Elbert Hubbard - Founder of the Roycroft & Grandfather of Modern Marketing

Fiona Rose

Elbert Hubbard was born in Illinois on his family's farm and from an early age Elbert showed a great capacity for hard work and innovation. At age 16 he went to work for the Larkin Soap Company where he soon became the company's top salesman and worked his way up to become head of advertising. Elbert was a born salesman - flamboyant, charismatic, prone to exaggeration, always had a great smile and an instinct for the sale. He is considered by many to be the grandfather of modern marketing having developed the idea of using slogans in advertising, premiums and leaving products 'on trial'.

Despite his accomplishments as a salesman, Elbert's true passion was to be a writer. In 1893 he travelled to Europe to gather material for a book and claimed he met William Morris at The Kelmscott Press. It is unlikely the meeting took place but he was sufficiently inspired upon his return to set up his own printing press, The Roycroft Press, on land he purchased in East Aurora in New York state. The Press produced handsome books on handmade paper with one inspirational essay, A Message to Garcia, selling 40 million copies by 1913.

The Roycroft Press expanded into a community of craftsmen and women making furniture, ceramics, metal work and glass. A quotation by John Ruskin formed the Roycroft doctrine: "A belief in working with the head, hand and heart and mixing enough play with the work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for health and happiness". Elbert insisted each piece of handicraft bore the Roycroft orb insignia rather than the individual craftsman's mark (Elbert's marketing methods again!). The insignia represented the circle for unity and the cross for duty and privilege. Handicrafts were sold via Elbert's marketing techniques and advertisements in various magazines where he emphasised the products affordability, beauty, uniqueness and a high degree of craftsmanship.

In May 1915, Elbert and his wife Alice set sail for England on the Lusitania. Unfortunately the ship was torpedoed by a German U Boat and sank in 18 minutes. It was reported that Elbert and Alice, rather than risk being parted in the icy waters, refused life jackets and retired to their cabin calming closing the door on the world forever. However, the spirit of the Roycroft community lives on due to renewed interest in the Arts & Crafts Movement in the US. In the mid 1990s a foundation bought and restored the few original buildings on the Roycroft campus and they are open to the public today as a living museum with various festivals, Roycroft handicrafts and auctions, educational programs and exhibitions. More information is available at www.roycroftcampuscorporation.com

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