Pennsylvania; Doylestown, Pennsylvania; Lompoc, California; Swedesboro,
New Jersey–when W. Atlee Burpee died on November 26, 1915, his son David,
then 22, dropped out of Cornell University and took over the family business,
W. Atlee Burpee & Company. David was interested in flowers, while
his father had been interested in vegetables. World War I cut off
the company’s oversees seed supply and caused a food shortage in the United
States. David began a “war gardens” campaign, that was to later become
the “Victory gardens” campaign in World War II. These programs were
aimed at city people and taught them how to grow food during shortages
caused by wartime. After World War II, the company also sent thousands
of pounds of seeds to Allied countries under the Lend-Lease Act.
In the 1930's the company began cross-breeding to produce hybrids that
were healthier and more resistant to disease. The Big Boy tomato
was developed during this time, along with the Ambrosia cantaloupe, as
well as new kinds of petunias, nasturtiums, and red and gold marigolds.
In the 1940s the company created new forms of flowers by altering their
chromosome structure with a chemical called colchicine. This led
to varieties Bright Scarlet and Rosabel snapdragons and Ruffled Jumbo Scarlet
zinnia. In 1954 David Burpee announced his company would pay $10,000
to the first person who could supply seeds that produced a white marigold.
Over the next 20 years, gardeners submitted 8,208 entries, and Burpee spent
over $250,000 evaluating the seeds. In 1975, Mrs. Alice Vonk of Sully,
Iowa was announced as the winner. During the 1960s, David campaigned
to make the marigold America’s national flower. In 1970, David Burpee
sold his company to General Foods, the first of a series of non-horticultural
owners, for an estimated $10 million dollars, and in 1979 the company
passed to ITT. David Burpee remained as a consultant until his death
in 1981. In 1991 the Burpee company was acquired by George J. Ball,
Inc., a diversified horticultural family business.
Sources: Kraft; ANBv22;