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Luther Burbank

Luther BurbankBorn: 7-Mar-1849
Birthplace: Lancaster, MA
Died: 11-Apr-1926
Location of death: Santa Rosa, CA
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, Santa Rosa, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Unitarian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Botanist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Botanist and plant breeder

Luther Burbank was the son of a farmer and had little formal education, attending high school only in the winter and working on his father's farm the rest of the year. His scientific training came from borrowing the local library's books, and especially from reading Charles Darwin's Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, which motivated Burbank to begin grafting and budding plants. In 1870, using a small inheritance from his father's death, he purchased a small tract of land near Lunenberg, Massachusetts, and there he developed the Russet Burbank, now the world's most popular potato.

He then came to California, where he established a greenhouse and experimental farms, and over the next several decades he developed hundreds of new varieties of plums and prunes, grains and grasses, apples, berries, cacti, figs, nectarines, peaches, quinces, walnuts, and dozens of varieties of lilies and other flowers. Like many scientists of his time, he was also an outspoken advocate of eugenics. He was hailed for his botanical discoveries, but became somewhat controversial late in life after a newspaper interview wherein he described himself as an infidel. He was raised and married in the Unitarian Church, which is known for a broadminded approach to spirituality, and attended the Unitarian Church in Santa Rosa until his death.

He was a friend of William Jennings Bryan, who argued in court to block the teaching of evolution, but Burbank had great disdain for the circus surrounding that trial and especially for its verdict. "Those who would legislate against the teaching of evolution", he wrote, "should also legislate against gravity, electricity, and the unreasonable velocity of light, and also should introduce a clause to prevent the use of the telescope, the microscope, and the spectroscope or any other instrument of precision which may in the future be invented, constructed or used for the discovery of truth".

Father: Samuel Walton Burbank (farmer, b. 15-Jun-1795, d. 12-Dec-1868, married thrice, 15 children)
Mother: Olive Ross Burbank (b. 7-Apr-1813, m. 18-Jun-1845, d. 15-Dec-1909)
Brother: Alfred Burbank
Sister: Anna Burbank
Brother: David Ball Burbank (half-brother, b. 1838)
Sister: Emma L. Burbank
Brother: George Burbank
Sister: Jane Burbank Bell
Wife: Helen Coleman (m. 1890, div. 1896, no children)
Wife: Elizabeth Jane Waters (b. 23-Dec-1887, m. 1916, no children)

    High School: Lancaster Academy, Lancaster, MA (1868)
    Teacher: Stanford University (1904-06)

    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1986
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    Royal Horticultural Society
    Heart Attack Mar-1926

Author of books:
The Training of the Human Plant (1907)
Luther Burbank His Methods and Discoveries and Their Practical Application (1914, 12 vol.)
How Plants Are Trained to Work for Man (1921, eight vol.)
Harvest of the Years (1927, with Wilbur Hall)
Partner of Nature (1939)


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