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THE LUTHER BURBANK SOCIETY

WHAT IT HAS DONE AND WHAT IT PROPOSES

Aside from the unquestioned value of his own personal researches, the world owes much to Prof. Hugo de Vries of the University of Amsterdam in Holland. It was Prof. de Vries who discovered the writings of the monk Mendel and interpreted them to the world. And it was Prof. de Vries, who through a characteristic description of Luther Burbank's work set in motion the train of thought which later crystallized into The Luther Burbank Society, an organization brought together for the express purpose of making Mr. Burbank's life work available to the masses; an organization without which, it is quite likely, the world for many generations to come would never have profited by the labors of the modest plant experimenter of Santa Rosa. The particular thing which Prof. de Vries said came in connection with an appreciative account of Luther Burbank's work and was a vivid estimate of the tangible value to the world which even minor improvements in industrial plants are capable of producing. "In the light of what has been accomplished", said Prof. de Vries after a visit to Luther Burbank's Experiment Farm, "it seems quite possible to breed a new wheat, a new barley, new oats and new corn, which will produce one grain more to each head; or to bring out a new variety of potato which will surpass the original kind, by the addition of a single tuber to each plant; or to improve a tree to the extent of making it bear one more apple, one more pear or one more nut, upon its branches. "Such transformations are insignificant, almost, in comparison with the long list of spectacular transformations which have been wrought-insignificant, that is to say, from the standpoint of the plant improver. "It is only when we contemplate the astounding monetary results that such apparently slight changes produce, that we realize their importance. "The addition of a single kernel to the ear of corn, would, for example, in the United States alone, produce an extra crop equal to 5,100,000 bushels-an annual addition of millions of dollars to the farmers' pockets. "The addition of a single extra kernel to the head means a fifteen million bushel annual wheat increase; or a twenty million bushel oats increase; or a two million bushel barley increase. "A single extra tuber added to each potato plant in America would mean a twenty-one million bushel crop increase, with no more cost for planting, cultivation or care, and the barest fraction of a percent, only, to be added to the cost of harvesting. "By such slight transformations as these, year after year, the benefits, small as to the individual plant, but astounding as to the aggregate, would fall into the lap of the agriculturist, not only in America, but everywhere on earth where plants can be made to grow from the soil. "And if their direct monetary benefits run thus into the millions and hundreds of millions annually, who can estimate the broad upward influence which such plant improvements will have on society at large? "Truly, they will be felt by all classes of people everywhere-they will be shared even by those who were not aware of their immediate causes." Hand in hand with Luther Burbank's ambition even in the darkest days of discouragement, and almost from boyhood, was an earnest determination to give to the world the formulae and experiences for which he was paying so dearly. Throughout all those years of patient experiment, he looked always to the day when the art of plant improving would cease to be an oddity and anomaly, and would take its just place as the recognized leader of the useful arts, since everything we eat and wear and have, in some measure, depends upon the things we raise from the soil. He looked forward, always, toward the day when every locality would have its plant experimenter, every state its men famous for their plant transformations; and to that eventual day when every farm must have its plot, large or small, devoted to the improvement of the things which give it income. It is not at all to Luther Burbank's discredit that only now, in 1914, instead of in the 90's or 80's his formulae and experiences are being given to the world. Nor is it to the discredit of the world itself, for attempts to accomplish this result have been many. It is rather to the credit of Luther Burbank, and to the advantage of the world, that the promulgation has been delayed, for, linked with Luther Burbank's determination to give to the world his methods and discoveries, was the equally firm determination to make the presentation popular, easily understandable, readily applicable, so that his message might be sure of producing the greatest measure of good for the greatest number. It is not a simple task to put experience on paper; to seek and find in a thousand experiments, dismissed as failures, the three or the five important truths they concealed; to glean from the experiments which proved successful the vital discoveries which they have yielded, and to appraise them in order of their real importance; to arrange the facts in orderly piles and to squeeze from the mass of theory, which has gone hand in hand with the practice, those globules of probability necessary to cement together a useful structure. If we are to benefit by the experience of any man, we must have before us not only the things which he knows, but the things which he believes, arrayed with an eye to relative importance, with facts, figures, formulae, beliefs, theories, purposes and hopes brought together into a state of unified reconciliation. It would be no small task to put on paper even the simple experience of a shoemaker, a typesetter, or a blacksmith in such a way that his children might benefit by his successes, discoveries and observations. How much less easy, then, to put on paper the experiences of a man who, for forty years, has worked fourteen hours a day in a field, which is all new, unmapped, unknown, almost the experiences of a man who has tried more than one hundred thousand separate experiments and produced widely divergent successes by the hundred-to simmer down such experiments and put the results on paper for the man, who, as yet, is hardly aware that such a line of experimentation exists. It was the difficulty of the task of presentation which held back Luther Burbank's lifework from the world these past twenty years; not any lack of interest on the part of the world to know, nor any lack of willingness on the part of Luther Burbank to tell. The best evidence of Luther Burbank's early determination to make the results of his labors available to the world lies in the fact that from the very outset he kept careful, painstaking records of everything that he did. No matter if poverty pinched him, if neighbors criticized him; no matter if series after series of experiments failed him, as experiments often do; and no matter how tired he was at the end of his long workday, he stopped, before retiring, long enough to jot down the record of his doings from sunrise to sunset. Unique in their simplicity, and characteristic in many ways of their author, these records were filed away as book after book was filled, against the day when they were to be brought forth and put into tangible shape for the benefit of the many. The reader will find throughout these pages a number of photographic reproductions which vividly show the painstaking care with which Luther Burbank, almost from boyhood, recorded his experiments. It was because of this long fixed determination that when the Carnegie Institution of Washington, nearly ten years ago, approached Mr. Burbank, he willingly entered into an arrangement whereby his work was to be given to the world through this agency. It is not to the discredit of the Carnegie Institution, or to the discredit of Luther Burbank, that this effort, after a great expenditure of money and a number of years of conscientious work, produced no fruit. Most great undertakings experience a number of false starts before they are finally launched on their way to accomplishment. And such was the case with the beginnings of this work. Laboring alone, and many years in advance of his time, it was not to be expected that Luther Burbank could be interpreted in the language of contemporary science. And in fact, with true Yankee keenness, he much preferred that his benefits be reaped directly by those who practice agriculture, rather than by those who merely study agriculture. If both classes could be equally benefited, well and good; but if one had to be slighted, then let it be the studier and not the practicer. With a willing heart, the able men appointed by the Carnegie Institution co-operated with Mr. Burbank, and the magnitude of the task, whatever the viewpoint, became apparent as page after page of manuscript was boiled together into what promised to become an interminable record. After a number of years Mr. Burbank saw and keenly realized that the work which had been done fell far short of his ideals-whatever its scientific value, it failed utterly to be the crystal clear presentation for the benefit of the practical man, which had always been his guiding ideal. So the first step toward success ended in what, at the moment, appeared to be but an expensive failure. So, too, did succeeding steps-when publishers, more or less capable, sought to put together the Burbank records-resulting in nothing. The commercial publisher of books, figuring costs against profits, is no man to undertake a work of this magnitude in which hundreds of thousands of dollars must be expended before a single sale could be made. Thus, in the spring of 1912, a well informed analyst of the situation might well have come to the conclusions that: (1) Luther Burbank's methods and discoveries, whether valuable or not, are hardly likely to be given the world in any understandable form, since for so many years so much money had been poured into the enterprise without visible result; (2) the world will continue to enjoy such of Luther Burbank's creations as have been already distributed, but it is not likely that other experimenters will be enabled to take up his work where he is leaving off, while, on the other hand it is extremely likely that the world must wait for many years, perhaps centuries, for a new crop of plant improvers to grow who will catch up with this man who has lived so far ahead of his times; (3) it is quite likely that Luther Burbank, like Mendel, will die unappreciated, not because the world would lack appreciation for such work as his, but because, rather, there seems to be no practical means of communicating to the world what he anxiously desires to tell. The analyst who would have come to these conclusions need not have been a pessimist; he might well have been an optimist who simply looked the facts in the face. It was at this stage that The Luther Burbank Society was organized. The underlying thought was that where one may fail, many may succeed; that from the mistakes of the past grow the achievements of the future. It would have been quite possible for those friends of Luther Burbank who organized The Luther Burbank Society to have enlisted the support of any one of several of America's philanthropic multi-millionaires; but in the light of history, this seemed the least advisable thing to do. And so, after much consultation and many conferences, the present plan of organization of The Luther Burbank Society was devised-a plan which enlisted the philanthropic support of many members-some fifteen hundred of whom contributed of their means, and some five thousand others of their abilities. In short, the plan of the organizers of The Luther Burbank Society was to interest a large body of philanthropic Americans in the work, feeling that in numbers there was not only strength but safety, and many other elements of success. With the organization of The Luther Burbank Society in the spring of 1912, it was found that no difficulty was to be experienced in enlisting representative men and women in the movement, so the undertaking was launched, and The Society came into full fledged existence, being chartered by the State of California for the purpose of "collating and disseminating the methods and discoveries of Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa." As soon as The Society took definite form, and its financial condition permitted, the work of putting Mr. Burbank's methods and discoveries into manuscript form was actively begun. That it took just seventeen months to have the first manuscript ready for the printer is no evidence of laxity on the part of those active in The Society's management, but rather serves to illustrate the magnitude of the undertaking, and to convey an idea of the number and obstinacy of the difficulties to be overcome. There was produced during these seventeen months of apparent idleness enough manuscript to have filled many volumes the size of this present set-not a single word of which appears herein. This failure, too, to produce definite, tangible results in seventeen months of earnest, strenuous, capable labor, illustrates, too, why the Carnegie Institution, working hand in hand with Mr. Burbank, with its vast resources, and his willing cooperation, failed-and why the publishing firms which afterwards undertook the work had never a chance of accomplishment. In fact, after seventeen months of what then appeared to be fruitless labor, the management of The Society discovered that a beginning must be made anew, and that the mass of records must be reclassified, recompared with contemporary science, and rearranged to serve as the backbone of the work. This, together with the rearrangement of the work done by those who had already been in The Society's employ, was quickly effected, and the whole matter placed in the hands of capable editors, whose scientific and literary qualifications seemed to fit them peculiarly for the task. As soon as the new editors took charge of The Society's editorial affairs, with Mr. Burbank, as always, loyally giving his time and support, the work in hand began to assume definite final shape, with the result that it was finished, complete, so far as the Editorial Board of The Society and Mr. Burbank were concerned, within six months, or exactly two years, almost to the day, after The Society had received its charter from the state. Yet with the work done to the satisfaction of Mr. Burbank and of the Editorial Board of The Society, what, from many standpoints, was to be the most important phase of the operation was still to be begun. This phase, absolutely unique in the making of books, will need a word of explanation here, in order that both its character and its importance may be comprehended. The trend of modern times, the evolution of things as they are, is to bring the maker of a thing closer and closer to the user of it-to let the eventual user himself decide the characteristics which the maker is to embody in it. We may take for example, as a parallel, the manufacturer of clothing. Twenty years ago the maker of clothing designed what he believed his public wanted, and without consulting that public, manufactured large quantities which he sold through wholesale and retail channels, with the result that the public was wearing not the clothes it wanted, but the clothes its makers, several steps removed, believed it wanted. Today, in the clothing business, the situation is entirely changed. The maker of clothing manufactures not a single garment in advance to carry in stock, but instead designs and executes a wide variety of models, embodying the ideas of the whole range from which the public might like to select. Then with trunks full of these models, models of clothing which can be ordered to be made, rather than samples of clothing already on hand to be sold, the manufacturer's traveling men take to the road, visit the retail stores, which in turn call in their leading customers; and based upon the judgment of the retailer, who is close to the customer, and of the customer himself, the manufacturer takes his orders for the coming year. It is all, of course, as in plant life, a survival of the fittest. By the old process the manufacturer who made the closest guess survived, while the others perished. By the new process, all manufacturers have an equal chance of survival, because the question of to be or not to be has been propounded to the clothing itself and not to the maker. So, in almost all lines of trade-which, after all, being the most acute fight for existence, is the most ready exemplar of evolution-the tendency has been to let the ultimate consumer shape, as far as possible the qualities and characteristics of the thing which he is to consume. In almost all lines of trade this is true, but in the business of writing books this new evolutionary tendency had not as yet made itself evident. The procedure in the making of books has, as always, been this: The author conceives an idea which he believes to be of interest to a great number of readers; without consultation with those readers he conceives a form of presentation and writes his idea, or ideas into words which are turned over to the publisher; and the publisher, like the old manufacturer of clothing, without consultation with his public, makes such changes in the manuscript as he conceives his public would like to have made, and the whole thing is set into hard, cold, unalterable type, and must stand or fall on the goodness of the guesses which the author and the publisher, having no expression from the ultimate consumer, made. At the outset, the management of The Luther Burbank Society felt that here was a work so vitally important that there was no man living who would be competent of his own knowledge to say whether or not its presentation was perfect; but that instead, irrespective of delay or expense, the public itself, which was to use and benefit from the work, must decide the manner, form and detail of its presentation. It was this feeling, in fact, which led the founders of The Society to choose its present form of organization instead of enlisting the aid of a single philanthropist. For the members of The Luther Burbank Society, as it was organized, performed a vastly greater service than the provision of funds for the work, great as that service was; the members themselves, some sixty-five hundred of them in all, representing every walk of life, farmers, bankers, scientists, college professors, business men, city dwellers, suburbanites, small town residents, and open-country farmers, all vitally interested in the work, to these men and women was submitted the manuscript prepared by Mr. Burbank and the Editorial Board of The Society and it was their suggestions and their comments which determined the final form which appears in these volumes. Thus it can truly be said of these books that for the first time in the history of book making the manuscript has been submitted to its every possible class of reader before it has gone into type, and that it reflects the composite desire of what its readers want, rather than the imagined desire in the brain of the author and the publisher. From the brief outline given here, it will be seen that the Editorial Board of The Society found much to do in the preparation of the bare manuscript, itself-yet this was but one phase of its duties. It was realized at the outset that hand in hand with the manuscript there must go illustrations as much better than the ordinary illustrations as the manuscript itself was to be better than the average manuscript. At the same time that Mr. Burbank turned over to the Editorial Board of The Society his voluminous records, he also turned over some three or four thousand black and white photographs which he had had taken of his productions from time to time throughout the years. At first thought it might have seemed that these photographs would have served admirably to illustrate the text; but a second consideration would have shown that, beautiful though they were, they fell far short of accomplishing this ideal. For these were but black and white photographs, and black and white photography as generally practiced, shows form only and little or no color gradation. That is to say, a bed of brilliant crimson poppies appears in the ordinary black and white photograph as a mass of black flowers. A bed of beautiful blue balloon flowers appears in the ordinary photograph as though the flowers were white. In short, it will be seen that with yellow, orange, and red flowers and fruits showing black, and with blue flowers showing white, and with the greens and blue-greens in an intermediate tone, little can be portrayed of a subject which is full of reds and yellows and greens and blues-, ittle justice can be done a subject which is all color. Add to this the fact, which the reader has already gleaned, that color plays a vital part in Mr. Burbank's work, and it will be readily seen that the black and white photographs on hand that April day in 1912, magnificent specimens of the art as they were, were far from suitable for the purposes in mind. So, at the same time that the Editorial Board began to assemble its editors, it provided a photo-chemical laboratory and purchased and brought together in Santa Rosa, at great expense, a complete photographic equipment. At that time the beautiful color photography process of Lumiere of Paris was just beginning to gain headway in the United States, though a nation-wide search failed to reveal an operator well enough versed in the system to produce a high percentage of satisfactory results. Experiments were taken up at first hand, however, with the result that in The Society's own laboratory it was soon possible to produce uniformly perfect reproductions on glass, in natural color, with great fidelity. It is doubtful if any other operator in this method in the world has attained such efficiency in working the color-photography process as was attained in the laboratories of The Society-yet this, as it developed, was but a beginning. The process rendered beautiful color reproductions, but in many ways these were inaccurate and the plates themselves were far from being sensitive enough to permit of the short exposures which fruits on the tree and flowers in the garden require. Thus, during the course of a number of months, The Society's experimenters worked out a much more highly perfected method than that with which they began, enabling them to render every color with absolute fidelity, even the most delicate shades, and to obtain color records in the camera in one-thirtieth and one-fiftieth of a second, which, from all practical aspects may be called instantaneous exposures. Once all the factors of this new method were perfected, the systematic recording of all of Mr. Burbank's products and methods was begun. It was found, however, that many of the subjects which had been illustrated by the black and white photographs had wholly disappeared; and in order that the color records might be complete, Mr. Burbank re-performed many of his old experiments, so that color photographs might be taken of them. Every experiment which Mr. Burbank had under way, and those which he undertook a second time were carefully photographed in color, and then The Society's staff of photographers was dispatched to different parts of the United States for the purpose of securing such illustrations as could not be obtained on the home grounds, but which were needed to make the work complete. In all, nearly twelve thousand color plates were made, about ten percent of which, or 1,260, are reproduced in these volumes. As soon as the photographing of the subjects had been put under definite way, the next difficulty to be overcome was that of reproducing these on paper, for use in the books, monographs and other publications of The Society. At the time these experiments were undertaken, nothing whatever of practical value had been accomplished along this line, and the work which The Society's experimenters did may be judged by the color prints on paper in these volumes. With the text complete and in the hands of the members of The Society for corrections and suggestions, and with the color illustrations prepared and a means of reproducing them on paper devised, there were yet many minor, but none the less difficult, problems to be surmounted. The problem of binding alone, because of the tipping in of 1,260 separate color prints, was entirely new and required unique treatment. It seems hardly worthy of great explanation at this point, but if the reader were to see the hundreds of sample volumes submitted by various binderies and to compare them with the new method devised for the purpose and embodied in these books, he would at once realize that many months of concentrated study were devoted to this subject. The text printing, the type made from The Society's own matrices, the paper made according to The Society's own specifications in a special mill run, all of these and many other details, small individually but large in the aggregate, proved time-consuming, energy-eating problems, which had to be solved. It will be seen, thus, that The Society's first work was to arrange and classify Mr. Burbank's voluminous records, covering the entire field of his experiments, to make the necessary comparisons with contemporary science, and to write the whole, first into a lucid, easily understood exposition at the same time illustrating all of his methods and discoveries in natural color, and to put the whole into book form so that each phase of every operation might be made crystal clear to the reader, whether his interest be general or specific. With the completion of these twelve volumes the first cycle of The Society's operations thus is accomplished. But it is not meant by this that The Society's work is at an end-in fact the most important work is yet to come. With all of Mr. Burbank's work charted, mapped, analyzed, classified, with contemporary science and practice placed in parallel in accessible form, and with all of the records of State and Government Experiment Stations and many records generously donated by individual experimenters, The Society has at its command a fund of usable information such as has never before been brought together in the interest of a single line of knowledge. All that has been hoped of the present volumes, of which this is the concluding one, is that they will serve to stir up a broader interest than has ever been known in this vital subject; that they will acquaint the general reader with the importance of the work and give the practical beginner a fair start toward his goal. All that has been expected of these volumes is that they will be the beginning of what must become a world-wide movement. If The Society's work is to reach its maximum result, this set of books must be but the forerunner of many millions of pieces of printed matter which shall give guidance to those who take up the study of improving living things, whether plant or human. And for this work there is already in The Society's vaults ample material on hand. Already, coincident to the publication of these books, The Society has found the time and means to publish and prepare for distribution a series of monographs, each dealing with some specific phase of gardening, fruit growing, flower raising, farm management, and kindred subjects. Already there has been prepared a separate series dealing with the improvement of the human plant, consisting of a number of monographs covering as broadly as possible within the space at hand, the whole subject of heredity and environment as applied not only to the production of better races but to the production of better individuals. In all some two million pieces of educational printed matter of one kind and another have been distributed. That this is but the beginning, however, may be seen from the comprehensive plans already laid out which include the following: First. The preparation of a series of even more intensive monographs on the improvement of the human plant, with specific illustrations from many sources, and with the definite applications brought home as closely as possible to the individual reader. Second. The preparation of a series of popular monographs on the application of mental forces to the improvement of individual human life-physical and moral-from facts which have come as a sidelight to Mr. Burbank's work. Third. The preparation of a series of popular monographs on specific farm methods, showing the most profitable plants and crops, differentiated by climates and localities, with a view to getting the average agriculturist out of his rut and forging forward on a better plane. Fourth. The preparation of a series of large wall charts describing and illustrating, in natural color, flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees, grains and grasses-a graphic method of nature study for children, which educational authorities have pronounced more efficient and practical than the present botanies in book form. Fifth. The organization of a lecture bureau and the preparation of motion picture films for the illustration of improved methods, to be sent throughout the rural districts and throughout the cities and towns as well, for the purpose of vividly illustrating the necessity of the work and the means of accomplishing results. Sixth. The classification of all records and data not now classified, with a view to inaugurating an individual information service for all those engaged in, or interested in soil culture. Seventh. The publication of a periodical presenting the actual experiences-successes and failures-of those engaged in or interested in plant or human improvement, affording a forum for the profitable exchange of practices and ideas. Eighth. Additional laboratory work with color photography, with a view to making it more widely available, with the idea that the public should benefit by all of The Society's activities, of which this has by no means been an unimportant part. Ninth. The preparation and publication of text books for popular and schoolroom use, to be issued through some commercial publishing house, with the idea that the royalties derived from these and other publications will provide a permanent source of income to sustain The Society in its work. As to finances, The Society's expenses have been promptly met by the subscriptions of the Life Members, with the result that the progress already described has been achieved, and The Society finds itself clear and free of debt. The sale of a popular edition of this first exposition in twelve volumes has been placed in the hands of publishers on a basis which will insure The Society an annual income without recourse to the solicitation of contributions; and the sale of other later publications, including text books, will be placed in the hands of publishers on a royalty basis, so that not only has the success of the original idea been achieved, but, in addition, preparation has been made for the furtherance of The Society's work in the future. Inspired by the observation of Prof. Hugo de Vries, the organizers of The Society may well feel that the popular response to The Society's announcements gives ample proof that interest is not lacking; and the promise of the Future, from the work already done, is not only that Luther Burbank's work will be continued, instead of being permitted to die with him, but that it will be continued on a much vaster scale and that the world will soon profit from the efforts of a thousand new Luther Burbanks, scattered everywhere, who have the advantage of avoiding most of his discouragements and many of his failures-who, in a word, take up the work where he leaves off.

-The addition of a single kernel to the ear of corn, would, in the United States alone, produce an extra annual crop of 5,100,000 bushels.

This text is from: Luther Burbank: his methods and discoveries and their practical application. Volume 12 Chapter 6