Today, almost exactly 100 years since he perished aboard the Lusitania, Elbert Hubbard is primarily known as the founder of Roycroft, an Arts and Crafts artisan community in East Aurora, New York. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century he was also well known as a writer and philosopher.
Hubbard started his career working for the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo, New York where he was a marketing genius creating many successful sales campaigns. Many consider him to be the grandfather of Madison Avenue marketing. Eventually, he left Larkin and the soap business to become a writer.
Inspired by William Morris’s ideas whom he met on a visit to England and the Kelmscott Press, Hubbard founded the Roycroft Press. He named the press after Samuel and Thomas Roycroft, seventeenth century London printers. The press published many of Hubbard’s writings that others would not.
Originally a filler piece in a magazine Hubbard was editing, A Message for Garcia was hugely popular and increased the recognition and appreciating of the small press. Message for Garcia is an inspirational essay published in 1899 that is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. It is loosely based on a true event from the Spanish-American War, it extols initiative and responsibility. “To take a message to Garcia” was popular American slang and is still used occasionally by the US military. The essay has been the basis of two films; the first film was by the Thomas A. Edison, Inc. company in 1916.
Hubbard described himself as both an anarchist and socialist noting that socialism is the antithesis of anarchy in The Better Part. He explained that anarchists want to mind their own business and not be caught up in war, violence or other destruction that are the result of laws. Anarchists also are all about the individual and working only for the good of the individual while socialists believe in working for the good of all. However, if every man worked for the good for one’s self, then as a group, they would all be working for the good of all.
In 1912, the famed ship Titanic struck an iceberg and sank. Hubbard wrote about the disaster, specifically about the story of Ida Straus, wife of Isidor Straus who was co-owner of the Macy’s department store. Isidor had refused to board a lifeboat while there were still women and children on the ship and Ida refused to go without him. They were last seen standing on the sinking Titanic deck arm in arm. Hubbard wrote of the couple, “You knew how to do three great things—you knew how to live, how to love and how to die.”
Coincidentally, just over three years later, Elbert Hubbard and his wife, noted American feminist, Alice Moore, were on the RMS Lusitania when the ship was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. A survivor of the disaster wrote to Elbert Hubbard II that Elbert and Alice were last seen entering a room on the top deck and closing the door behind them ensuring they would die together. It seems Elbert Hubbard also knew how to live, how to love and how to die.