In 1888, Atlee purchased a farmstead of several hundred acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, that he named Fordhook Farm. Within a few years, Fordhook Farm was transformed into a world-famous showcase of experimental gardens that developed outstanding new varieties for American farmers and home gardeners. The farm served as the Burpee family home, an outdoor laboratory for horticultural innovation and a magnet for visiting horticulturalists from around the world. By the 1890s, Burpee was a household name. In 1915, the 200-page Burpee catalog was sent to a million American gardeners.
The keys to Burpee’s success were clear, the company bred and offered vegetables that were different and better than competing varieties, and the seeds arrived by mail.
Atlee insisted on quality and excellence in all aspects of the company. Burpee seeds and products were backed by a guarantee: if customers were not satisfied with their purchase, Burpee replaced the seeds up to an entire year after the date of purchase. Burpee’s commitment to quality was succinctly expressed in a motto introduced in the 1890s and still in use, Burpee Seeds Grow.
While vegetables were Atlee’s passion, flowers increasingly accounted for a large share of the burgeoning mail-order market. Atlee established Floradale Farms in southern California to develop and grow seeds of a wide range of new ornamental varieties.
Atlee’s son, David, shared his passion for plant genetics. David was 19, and just starting to study horticulture at Cornell University, when his father became ill. He returned home to help manage the family business. After W. Atlee Burpee died in 1915, 22-year-old David found himself head of the largest seed company in the world.