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Luther Burbank (March 7, 1849 - April 11, 1926)

Inducted to the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1986 for his Peach, Plant Patent No. 15.

During a lifetime devoted to plant breeding, Luther Burbank developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants, including 113 varieties of plums and prunes, 10 varieties of berries, 50 varieties of lily and the Freestone peach.

Born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, Burbank was brought up on a farm and received only an elementary education. At age 21 he purchased a 17-acre tract near Lunenberg, Massachusetts, and began a 55-year plant breeding career. In 1871 he developed the Burbank potato, which was introduced in Ireland to help combat the blight epidemic. He sold the rights to the Burbank potato for $150, which he used to travel to Santa Rosa, California. In Santa Rosa, he established a nursery garden, greenhouse, and experimental farms that have become famous throughout the world.

Burbank worked by effecting multiple crosses of foreign and native strains to obtain seedlings, which he grafted onto fully developed plants for rapid assessment of hybrid characteristics. He carried on his plant hybridization and selection on a huge scale, maintaining as many as 3,000 experiments at once, and involving millions of plants. In his work on plums, he tested about 30,000 new varieties.

The Plant Patent Act of 1930 amended U.S. patent law to permit protection of new and distinct varieties of asexually reproduced plants, other than tuber-propagated plants. This legislation resulted from the growing awareness that plant breeders had no financial incentive to enter plant breeding because they could not exercise control over their discoveries. In supporting this legislation, Thomas A. Edison testified: 'This (bill) will, I feel sure, give us many Burbanks.' Plant Patent Nos. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 41, 65, 66, 235, 266, 267, 269, 290, 291, and 1041 were issued to Burbank posthumously.

Amongst Burbank's creations are the Burbank potato, 113 plums and prunes, 10 different apples, 16 blackberries, 13 raspberries, 10 strawberries, 35 fruiting cacti, 10 cherries, 2 figs, 4 grapes, 5 nectarines, 8 peaches, 4 pears, 11 plumcots, 11 quinces, 1 almond, 6 chestnuts, 3 walnuts, 9 different kinds of grains, grasses, etc, 26 different kinds of vegetables, and 91 ornamentals.

While the name Luther Burbank is nearly unheard these days, if you go driving in Santa Rosa you will see it everywhere. The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens are pointed to on seemingly every downtown block, and from the freeway. The Luther Burbank Center for the Performing Arts is prominently featured along Highway 101. And if you just go a bit west from there to Sebastopol you can find Gold Ridge, Burbank's experimental farm.


References:

  1. Webpage: National Inventors Hall of Fame, Luther Burbank (http://www.invent.org/book/book-text/15.html)
  2. Plant Patent 15. Filed Dec. 23, 1930 by Luther Burbank.
  3. Western Sonoma County Historical Society, Gold Ridge. March 11, 2004. (http://www.wschs-grf.pon.net/bef.htm)

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