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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Burbank, Luther (1849-1926)

"I have learned from Nature that dependence on unnatural beliefs weakens us in the struggle and shortens our breath for the race."

"Most people's religion is what they would like to believe, not what they do believe. And very few of them stop to examine its foundations."

"The idea that a good God would send people to a burning hell is utterly damnable to me. The ravings of insanity! Superstition gone to seed! I don't want to have anything to do with such a God."

"I do not believe what has been served to me to believe. I am a doubter, a questioner, a skeptic. However, when it can be proved to me that there is immortality, that there is resurrection beyond the gates of death, then will I believe. Until then, no."

-- Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank was an American botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer of agricultural science. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants over his 55-year career. Burbank's varied creations included fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables. He developed a spineless cactus (useful for cattle-feed) and the plumcot.

Burbank's most successful strains and varieties include the Shasta daisy, the Fire poppy, the July Elberta peach, the Santa Rosa plum, the Flaming Gold nectarine, the Burbank plum, the Freestone peach, and the Burbank potato. Burbank also bred the white blackberry and the nectarine. A natural sport (genetic variant) of the Burbank potato with russet (reddish-brown) skin later became known as the Russet-Burbank potato: this large, brown-skinned, white-fleshed potato has become the predominant processing potato in the United States of America.

Life and work
Born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, Burbank grew up on a farm and received only an elementary education. The thirteenth of 15 children, he enjoyed the plants in his mother's large garden. His father died when he was 21 years old, and Burbank used his small inheritance to buy a 17-acre (69,000 m²) plot of land near Lunenberg.

Burbank developed the Burbank potato in 1871. Burbank sold the rights to the Burbank potato for $150 and used the money to travel to Santa Rosa, California, in 1875. Later, a natural sport of 'Burbank' potato with russetted skin was selected and named 'Russet Burbank'. Today, the 'Russet Burbank' potato is the most widely cultivated potato in the United States, prized for processing. McDonald's French fries are made exclusivly from this cultivar.

In Santa Rosa, Burbank purchased a 4-acre plot of land, and established a greenhouse, nursery, and experimental fields that he used to conduct crossbreeding experiments on plants, inspired by Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. Later he purchased an 18-acre plot of land in the nearby town of Sebastopol for more experimental growing.

Burbank's creations included:

113 plums and prunes
35 fruiting cacti
16 blackberries
13 Raspberries
11 quinces
11 plumcots
Ten cherries
Ten strawberries
Ten apples
Eight peaches
Six chestnuts
Five nectarines
Four grapes
Four pears
Three walnuts
Two figs
One almond

Grains, grasses, forage

Nine types

26 types

91 types

During his career, Burbank wrote several books on his methods and results, including his eight-volume How Plants Are Trained to Work for Man (1921), Harvest of the Years (with Wilbur Hall, 1927), Partner of Nature (1939), and the 12-volume Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries and Their Practical Application. Burbank also published in 1893 a descriptive catalog of some of his best varieties, entitled called New Creations in Fruits and Flowers'.

Other works include:

The Training of the Human Plant
Some Interesting Failures: The Petunia with the Tobacco Habit, and Others
The Almond and Its Improvement: Can It Be Grown Inside of the Peach?
Four Burbank Plums, and How They were Made: Methods Which Brought Unprecedented Success
Corn: The King of America's Crops: Not Only Better Corn, But a Better Stalk and Why
Twenty-three Potato Seeds and What They Taught A Glimpse at the Influence of Heredity
Other Useful Plants Which Will Repay Experiment: Transformations and Improvements Waiting to Be Made
How Plants Adapt Themselves to Conditions: The Influence of Environment
The Tomato and an Interesting Experiment: A Plant which Bore Potatoes Below and Tomatoes Above
The Rivalry of Plants To Please Us: On the Forward March of Adaptation
How the Cactus Got Its Spines and How It Lost Them: A Sidelight on the Importance of Environment
Some Plants which are Begging for Immediate Improvement: Some Plants which are Begging for Immediate Improvement
Manufacturing Food for the Live Stock: Some Suggestions on Clover, Timothy and Alfalfa
Plants Which Yield Useful Chemical Substances: Observations on Sugar Cane, Hops and Sugar Beets
Short-Cuts into the Centuries to Come: Better Plants Secured by Hurrying Evolution
What to Work for in Flowers: And How to Proceed
No Two Living Things Exactly Alike: Infinite Ingenuity the Price of Variation
Fixing Good Traits: How to Hold a Result Once Achieved
How Far Can Plant Improvement Go?: The Crossroads Where Fact and Theory Seem to Part
The Burbank Cherry: The Explanation of a Double Improvement
My Life and Work with Fruits and Flowers
Garden Culture
Burbank's new creations and special new selections in seeds
Proof book number 1
How nature makes plants to our order
Luther Burbank, his methods and discoveries and their practical application: A synopsis
Fundamental principles of plant breeding: Production of new trees, fruits and flowers : plants and children
Another mode of species forming
Advance offering of pedigreed Burbank novelties: Fruits and flowers direct from Burbank nurseries, season 1912-1913
New plants to feed the world: And other articles by and about Luther Burbank from Orchard and Farm
The new Shasta daisies: "Alaska", "California", "Westralia"
The fundamental principles of plant breeding
Plant breeding (How his first plants are trained to work for man)

He also wrote two books unrelated to botany: Piecing the Fragments of a Motion Picture Film : We Stop to Take a Backward Glance and My Beliefs.

Burbank also had interests in religion and in education reform, writing "Why I am an Infidel" in E. Haldeman-Julius' Little Blue Book #1020. He befriended Paramahansa Yogananda during the last several years of his life. Yogananda wrote about Burbank in chapter 38 of his autobiography, describing him as the ideal of an American saint.

In mid-March 1926, Burbank became ill with gastrointestinal complications. He died on April 11, 1926.

Burbank's work spurred the passing of the 1930 Plant Patent Act four years after his death. The legislation made it possible to patent new varieties of plants (excluding tuber-propagated plants). In supporting the legislation,
Thomas Edison testified before Congress in support of the legislation and said that "This [bill] will, I feel sure, give us many Burbanks." The authorities issued Plant Patents #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #18, #41, #65, #66, #235, #266, #267, #269, #290, #291, and #1041 to Burbank posthumously.

In 1986, Burbank was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His home and gardens in downtown Santa Rosa are designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The town of Burbank, California, does not take its name from Burbank, but from the Los Angeles dentist David Burbank; however, the horticulturist gave his name to Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank. The Luther Burbank School District in San Jose and the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa (and that city's Luther Burbank Rose Parade and Festival) also honor Luther Burbank.

The University of Wisconsin's Digital Collections Center has digitized and published online the 12-volume monographic series Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, which documents Burbank's methods and discoveries and their practical application.

In 1931 the Boys Parental School located on Mercer Island, Washington changed its name to Luther Burbank School. The school continued to function until 1966. The land on which the school was built was bought by King County and converted into Luther Burbank Park.

The standard botanical author abbreviation for Burbank consists simply of "Burbank".

The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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