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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Story of a Company

This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Many long lasting companies have unique stories scattered throughout their history, but the success of a company is often from the loyalty of its customers. The W. Atlee Burpee & Company was created by W. Atlee Burpee in 1876 as a mail order poultry business, turning into a successful seed company as an international seller of seeds in the early twentieth century. The Burpee Company gained attention for not only the seeds it sold, but the successful results of its products, gaining loyal customers in return.

Original flyer posting the rules and prizes for the 1924 contest. W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection
Archives of American Gardens, Smithsonian Institution.

In 1924, the Burpee Company launched a prize-contest to recognize its faithful customers by asking them to write “What Burpee’s Seeds Have Done for Me.” Thousands entered for cash prizes by sending letters and photographs to the Philadelphia offices of the Burpee Company. Entries came from all over the world, written by those young and old, to express the impact of these special seeds in their lives. The letters tell the story of the Burpee Company. See more in previous post Seed Stories.

The Archives of American Gardens has an extensive collection of W. Atlee Burpee & Company materials, including a number of these letters from the 1924 contest. As part of a new project with the Smithsonian Transcription Center, these letters are being made viewable for everyone to learn more about the Burpee Company. With the contest closing in August of 1924, all of these letters are ninety years old and capture the history of Americans (and Canadians too) who often found pride and hope in their gardens through Burpee’s seeds.
A sampling of the letters from the 1924 contest.

As the letters are added to the Transcription Center please help us transcribe them! Through your help, we can further the story of the Burpee Company and also understand the impact of gardening in the early twentieth century. Many of these letters express the financial need of gardening or describe the joy of finding the best fruits and vegetables in one’s own backyard. Yet almost every letter offers the same praise, affirming the motto that “Burpee’s seeds grow.”

Catherine Bell
Summer 2014 Intern
Archives of American Gardens

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