Birth of Luther Burbank 

U.S. #876 was issued in Santa Rosa, California.

Luther A. Burbank was born on March 7, 1849, in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

The thirteenth of eighteen children, Burbank spent his childhood on his family farm enjoying his mother’s large garden. He only received a high school education, but would go on to become a pioneer in agricultural science.

U.S. #1100 pictures a figure representing the bountiful earth.

Following his father’s death, Burbank used his inheritance to buy 17 acres of land near Lundenburg. There he developed the Burbank potato and sold the rights to it for $150. He then used that money to travel to Santa Rosa, California, in 1875. The Burbank potato was later renamed the Russet Burbank potato and became one of the most widely used potatoes for food processing, such as for French fries.

After moving to California, Burbank bought four acres of land and set up a greenhouse, nursery, and experimental fields. He used these fields to experiment with crossbreeding after reading Charles Darwin’s The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. He later expanded his plot by another 18 acres.

U.S. #3298-3301 – Burbank created 29 varieties of blackberries and raspberries.

In the coming years Burbank began producing popular plant catalogs, most notably his 1893 “New Creations in Fruits and Flowers.” Around this same time, Burbank met Clarence McDowell Stark, of Stark Bro’s Nurseries & Orchards. At the time, Burbank was running a small seed and nursery business to make ends meet, distracting him from his brilliant work in hybridizing. Stark believed he was wasting his time with the nursery business so he offered him $9,000 for three varieties of fruits.

Burbank also had fans, The Luther Burbank Society, which worked to publish his discoveries and manage his business dealings to help him out financially. Additionally, from 1904 through 1909, the Carnegie Institution gave Burbank several grants to fund his research. Andrew Carnegie was a strong supporter of Burbank’s.

U.S. #4731-34 – Burbank created at least 10 different types of apples.

Over the course of his life, Burbank developed hundreds of new varieties of fruits, vegetables, grasses, and flowers. Some of the most notable include the Shasta daisy, the fire poppy, the July Elberta peach, the Santa Rosa plum, the Flaming Gold nectarine, the Wickson plum, the freestone peach, and the white blackberry.

U.S. #876 FDC – 1940 Burbank First Day Cover.

After several weeks of health issues, Burbank died on April 11, 1926. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa, California. Burbank left everything to his wife, who then continued the partnership with the Stark brothers. After Burbank’s death they discovered hundreds of fruit and flower varieties that he’d developed but never marketed and began to sell them in their catalog.

U.S. #1942-45 – Burbank created a type of spineless cactus for grazing cows, though it didn’t do well in the cold and required frequent watering.

Burbank wasn’t a traditionally trained scientist and didn’t keep detailed notes of his experiments. He believed his time was better spent in the garden. He also may not have wanted to share too much information because there was no way to protect his discoveries from being duplicated by someone else. However, four years after his death Congress passed the 1930 Plant Patent Act, which allowed for the patenting of new plant varieties. Thomas Edison testified in favor of the bill claiming that it would “give us many Burbanks.” Once it was passed, Burbank was posthumously awarded 16 patents.

Click here to read more about some of Burbank’s plants.

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  1. I have been gardening for over 40 years. I have never heard his name.what a great story .thanx mystic.

    1. Familiar with the Burbank Russet potato. Just assumed it probably had something to do with Burbank, CA. Was not aware of the story and the great agriculturist behind it. And now I know who to thank for may favorite free-stone fruit. Great Story!

  2. I loved this article and the information on the Russet Potato. Also, the fruits he developed. Fascinating.

  3. Burbank’s home & gardens in Santa Rosa, CA is an amazing place to see some of his creations
    ( spineless cacti among them)…This short précis can’t begin to list his many accomplishments.

  4. “I firmly believe, from what I have seen,
    that this is the chosen spot of all this earth
    as far as Nature is concerned.” Luther Burbank, 1875

    I am fortunate to live in Santa Rosa, CA and agree with Mr. Burbank about this chosen spot.

  5. Luther Burbank`s major writings include 8 volumes of How Plants are Trained to Work for Man (1921) Harvest of the Years (1927), Partners of Nature (1939) and 12 volumes of Luther Burbank Discoveries and Practical Applications. Burbank`s work led to passing of 1930 Plant Planet Act (four years after his death) This legislation made it possible to patent new varieties of plants. Authorities issued patents to Burbank posthumously. Paramhansa Yogananda in his autobiography titled Autobiography of a Yogi ( 1952 publication ) wrote on page 416 QUOTE “Luther Burbank`s heart was fathomless deep, long acquainted with humility, patience and sacrifice. The modesty with which he wrote his scientific fame repeatedly reminds me of trees that bend low with burden of ripening fruits. It is barren tree that lifts its head high in an empty boast “. UNQUOTE.
    I had the privilege and honor to visit Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa .
    The 123rd Annual Luther Burbank Rose Parade and Festival will be held on Saturday, May 20, 2017. Burbank saved millions of lives when Irish Potato Famine had hit Europe. Thank you Mystic for remembering this great American personality.

  6. Another GREAT history lesson ! Thanks, Mystic, for introducing me to Luther Burbank who, obviously, was a an amazing American .

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