Elbert Hubbard and the Arts and Crafts Movement

Who was Elbert Hubbard and what impact did he have on the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States? Was his fame and notoriety due
more to his popular best-selling pamphlet, A Message to Garcia, or his flamboyant personality and often controversial ideas? His writings and
lectures were wildly popular in his own lifetime and even today one can easily search for Elbert Hubbard quotes and find a cornucopia of wit and
inspirational ideas applicable to living an Arts and Crafts style life in today’s modern world.

Art is the expression of man’s joy in his work, and all the joy and love that you can weave into a fabric comes out again and belongs to the individual who has the soul to appreciate it. Art is beauty; and beauty is a gratification, a peace and a solace to every normal man and woman. Beautiful sounds, beautiful colors, beautiful proportions, beautiful thoughts – how our souls hunger for them! Matter is only mind in an opaque condition; and all beauty is but a symbol of spirit. You can not get joy from feeding things all day into a machine. You must let the man work with hand and brain, and then out of the joy of this marriage of hand and brain, beauty will be born. It tells of a desire for harmony, peace, beauty, wholeness – holiness. – Elbert Green Hubbard

Just as William Morris was the John Ruskin inspired lead-by-example father of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, in the United States, Elbert Hubbard was one of the foremost living examples of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

It began in 1894 when Hubbard traveled abroad and met William Morris at Morris’ Kelmscott Press in the London borough of Hammersmith where Morris was already applying his Arts and Crafts ideals of craftsmanship and beauty to the art of printing and binding.

In 1895, within a year of his return to American, Hubbard’s admiration of William Morris had turned into emulation and he founded the Roycroft Press in East Aurora, New York. The name Roycroft means “king’s craft” and was also the surname of Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, well-known English printers who crafted books in 17th century London.

Elbert Hubbard published popular periodicals at Roycroft Press:

  • The Philistine (1895-1915)
  • The Fra (1908-1917)
  • Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great (1895-1909)

Little Journeys, issued monthly for 14 years, is the signature work of Elbert Hubbard. It is comprised of biographical sketches, or “journeys” that take readers into the homes of men and women whose ideas, deeds, and accomplishments had significant impact in the world. In 1895, one of the “Little Journeys” included in the first issue was none other than John Ruskin.

Printings of The Philistine grew from 2,500 copies in 1895 to more than 50,000 copies in 1900, and by 1907 the combined circulation of The Philistine and Little Journeys reached over 200,000 monthly copies.

Not short of creative energies, Hubbard expanded the enterprise beyond printing and binding and created a campus community of craft workers and artisans, known as Roycrofters, which became both a commercial success and a pulsing artery of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America.

Expansion of the enterprise over the next several years included the Roycroft Inn, Roycroft Copper Shop, and Roycroft Furniture Shop. It grew from 50 workers in 1899 to 500 workers by 1909. In addition to printing and bookbinding, Roycrofters made Arts and Crafts furniture, leather and copper goods, art glass, ceramics, hand-made rugs, and more.

Prior to his writing and publishing career, Elbert Hubbard enjoyed 17 successful and lucrative years as a partner at the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo where he was a master of marketing and sales. He used his marketing knowledge and experience to build a brand that was publicly desired and recognized by the Roycroft name and orb-and-cross symbol that was visibly engraved on furniture and other craftwork.

On May 1, 1915, Elbert and his wife, Alice, stepped aboard the ocean liner Lusitania with plans to travel abroad and ultimately meet and interview German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm. Tragically, on May 7 the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine 11 miles off the coast of Ireland. Elbert and Alice refused to be separated during the ensuing chaos and boarding of the lifeboats, choosing instead to return to their cabin and perish together. Born in 1856, Elbert was 58 years young when he passed on.

The mintage of wisdom is to know that rest is rust, and that real life is in love, laughter and work.  – Elbert Green Hubbard