was born in 1893 and when his father, W. Atlee Burpee died, David dropped out of Cornell
University at the age of 22 and took over the family business.
While his father's
main area of interest was vegetables, David was interested in flowers.
World War I cut off overseas seed supplies and caused food shortages in the United States.
David began a “War Gardens” campaign, that formed the basis for the “Victory
Gardens” campaign during World War II. These programs
were generally aimed at city and suburban people and taught them how to grow food during
shortages caused by wartime.
In the 1930's the company began cross-breeding to
produce hybrids that were healthier and more resistant to disease.
In 1932, 'Golden Gleam', a product of Mexico, was a double nasturtium,
bearing ten petals to the ordinary blossom's five. Seeing the
potential and a chance to get ahead of the competition, he vigorously
seized the opportunity. Sweet-scented but limited to one color, he
launched a breeding program to crossbred it with common nasturtiums. Forty
thousand hybrid cross-breedings allowed him to by the 1937 seed catalog,
dedicate four complete pages to all variations of nasturtiums.
'Big Boy' tomato was developed during this time, along with the 'Ambrosia' cantaloupe, as well as new kinds of petunias, and
red and gold marigolds. In the 1940s the company created new forms
of flowers by altering their chromosomal structures using a chemical
substance from the crocus plant called
colchicine. This led to varieties 'Bright Scarlet' and 'Rosabel'
snapdragons and 'Ruffled Jumbo Scarlet' zinnia. In 1960, Burpee
mailed 4,000,000 seed annuals to customers.3
In 1970, David
Burpee sold his company to General Foods. In 1979 the company passed to ITT. David Burpee remained as a
consultant until his death in June of 1980. In 1991 the Burpee company was
acquired by George J. Ball, Inc., a diversified horticultural family
business. Jonathan Burpee, the founder's grandson, was the last family member to work for
the company. He was terminated in 1993.
Burpee Seed Catalogs
Who Owns What
Gardener's Gardener", TIME Magazine, June 6, 1960
W. Atlee Burpee Seed Catalog Collection
at the Victory Horticultural Library
"Trapaeolum majus Burpeeii", TIME Magazine,
January 20, 1936