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Elbert Hubbard

Born in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1856, Elbert Hubbard was the son of a country doctor who never made more that $500 per year. The family had settled in Buffalo as early as 1834 but moved west during the cholera epidemic of that year.

A born salesman, Hubbard's first full-time job was selling soap door-to-door. Later he joined the
J.D. Larkin Company of Buffalo, one of the most successful mail order houses in the country. It was Hubbard who introduced premium merchandise as an added inducement to buy his company's products. He also instituted the club plan which made every customer a potential salesman.

But something was missing. Secretly Hubbard had written a novel and the prospect of a literary career fascinated him. In 1893 he sold his interest in the Larkin Company for $75,000 and retired at the age of thirty-six.

Hubbard began his intellectual quest by enrolling at Harvard, but he resigned after being told that he lacked the basic requirements to achieve a degree in letters.

Hubbard then embarked on a lengthy trip to the Continent. His purpose was to meet and talk with the leading personalities of his day, gathering material for his first continuous literary effort — "Little Journeys."

While abroad he met the English Socialist
William Morris whose printing and publishing firm convinced Hubbard of the feasibility of the Roycroft idea.

Roycroft

And so with his robust, rugged individualism. Hubbard established the Roycroft Printing Shop at his home in East Aurora. He gathered about him bookbinders from the Old World, young people and fallen women — the finest handmade books of the 19th Century, books that were purchased by Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt and Queen Victoria.

The Roycrofters prospered and by 1905 were operating their own factory, blacksmith shop, farms, bank and later an inn which still stands today. The completely self-sufficient community eventually grew to five hundred people under Hubbard's forceful but expert guidance. Actually, the inn was built as a matter of necessity. Thousands came from all over the world to see and praise an idea which had become a reality.

From 1905 to 1915, Elbert Hubbard was the most sought after lecturer in the United States. His writings were in great demand, and the Hearst Newspapers paid handsomely for his services as a correspondent. The outbreak of World War I provided a wealth of material for "Little Journeys," his biographical sketches of famous people which he had continued to publish. Aglow with a reporter's enthusiasm he set sail for England, and he hoped, an eventual interview with Kaiser Wilhelm. But one of the Kaiser's instruments of war stilled the voice of Elbert Hubbard forever. The sage of East Aurora died abroad the Lusitania, sunk by a German submarine in April 1915.


Source of Elbert Hubbard photo above: sale item in the Roycroft Shops
For additional family photos, see Elbert Hubbard / Roycroft Museum

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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