W. Atlee Burpee
Washington Atlee Burpee was born
on April 5, 1858 at Sheffield, New Brunswick. His parents
moved to Philadelphia when he was a child. By fourteen his hobby was breeding chickens, geese and turkeys.
He attended private schools and graduated from the University of
Pennsylvania in 1878.
In 1876, with a partner and
$1,000 loaned to him by his mother, Burpee started a mail-order chicken business
from the family home. Poultry farmers throughout the
Northeast knew of the company. After opening a retail store in
Philadelphia, they began selling corn seed for feed to compliment
the animal business. His customers soon began to request vegetable
1878, after graduating and dropping his partner, he founded W. Atlee Burpee &
Company. Although the emphasis was garden seeds, poultry remained
in the annual catalog into the 1940s.
in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was established by 1888 and served as the
family home, a farm to evaluate varieties of vegetables and flowers, and to
to the outbreak of World War I, Burpee spent several summers traveling
throughout the United States and Europe seeking new and interesting
plant varieties. Many
of the vegetables and flowers he found were sent back to Fordhook Farms for
evaluation. The Fordhook Farm facility specialized in evaluating onions, beets, carrots, peas and cabbage.
added the Lompoc, California facility named Floradale Farms in in
test sweet peas, and Sunnybrook Farms near Swedesboro, New Jersey for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and squashes.
released many varieties that are now classics. Some of these are
the 'Fordhook Lima' bean, Iceberg lettuce was introduced in 1894 and named for its
crispness, and 'Golden Bantam' sweet corn in 1902.
Burpee was a
pioneer in the mail order marketing of seeds.
In his first year of business, his catalog was 48 pages. Distribution
was one million catalogs. Although Burpee set up
an advertising department, he personally wrote most of the copy in the
the time of his death, the company was the
largest seed company in the world, distributing over 1 million catalogs a year,
receiving 10,000 orders a
day during peak times. and employing about 300 people. Management passed to son
died on November 26, 1915 at Fordhook Farm, Pennsylvania and is buried
Specific Interment Location: Section M, Plot 49. His cause of death
was listed as cirrhosis of liver.
Click here to
read his obituary.
W. Atlee Burpee Seed Catalog Collection
at the Victory Horticultural Library