day’s mail, the average volume of the present business being about $5,000 per day.

“This order, like the others, was received in response to the advertising sent out by the company, and I should like to show you how quickly we can find for you its whole history.

“In the next room,” he continued, handing the order to a young woman, “we have more than a million separate cards, filed alphabetically by state, each card bearing the name, address and correspondence record of some inquirer after the Burbank Books–more than a million names of interested prospective purchasers who have been attracted by the advertising which the Burbank Press has sent out from Santa Rosa.”

Almost as the manager had finished speaking, the young woman returned with the original inquiry card of the purchaser, together with all of the correspondence in the case–giving not only the full name and address, but the occupation of the inquirer and the source through which the inquiry was received, and a complete record of all letters and printed matter which had been sent.

[…description of the bookkeeping and inventory systems…]

By a simple method the work of each employee is tabulated in such a way that, whether the duty be typewriting, hand addressing, carding, listing, checking, filing, or what not, the whole record of the employee, day by day, is evident at a glance.

While no piece-work is done, yet the salaries paid are based upon these actual day-by-day counts of the quantity and correctness of the work done.

Quantity, in fact, is secondary to correctness in advancement, a complete system of demerits, penalizing each mistake having been adopted. The employees thus vie with each other not only in seeing who can accomplish the most work, but also in seeing who can make the fewest mistakes. Both the quantity of work done and the mistakes charged against each operator are charted on blackboards prominently displayed in the large work room, and the daily task is thus given the added zest of competition.

In order that no overstrain may result from this competition, the working day is broken up into four periods instead of two, the first period being from eight until ten minutes of ten, the second from ten until noon, the third from one till twenty minutes of three, and the fourth from three to five. During the recesses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, the employees are urged to dismiss work from their minds, and, in fair weather, to leave the building…

– Press Democrat, November 2, 1913

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LUTHER BURBANK’S MOVING AWAY

You can bet jaws were dropping all over 1912 Santa Rosa when rumors spread Luther Burbank was moving out of town. He wasn’t going far – only about a mile from downtown, to a new subdivision called “West Roseland” – but Santa Rosa without its Burbank was unthinkable. Being the home of the “plant wizard” defined Santa Rosa’s image, with a perpetual stream of visitors coming from far away to see him and his gardens. And that’s exactly why he would have wanted to move away from the well-beaten path; Burbank was besieged by pesky pilgrims whenever he worked in his fields.

Financially secure for one of the few times in his life, Burbank could afford building a new place. A couple of months earlier he had signed a deal with investors to create the Luther Burbank Company, which would henceforth sell his seeds and plants. He was paid $30,000 up front, worth about $4 million today. Work was also underway at the newly-formed Luther Burbank Press to finally create an encyclopedic series of books on Burbank’s works. All in all, 1912 was very likely his happiest year.

Everything was going so well that he even risked a few days off. In August Burbank was part of the “flying legion,” a ten day junket to promote the upcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Traveling on a special Southern Pacific train, about a hundred men took the trip up the coast to Vancouver and back, with stops at all major cities on the way. The only other local man in the delegation was Robert John, an officer of the Luther Burbank Press and Luther Burbank Society, who appears to have been the linchpin in both projects.

Burbank kept a very low profile. He was toasted at a banquet in Canada but told the audience he wasn’t much of a speaker unless the topic was something like “spuds,” which he could discuss at length. A reporter in Oregon quoted his views on the importance of the trip, where in characteristic Burbank fashion he managed to complain and boast in the same breath: “This is almost the first day’s vacation I have taken in ten years, and I came at a time when I have on the place, working toward the publication of my books, 43 stenographers and typewriters, besides my usual executive work is hard to get away from.”

After the trip, nothing more about a planned new home was reported and the Burbank archives have no entry regarding a possible move to West Roseland. It’s more likely he bought the land on speculation; central Sonoma County was then enjoying its first building boom of the Twentieth Century. Ads for new subdivisions appeared regularly in the papers, and developers competed with each other by offering choice locations or no-money-down contracts. Here, it seems the developer was promoting West Roseland as an upscale neighborhood, where buyers would rub elbows with Burbank, George Dutton, Max Rosenberg, and other well-heeled local luminaries. And to cement the link to Santa Rosa’s favorite son, the main road was named “Burbank avenue.”

It appears none of the movers-and-shakers built grand homes in the subdivision. Today, Burbank avenue – which runs north-south, between Stony Point and Dutton Ave. – is almost entirely post-WWII construction, with a couple of older cottages. As you move farther away from Sebastopol Road it turns into a pleasant country lane with pastures and large empty lots that are surprising to discover so close to downtown. Much of it looks like it probably did in Luther’s era, when it was unincorporated county land. Of course, as it’s part of greater Roseland it is still unincorporated county land, only now surrounded on all sides by Santa Rosa proper. Of all the subdivisions then being developed outside of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Sebastopol, West Roseland was the only one that didn’t make it into city limits.

BURBANK BUYS LAND
Report Says He is Going to Build New Home

Luther Burbank, the well known resident and great horticulturist of this city, has purchased 16 2/3 acres of the Richardson tract on Sebastopol avenue, one mile west of this city. When asked as to his plans of use of the property, Mr. Burbank stated that he had made no plans to announce at present. The report was current on the streets, however, that he intended to build a fine, modern residence there.

The property adjoins the property recently purchased by Max Rosenberg, Dr. J. H. McLeod and John Rinner, and which they are now having surveyed to be placed on the market. The survey includes an avenue a mile long, which runs southerly from the Sebastopol road and which the purchasers will name Burbank avenue. The tract being subdivided will be called West Roseland.

Mr. Burbank made his purchase through the agency of Barnett & Reading.

George Dutton has purchased a piece of property adjoining Burbank’s new property and is planning a fine residence on his new possession.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 3, 1912

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LET’S ALL WORK FOR LUTHER BURBANK

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.

(RIGHT: 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 non-profit enterprise setup by the newly-formed 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 contents of the Burbank book series will be discussed in other articles, starting with a look at the exceptional color photography.

BURBANK SOCIETY INCORPORATION

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
MANY NOTED PEOPLE JOIN LUTHER BURBANK SOCIETY

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
WORK BEING DONE HERE BY LUTHER BURBANK PRESS

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
SANTA ROSA MESSAGE READ IN 6,200 CITIES
GREAT ACTIVITY OF  BURBANK PRESS

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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