Albert Hubbard: An American Original
BEN LITTLE MASTER ARTISAN: "Elbert Hubbard, often referred to as the original hippie."
MARIA VIA, HISTORIAN: "If Napoleon Bonaparte had been born in cowboy country and then decided to go to religious school that would have been Elbert Hubbard."
BRUCE JOHNSON, AUTHOR: "He's sort of, he's the rebel within the rebellious cause.”"
NARRATOR: The cause was Arts and Crafts—part of a reform movement in the early 20th century that looked to counter the stifling effects of the soulless machine.
Elbert Hubbard was one of its champions. Roycroft was the earliest and most successful Arts and Crafts community in America.
But Hubbard was a storm of contradictions. His look screamed artist, his writings preached a mixed message of rebellion and conformity, and his success was pure capitalism.
It all combined in a powerful mixture that propelled him to cult-like status and thrust him into the spotlight of the national stage—where a sex scandal nearly brought him down.
STEFAN KANFER, AUTHOR: "He needed to be an original which meant some people are going to dislike what you do, what you say, who you are, your ego, the way you look, the way you talk, and that was okay with him. He is the perfect essence of America at the turn of the century."
FUNDING CREDITS: Elbert Hubbard: An American Original is made possible by the generous support of The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation...celebrating today's resurgence of the Arts & Crafts Movement and the Roycroft Campus.
NARRATOR: East Aurora, New York is the kind of town you think of when you think of small town America.
The village of 6000 dates back to 1814—to a time when grist mills first took advantage of the currents of Cazenovia Creek that snakes through the countryside.
And, in the early twentieth century, East Aurora was a destination for Americans caught between progress, social change and the yearning for simplicity.
They were drawn by the personality of Elbert Hubbard—a bigger than life character who was a champion of the American Arts and Crafts Movement—a movement that railed against the dehumanizing effects of modern industrialization.
NARRATOR: And they were seduced by the romanticized community that Hubbard created called Roycroft— a campus in East Aurora that was home to hundreds of workers and artisans who hammered copper, tooled leather, and planed wood.
MICHAEL FRISCH, HISTORIAN: "Roycroft is not quite a commune. It was something closer to an idealized small town organized around this remarkable complex of, of activities and, uh, production facilities that, you know, that we see in Roycroft."
NARRATOR: In 1900, the New York Times described Roycroft as "the most delightful artistic atmosphere in America." And "Hubbard," they wrote, "is a misunderstood man and like many others of note, has brought upon himself the title—'eccentric.'"
BRUCE JOHNSON, AUTHOR: "it would be easy to just sort of dismiss him as, as, as this sort of eccentric, uh, rebel that you don't quite take that seriously, because, uh, you know, the long hair and the big bow tie and riding his horse around the campus and going off on these speaking tours. But obviously there was, there was a lot more to him than that."
NARRATOR: And as artisans continue the Roycroft traditions that began a century ago, the name Elbert Hubbard still incites passion.
LAUREN BELFER, AUTHOR: "my portrayal of Elbert Hubbard garnered more letters than any other subject and those letters were divided between those that said I was absolutely true to what he was, I showed him for the charlatan he really was, and letters that said I was absolutely true to who he was and showed him as the saint and the hero that he truly was. So I suppose from that perspective, I did a good job in portraying him, in that I offended everyone equally."
NARRATOR: In Hubbard's day, it was the same story.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "Conformists die, but heretics live forever."
NARRATOR: Elbert Green Hubbard was a man who knew how to make things happen.
In 1872 he was sixteen years old and selling soap door-to-door for the Larkin Soap Company in the rural town of Hudson, Illinois.
He was a natural salesman. His brown eyes were humid with emotion. And there was a wicked saintliness about him that was magnetic.
NARRATOR: Like a potent charmer, he drew people in and cast his spell.
ACTOR VO: "When I arrived in town the bus-driver glowed, the babies cooed, the dogs barked, and the dining room girls giggled--and I sold the goods."
NARRATOR: Ten years later, he was second in command of the business and was living in the thriving commercial city of Buffalo, NY where the company was headquartered.
At the Larkin Company Hubbard was a mastermind of advertising and promotion.
He eliminated door-to-door sales, offered premiums and incentives to customers and sold products directly from "factory to family."
Before he was thirty, he'd helped to turn Larkin Soap into one of the largest catalogue retailers in the nation rivaling Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward.
In a nation that was eagerly embracing the new culture of consumption, Hubbard was king.
MICHAEL FRISCH, HISTORIAN: "in what he's doing at Larkin it's all about advertising. It's all about selling. It's all about getting people to buy things. It's all focused on the excitement of consumption. He was in some ways the most creative force in the evolution of American business in the end of the 19th century."
NARRATOR: At 24, he'd met and married Bertha Crawford. She was 21, a traditional woman from a conventional time.
ANGELA MILLS, HISTORIAN: "I think that when he married, he got exactly what he was looking for—the person who would know how to run a household, who would know how to, um, treat genteel company, who would create a certain kind of lifestyle—and Bertha was all of those things."
NARRATOR: Hubbard had a wife and growing family, wealth and a rising career—but he was not content. He began to question where his life was taking him.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "I am awake for the first time, and all else before me has been a mean sleep."
NARRATOR: As a child, he’d been raised in a feverishly religious family and for a time, wrestled with the idea of being a preacher. But as an adult, he turned away from organized religion.
ACTOR VO: "I feel I would be a better man had I never heard a single sermon. When a large, whiskered Jack-in the-Pulpit pops up and delivers a homily, he robs me of my Heaven and separates me from the Divine."
NARRATOR: It was writers like Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman who struck a nerve in Hubbard and awakened in him his spiritual and intellectual cravings.
NARRATOR: His sister Mary said he was searching for God.
MICHAEL FRISCH, HISTORIAN: "His search for, um, more authentic experience, uh, was very, very much part of the response to Victorian America and to industrial society, so there's a large current, as there is in many periods of change, with people saying I want to break through this, I want to get to what it's really all about."
NARRATOR: Restless and unfulfilled, he pulled up stakes and in 1883 he moved with Bertha and his three boys about twenty miles south—away from Buffalo—away from a part of himself that he’d become disillusioned with.
He needed space and settled in East Aurora—a horse town—and Hubbard loved to ride.
DAN ROELOFS, GREAT-GRANDSON: "He loved the fresh air and being independent and having time to himself. I think that kind of enabled him to have the relationship that he did with Alice, because he could, he had a, a destination to ride to every day."
NARRATOR: At eight years and three children into Hubbard’s marriage, Alice Moore would alter the course of his life.
She was 29—a schoolteacher—more of a spinster in appearance than a femme fatale. But she was independent and outspoken—a new woman in a changing society—and she lived as a border with Elbert and Bertha.
They spent countless hours talking about books, art and philosophy. Alice captured his soul in a way that his wife either didn't—or couldn't.
ACTOR VO: "It was all in an instant, but we had met, this fine, strong woman and I in a soul embrace, and there was a perfect understanding between us."
ANGELA MILLS, HISTORIAN: "She was a reader of Emerson. He was a reader of Emerson. And I think she saw in Elbert some kind of, um, some kind of philosopher. She led him to talk about things, issues that I think that a very practical, um, housewife wouldn't always be interested in."
STEFAN KANFER, AUTHOR: "I think he, he did meet a soul mate in her, and it really had less to do with sex then it had to do with ideas and with a whole sense of who you could be. And so instead of becoming just one more guy in, in upstate New York, he became a revolutionary of a kind, and I think she was responsible for that."
NARRATOR: At thirty-three, a new man was beginning to emerge. He'd later write that Alice had caused him "to be born again."
NARRATOR: His wife Bertha plainly saw what was developing and insisted that Alice leave. The young schoolteacher moved to the east coast just outside of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
But distance changed nothing.
Numerous trips and hundreds of letters defined the relationship.
He later wrote that "the worst thing about a double life is not its immorality—it is that the relationship makes the man a liar."
He had a wife in East Aurora, a lover in Cambridge and a career that he not longer wanted. In his mind, he saw of himself as a writer on the level of Emerson—in his heart, he knew something had to change.
At 36 he was about to go down a bold new path.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "All our progress is unfolding. Trust the instinct to the end."
NARRATOR: Hubbard was a man of unlimited ambition and ego—he craved the spotlight and needed to be in charge—and knew that he'd never be the one calling the shots at the Larkin Company.
So, in 1892, he cashed out his stock options for $75,000—enough to take care of his family—and resigned his position.
ANGELA MILLS, HISTORIAN: "Alice Moore was willing to treat Elbert Hubbard with a kind of absolute affirmation of his opinions of himself. All that he thought best in himself she was willing to mirror back to him. So Alice, in some ways, ended up being an enabler, I think, of his decision to leave.
NARRATOR: He chased his dream to write at Harvard—conveniently close to Alice. But Hubbard and college didn't mix.
DAN ROELOFS, GREAT-GRANDSON: "Elbert was too wild and undisciplined for Harvard, especially as, you know, an older, successful businessman going there. He didn't quite fit in with the old Yankee chaps or the young Yankee chaps."
NARRATOR: Told by his professors that he’d never be a writer, Hubbard dropped out—believing, like Emerson—that "colleges hate geniuses."
But after penning a novel, he soon found that his professors may have been right.
ACTOR VO: "The publishers—a New York firm—assure me that 'the book is not half as bad as it might be.' This is the highest form of compliment I have yet received."
NARRATOR: 1894 was a year of four eclipses. The shadows would lay heavy over Elbert Hubbard and Alice Moore.
Alice was pregnant. Trapped by the constraints of Victorian America, the lovers stood at a crossroad.
Alice begged Hubbard to leave his wife but this was not the time to jeopardize his future with a scandal. And society had no place for a schoolteacher who carried the stigma of being an unwed mother.
Ensnared and with nowhere to turn, the unconventional Hubbard caved in to convention.
When their daughter Miriam was born, she was sent to live with Alice's relatives in Buffalo and told that her mother was her aunt.
Hubbard visited Miriam but his relationship with Alice was severed.
BOICE LYDELL, ROYCROFT HISTORIAN: "Hubbard's decision had to have been perhaps the toughest decision he made in his entire life. I can't imagine, I don't think any of us can, what a, what Victorian life was like but there was a lot of do's and don'ts. At the time, it was probably the social way, the socially acceptable way, of dealing with this situation because society demanded it to be that way."
NARRATOR: With the affair a dark, well-kept secret, Hubbard settled back into his conventional role with Bertha. But in his heart he couldn't be further away.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "Books are the carriers of civilization."
NARRATOR: Hubbard's journey of self-discovery took him to England in 1894. Despite past failures at writing, he went to research an idea for a series of short stories he was calling "Little Journeys."
There, he experienced the reformist ideals of Arts and Crafts and saw for the first time the hand-crafted books of William Morris’ Kelmscott Press. Hubbard would never be the same.
MARIE VIA, HISTORIAN: "The whole idea of the book as a, as an art object, as an object that you would have in your home, as something important for, um, its, its object-ness, as opposed to just its content, that was a very Elbert Hubbard thing."
PAUL DUCHSCHERER, AUTHOR: "Hubbard must have identified very personally with what Morris was doing with the Kelmscott Press because that's what he started out wanting to do, was, was make books. So I think he aspired to what Morris was doing."
NARRATOR: William Morris was an artist, poet, and socialist. He was driving force in a reformist movement in England that began as a convulsive reaction to counter the numbing effects of modern industrial society.
It gave rise to a new aesthetic anchored by the ideals of simple form, honest craftsmanship and harmony with the environment.
It was called Arts and Crafts and it influenced everything from simple decorative arts to architecture.
TOM PAFK, ROYCROFT ARTISAN: "They were trying to protest against the industrial revolution, where everybody was losing the handwork that was involved and the artistry that's involved in making things. The whole feeling, the whole philosophy was getting back to the artist-type work, getting back to doing things with your hand, being honest. Every piece that you’re making, you’re producing with your head, your heart, and your hands."
RON VANOSTRAND, ROYCROFT ARTISAN: "The Japanese say that to be, um, handcrafted is to have a bit of the human in there. They were a more valued work because they had that hand quality, the fact that somebody, uh, took time to do it by hand and it wasn't a mass-produced item. I like to think that some of the soul of the people go into that work."
NARRATOR: William Morris once said: "I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.
His sublime ideal was that Arts and Crafts would be accessible to everyone. But the high cost of his hand-made products made it an impossible dream.
DAVID CATHERS, HISTORIAN: William Morris was a socialist but at the same time he made luxury goods because he was such a purist about how his products were made. Everything was made by hand so his clients were very wealthy people, often royalty and this upset him quite a bit."
PAUL DUCHSCHERER, AUTHOR: "They never really were able to achieve in any great sweeping way affordable, well-crafted goods of the caliber they wanted to produce for the average person in England. That's just something that slipped away from their fingers time and again."
NARRATOR: But the sublime ideals of Arts and Crafts were about to come face-to-face with the practical model of American business.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "Each man has his own vocation: His talent is his call
NARRATOR: Hubbard returned to the states—his soul stirred by Morris' ideals of reform and the book as art.
And in the back room of a small East Aurora print Shop called the Roycroft Press a major chapter in the American Arts and Crafts Movement and the second act of Hubbard’s life were being written.
There, Hubbard teamed up with the founder of the Roycroft Press to publish a small pamphlet called "The Philistine." It was a "periodical of protest" and a bully pulpit that Hubbard used to take jabs at high society, the medical establishment, organized religion and the greedy industrialists.
ACTOR VO: "Millionaires as a rule are woefully ignorant. Up to a certain sum, they grow with their acquisitions. Then they begin to wither at the heart…I advise the gentle reader to think twice before accumulating ten millions."
NARRATOR: He saw himself as a cultural authority—a philosopher of the times, like his heroes—Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman whose words he often borrowed, repackaged, then used as his own.
ANGELA MILLS, HISTORIAN: "His talent was really in packaging rather than in writing. What he does is take ideas from other people and package them in pithy sayings that stick in people's minds, um, and give a certain kind of cultural currency to the author of them but I think he figured out that worked."
NARRATOR: The name Philistine was an ironic choice. According to Hubbard it was picked for its Biblical meaning—he was going after the "Chosen People" in literature.
But it also describes someone who is uneducated, uncultured and materialistic.
STEFAN KANFER, AUTHOR: "Elbert Hubbard took that as his flag. He said, I'm not, I'm not afraid of being considered vulgar or cheap. I'm going to do something that isn't English, that isn't precious. I'm going to be what Americans are, I'm going to be out there, I'm going to be brash but I’m going to produce.
NARRATOR: And readers loved it. With a wry smile Hubbard was tapping into the radically changing spirit of America at the turn of the century.
He was in the eye of a perfect storm.
MICHAEL FRISCH, HISTORIAN: "Everything was in motion. Traditional values were in motion, the way people lived, the roles of men and women. Mass production is beginning to come on and commercialization is separating us from human personality and social value and family and community. There's something going on here, you know, the Bob Dylan line, something's happening here but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones. Well, there are a lot of Mr. Joneses at the turn of the century, but they could sense that something was happening. So Hubbard, I think, is trying to grab that to tame it in his own way."
ACTOR VO: "in this day Opportunity not only knocks at your door but is playing an anvil chorus on everyman's door. The world is in sore need of men who can do things."
NARRATOR: This was Hubbard's moment in time. America, disenchanted with overspreading industrialization, was awakening to the ideals of reform embodied by Hubbard's writings and to the lure of the new aesthetic of Arts and Crafts.
And although Hubbard had dropped out of the corporate world; he never left the salesman far behind.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
NARRATOR: With Arts and Crafts, Elbert Hubbard saw the financial opportunity of packaging a product with a way of life.
He bought the Roycroft Press, got the name and mark, and moved into a new shop.
Local villagers were hired to print, bind and illumine hand made books in the tradition of William Morris.
NARRATOR: He billed them as collector's items "worthy of becoming heirlooms."
But Hubbard and the Roycroft may have been nothing more than local oddities had it not been for a stroke of luck and good timing that came in the form of what he described as a "literary trifle."
It was an untitled essay, written in 1899 and used to simply fill up space in an issue of The Philistine—a scant 1500 words that would change Hubbard's life.
He eventually named it "A Message to Garcia"
The story celebrates a soldier who is told to deliver a message to General Garcia during the Spanish-American War. The soldier does it without asking questions.
NARRATOR: But rather than being story of patriotism, Hubbard made it a decree for worker loyalty.
ACTOR VO: "My heart goes out to the man who does his work without asking any idiotic questions. Self - interest prompts every employer to keep the best—those who can carry a message to Garcia."
NARRATOR: Inspired by its message, George Daniels of the New York Central Railroad ordered 100,000 reprints to distribute to his employees.
Once word got out, businesses and military from around the world followed suit.
At the time, it outsold all other publications except the Bible and dictionary.
A Message to Garcia would sell over 40 million copies be translated into 37 languages and eventually made into a movie.
PAUL DUCHSCHERER, AUTHOR: "The phenomenon of A Message to Garcia probably, you know, knocked him out of the ballpark in terms of what he thought he might be able to do with writing because of its exceptional visibility and, and success. I don't think he really saw that coming. Probably nobody really did. Time and place is everything. Hubbard had a knack for being in the right place at the right time."
NARRATOR: A Message to Garcia resonated throughout the corridors of American business. And the man who was all about breaking the rules—was propelled onto the national stage with an essay about following them.
LAUREN BELFER, AUTHOR: "There are parts of the contradiction of Hubbard that can never be unraveled. One of those contradictions is that Hubbard thought that it was okay for him to break the rules of society, but others should not be allowed to have the freedoms that, that he had."
NARRATOR: Hubbard would parlay his literary trifle into the most successful arts and crafts community in the nation.
With the success of A Message to Garcia, Hubbard became a celebrity. He crisscrossed the country speaking to packed houses—at times the voice of business at times the voice of Arts and Crafts—but always a salesman for the Roycroft.
And the campus grew—what began in the backroom of an East Aurora print shop sprouted stone by stone.
To furnish the campus, Roycrofters began to build furniture in what Hubbard described as the "Roycroftie" style.
NARRATOR: He brought in artisans who experimented with fine arts, painting, and iron—and it didn't take long for Hubbard to realize that books and writing were only one part of the Roycroft equation. What he was making out of necessity was a commodity.
ANGELA MILLS, HISTORIAN: "I think he started Roycroft with the view that this would be a vehicle for him to, um, produce his writings and become that cultural authority. What he quickly discovered with Roycroft was that he had a salable product."
BRUCE JOHNSON, AUTHOR: "Once they got done making it for themselves, he had this set of trained workmen. So the idea was, well, let's make a few extra pair, we'll take pictures of them, put them in our catalog and we'll see what happens."
NARRATOR: Finding a mass market for Arts and Crafts, a concept that failed in England, was beginning to run like a well-oiled machine in the tiny village of East Aurora.
As word spread, artisans and bohemians were lured to the Roycroft by its artistic call.
And Hubbard began to assume cult-like status among what he called in the Philistine, his "flock." But he wasn’t alone in the business of American Arts and Crafts.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "The most exquisite things in nature and in art are those things which possess an indefinable quality called style…"
NARRATOR: At the time Hubbard was starting the Roycroft, America was turning its back on the lavish and gaudy design of the Victorian Era.
And furniture maker, Gustav Stickley, like Hubbard—saw an opportunity.
BOICE LYDELL, ROYCROFT HISTORIAN: "The Roycroft was the first Arts and Crafts institution in the United States. But when it comes to producing a product of the period; you really have to look at Stickley as being a little bit more true."
NARRATOR: Taken by the simplicity and comforting quality of Arts and Crafts, Stickley stopped producing Victorian furniture and devoted his life and career to the new aesthetic.
PAUL DUCHSCHERER, AUTHOR: "He really defined what the American Arts and Crafts home and environment and furnishings were supposed to look like. Stickley was obsessed with that. Stickley's business was all about that."
NARRATOR: Stickley—like Hubbard—understood that the only way to build a business around Arts and Crafts was to Americanize the English ideal and use exactly what it rejected—the machine.
DAVID CATHERS, HISTORIAN: "By making peace with limited machine production instead of trying to be so pure and doing everything by hand, which is more of a British way of going about things um, the American Arts and Crafts Movement became more accessible to a middle-class market—that’s an enormous achievement."
NARRATOR: Both Stickley and Hubbard made use of machines—though neither publicized the fact.
Stickley, however, was more of a purist with less business sense and he eventually went bankrupt in 1915.
History would later anoint him the de facto voice of the American Arts and Crafts Movement due in part to his magazine "The Craftsman"—first published in 1900.
It had a profound effect on the nation's psyche and the name became a buzzword in American design.
Craftsman homes, commonly called bungalows, began popping up in neighborhoods across the country
DAVID CATHERS, HISTORIAN: "The bungalow came to be sort of the mass manifestation of the Arts and Crafts Movement in this country, where you didn't have to be a wealthy person to live in an Arts and Crafts environment. It really sort of typifies, the American yeoman virtues in a simple, modest, unpretentious home"
NARRATOR: The Gamble House in Pasadena, California takes the idea of a bungalow to the extreme.
PAUL DUCHSCHERER, AUTHOR: "It's very, very comparable and very, very parallel to what Frank Lloyd Wright was doing with his Prairie homes at the very same time. They are really masterpieces of how the Arts and Crafts Movement was taken in and digested and then hatched as an American phenomenon and an American masterpiece."
NARRATOR: Arts and Crafts was a guiding force for many—including Ralph and Jane Whitehead who, in 1903, formed a utopian colony just outside of Woodstock, New York.
It was called Byrdcliffe.
The whiteheads had visited Roycroft and looked to Hubbard's community for inspiration—and soon, Byrdcliffe became a haven for painters, ceramic artists, metal, textile and woodworkers.
NARRATOR: But the Whiteheads were never able to reach a large enough market to sustain the colony simply by selling Arts and Crafts.
PAUL DUCHSCHERER, AUTHOR: "The critical difference between Roycroft and these other Arts and Crafts community endeavors was Elbert Hubbard, because Elbert Hubbard had all the skills necessary to make it really work as a practical, functioning business as well as infusing the sense of community. That really was fulfilling a longstanding unfulfilled dream by so many others that were part of the Arts and Crafts Movement."
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."
NARRATOR: Elbert Hubbard was selling himself and the Roycroft like he used to sell soap—with unbridled promotion.
And it had a mythical sounding name—"Roycroft'—with an equally mysterious symbol that played well for Hubbard.
MARIE VIA, HISTORIAN: "Elbert Hubbard was a pioneer in the use of putting a trademark, the name of his enterprise right on the face of the furniture where everybody would see it, that was not something that the other makers were doing. This was just not, not heard of, so he was, that was one of the reasons people considered him brash because he was so out front with his, with his identity."
NARRATOR: And Hubbard had cultivated a look that said here is no conventional person—certainly, no soap salesman. He was branding himself right along with his products.
ACTOR VO: "To wear a hat that is long out of fashion is to throw down the gauntlet to the bourgeoisie and say: “Behold! As I now cover my thinkery with a hat different than one you prescribe, so do I think thoughts that to you are impossible."
NARRATOR: He was part bohemian and part cowboy and marketing himself as a champion of freedom and artistic expression. But underneath it all he was a businessman.
DAVID CATHERS, HISTORIAN: "Although he liked to present himself as a pure partisan of the Arts and Crafts, he was willing to be a spokesman for the capitalists, for big American business, you know, for, for the, quote, robber barons, for the great industrialists, and was happy to do that"
NARRATOR: It made him a lighting rod for critics who saw Hubbard as a phony and his act as sham for profit that flew in the face of arts and crafts ideals.
MICHAEL FRISCH, HISTORIAN: "He did not mind making himself into a kind of consumed figure. But the ones who really become kind of more powerful figures in the culture I think are often the ones who have some sense of how unusual it is to have come to play this role in people's lives and then really try to act on that."
NARRATOR: He once invited William Morris' daughter to the Roycroft. Sneeringly, she retorted "I would never visit that vulgar imitation of my father."
BRUCE JOHNSON, AUTHOR: "He might have been stung by some of the criticism from some of the, uh, more established, uh, recognizable names in the English Arts and Crafts scene, I don't think it bothered him. He probably said, yeah, you know, they can laugh at me, but I'm laughing all the way to the bank."
LAUREN BELFER, AUTHOR: "And that goes to the core of whether he was sincere or if he was just a showman going to whatever area would offer him some profit. But in the end he was the embodiment of a kind of American dream"
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "Go confidently…Live the life you imagined."
NARRATOR: As high as Hubbard rose professionally, he sank deeper and deeper into discontent with his marriage.
Although Bertha worked at the Roycroft, raised his children, and stayed by his side through every episode of change—it wasn't enough. He was still emotionally and intellectually joined with Alice.
So, in 1900, he secretly reached out to her. The cycle of letter writing and private rendezvous' began again.
But after 15 years of secrecy with Alice, the icy winds of scandal would expose their concealed lives.
In 1902, a public law suit was brought against Hubbard by the family that was raising Miriam.
They claimed that he owed for back child support.
Alice and Miriam were thrust into the harsh glare of public scrutiny.
But the scandal removed the weight of secrecy that Hubbard had been living with. And one month after the divorce was finalized, he and Alice were married.
NARRATOR: Their daughter Miriam was finally told the truth—that the woman she knew as Aunt Alice was, in fact, her mother.
Hubbard had grown larger than life in the American psyche and for those that condemned his actions; there were an equal number that applauded them. And for the first time in his life, Elbert Green Hubbard was complete.
ACTOR VO: "In my wife's mind I see my thoughts enlarged and reflected, just as in a telescope we hold to the stars. She is the magic mirror in which I see the Divine."
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "Artists must be sacrificed to their art; like bees they must put their lives into the sting they give."
NARRATOR: With their lives in order, he and Alice tended to the business of Roycroft.
From as early as 1897, it had been magnet, drawing bohemians and artists from around the country. And the cast of characters grew with the campus.
William Denslow, illustrator of the Wizard of Oz was one the first artists brought in by Hubbard.
NARRATOR: And others followed, like sculptor Jerome Conner and they all had personalities that were artistic, avant garde, and quirky.
BOICE LYDELL, ROYCROFT HISTORIAN: "It was a different class of people that gravitated toward it. I don't know if it was cult in the same way we look at cult now, um, but it was cult in that there was a certain gravitational effect on just some people."
NARRATOR: When a young artist named Dard Hunter arrived at Roycroft, he wrote that the Roycrofters are a “peculiar thinking people who are called cranks by outsiders for they are all original thinkers."
DARD HUNTER III, GRANDSON: "The values that were here at Roycroft were, was just a perfect environment. People knew that they could come to the Roycroft and do their artwork and, and really grow artistically, unencumbered by the things of, of modern society, to be able to create wonderful works of art. It's completely understandable why my grandfather was motivated to come here."
NARRATOR: The allure of Roycroft drew more than just artists. It was, to the early twentieth century, what communes and Woodstock were to 1960's America—a convergence of cultural and social ideals.
NARRATOR: And Roycroft became a pilgrimage for all who were seeking the experience.
When they arrived they found a romanticized community that seemed one step removed from time and place.
MICHAEL FRISCH, HISTORIAN: "Is it a backward-looking movement, is it nostalgic, is it utopian? It in many ways was all of those things but everything that he's drawing on is absolutely a taproot of what was alive and deeply grounded in the forces of change in this society. It's hard to say what he symbolized. I think some people, it’s the rebel. Other people, it's the energy of, you know, creativity. Other people, it's the notion of craftsmanship. Some people it's the sheer pleasure of intellectual energy."
DAVID CATHERS, HISTORIAN: "I think that Hubbard's vision was of an enlightened, vibrant community that had culture and education and employment opportunities that it had lacked before. He would have people come from the outside nearly every week mostly to give talks and these would be educational and the Roycrofters went to hear those lectures, and, and they were enhanced. Their lives were enhanced by that exposure to the culture of the great wide outside world."
NARRATOR: At its peak, over 500 people lived and worked at Roycroft. Hubbard eventually built an inn on the grounds to house all the curiosity seekers who were captivated by the Bohemian lifestyle. And by the workers and artisans who were turning out hand-crafted books, iron, copper, leather, and furniture.
Roycroft was an industry—and Hubbard "sold the goods."
ANGELA MILLS, HISTORIAN: "He attempted all kinds of different, um, manufacturing undertakings. Uh, once he wrote a letter to Alice saying he wanted to start, um, perhaps manufacturing mattresses, because everybody needs a mattress and so if he started off based on an ideal, I think that very quickly turned into, um, him adapting to what the marketplace would bear."
NARRATOR: But the marketplace was shifting. By 1912, public tastes were changing and the Arts and Crafts aesthetic was beginning to fall out of favor in American homes.
But Hubbard's writings, charisma, and his American originality kept him firmly anchored.
STEFAN KANFER, AUTHOR: "Elbert Hubbard had a drive and an ambition that was American. And when the immigrants of his era came here, that's what they wanted to be. They wanted to be Americans and Elbert Hubbard said you can be an American starting at square one and grow with the country. You can be something important. You can make yourself important, even if you don't have a corner office. That was a very, uh, significant exhortation at the time."
NARRATOR: With his popularity at its peak, the national press asked Hubbard to write about the tragic sinking of the Titanic.
Unflinchingly in support of big business, he mourned the loss of some of the nation’s greatest industrialists who were on board.
But he was particularly moved by the story of Isidor Strauss and his wife Ida. She refused a lifeboat in order to die at her husband's side.
ACTOR VO: "Mr. and Mrs. Strauss I envy the legacy of loyalty and love you left to your children and grandchildren. You knew three great things—you knew how to live, how to love and how to die. Few have such a privilege."
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "When it is time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived"
NARRATOR: By 1915, France was the battleground for Germany's bloody advance in a conflict that would soon involve America.
In an issue of the Philistine Hubbard asked "who lifted the lid of off hell?" In a strange turn, he placed the blame on business.
ACTOR VO: "Big business has been to blame in this thing. No longer shall individuals be allowed to thrive through supplying murder machines to the mob."
NARRATOR: In April of 1915 he left his oldest son Bert in charge of the Roycroft and Elbert and Alice booked passage to Europe.
Their intent was to gather stories and publish reports on the war. He told a friend that he "may meet with a bullet in the trenches" and he left reporters with the notion that he hoped to speak with the Kaiser and broker peace.
On May 1st, Elbert, Alice and 1100 other passengers unknowingly climbed the gangplank of a ship that carried over four million rounds of US manufactured ammunition.
They ignored the warnings from the German government that any ship crossing the Atlantic was open for attack.
Shortly after Hubbard started The Philistine, he wrote: "The literary gang-plank is very slippery and the Irish Sea is not yet full. Keep your eye on our obituary column."
Nineteen years later, on May 15th, 1915, The Lusitania was torpedoed and sank in the frigid Irish Sea.
ANGELA MILLS, HISTORIAN: "I think he knew something was going to happen because he, he begged Alice not to go. He absolutely forbade Miriam to go. So, um, what's better than dying a martyr? It made great headlines."
NARRATOR: In East Aurora, crowds lined the streets. Papers—many that had reveled in his fall from grace, now mourned the death of Elbert and Alice.
His oldest son managed to keep the business going on his father's legacy until 1938.
GRAPHIC ON SCREEN: "Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of one man"
BOICE LYDELL, ROYCROFT HISTORIAN: "The Roycroft has such a magnetism. It's the whole philosophical aspect of what Hubbard did, the people he had here, the many different characters and cultures and talents that were here."
RON VANOSTRAND, MASTER ARTISAN: "Roycroft Renaissance is really what we're going through today. It's a rebirth of, uh, the, an enlightenment of, of what was going on then. They're, they're drawing their inspiration of the handmade item, uh, along with the same philosophy that they were using back then of head, heart and hand."
TOM PAFK, MASTER ARTISAN: "That was the atmosphere that was developed a hundred years ago, and I, and I think that we've tried to do that again. It's still nice to come into a shop and be able to build something with your hands.
BEN LITTLE, MASTER ARTISAN: "One of the things that Hubbard said was long after my chair is empty, uh, I hope, uh, many of these things will still be around. Uh, and, you know, after a hundred or more years the movement, things that the Roycrofters created, are still around."
MARIE VIA, HISTORIAN: "A lot of the ideas that inform the Arts and Crafts philosophy—that respect for nature, respect for human beings—those are the kind of ideas that don't, don't go away, don't get old-fashioned."
DAN ROELOFS, GREAT-GRANDSON: "If Elbert Hubbard was just a huckster then he would have stayed with selling soap. I think that his heart was always in the right place when it came to the Roycroft. Did he over-promote it and devalue it? Well, if he did, then it would have faded away."
NARRATOR: In 1901, Hubbard wrote to Alice that that he was a product “not of soap but of passion, hope, aspiration, ambition and love."
And the question is not whether he was a prophet or a charlatan, sincere or a huckster, but rather was he true to the man he believed himself to be.
STEFAN KANFER, AUTHOR: "He was a great believer in America the way, either you were when you were born in America and understood its power and energy and its force, or you were an immigrant, and you wanted to be a part of that new tradition, belong to something that would give you a fresh start, act two. He was a great, great believer in act two. That's his real legacy."
FUNDING CREDITS: Elbert Hubbard: An American Original is made possible by the generous support of The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation...celebrating today's resurgence of the Arts & Crafts Movement and the Roycroft Campus.