W. Atlee Burpee & Company records
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
AAG.BUR
Creators:
Burpee, David, 1893-1980
Burpee, W. Atlee (Washington Atlee), 1858-1915
James Vick's Sons (Rochester, N.Y.).
W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
Wm. Henry Maule (Firm)
Dates:
circa 1873-1986
bulk 1890-1930
Languages:
English
Collection is in English.
Physical Description:
201 Cubic feet
Repository:
The W. Atlee Burpee & Company records, dated circa 1873-1986, document the firm's business activities developing plant varieties and marketing and selling seeds. They include accounting records, seed trial records, seed contracts, sales records, inventories, office correspondence, seed catalogs, promotional and instructional materials, advertisements and advertising reports, contest letters, daybooks, photographs, reference materials, and other items relating to the company and some of its competitors.

Arrangement
Arrangement
Collection is arranged into six series:
  • Series 1: Plant/Farm Related Material
  • Series 2: Business Records
  • Series 3: Material Published About the Burpee Company
  • Series 4: Awards and Certificates
  • Series 5: Photographic and A/V Materials
  • Series 6: Burpee Family Papers

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
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. Burpee 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 Burpee trial gardens were established in Lompoc, California and near Swedesboro, New Jersey.
Burpee's son David 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 mail order seed company in the world. It distributed over one million catalogs a year and received as many as 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.
Sometime in the 1930s, the Burpee Company entered into a business relationship with the James Vick's Company of Rochester, New York. In 1947, Burpee purchased the assets of and rights to the use of the name of the Wm. Henry Maule Co. In 1970, Burpee was sold to General Foods; the corporate headquarters moved from Philadelphia to Warminster, Pennsylvania in 1974. David Burpee remained a consultant for the company until his death in 1981. In 1991, the Burpee Company was acquired by George J. Ball, Inc.

Administration
Processing Information
The collection was originally processed by Marca Woodhams of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Horticulture Branch; she generated a box list at that time. Archives of American Gardens' intern Candace Graham developed a finding aid for the collection in 2002. The finding aid was revised by AAG museum specialist Joyce Connolly in 2019 after the collection was re-inventoried.
Separated Materials
Burpee seed catalogs donated to the Smithsonian in 1982 by the W. Atlee Burpee Company can be found in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Branch Library Trade Literature Collection.
Author

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
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: aag@si.edu.
Conditions Governing Use
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.
Preferred Citation
Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Account books -- 19th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Account books -- 20th century Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Advertising Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pamphlets Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Trade catalogs Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Agriculture Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Contests Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Flowers Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gardens -- United States Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Horticulture Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mail-order business Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Seed industry and trade Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Trial gardens Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Vegetables Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Victory gardens Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Gardens
P.O. Box 37012
Capital Gallery West, Suite 3300, MRC 506
Washington, DC 20013-7012
aag@si.edu
http://www.aag.si.edu