Teach PA History
W. Atlee Burpee and the "Seeds" of Becoming an Entrepreneur
What to Know
Teaching Time
2 45-50 minute class-periods
Grade Level
Middle School
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • Geography
  • History
  • Science and Technology
Historical Period
  • Development of the Industrial Pennsylvania - 1877-1900
In 1878 W. Atlee Burpee founded a company dedicated to developing and selling the highest quality seeds. His guarantee of customer satisfaction became the hallmark of his company–a company which prospered over the years. Fordhook Farm, Burpee's family home, became his experimental agricultural center where he tested new varieties of vegetables and flowers. The arrival of rural free delivery enabled Burpee to market his seeds to backyard gardeners and farmers using a mail order catalog. By 1915 Burpee was the largest mail order supplier of seeds in the world. In this lesson, students will learn about the components which made Burpee's business successful. They will uncover information about mail service in rural communities, study how the Fordhork experimental farm led to better plant hybrids, and examine Burpee catalog pages discovering different advertising techniques. Then students will team up and apply their new-found business knowledge to create a business plan of their own.


Students will be able to: 1. Brainstorm the components necessary to have a successful mail-order business. 2. Analyze three of these business components to see if they were present in W. Atlee Burpee's seed mail-order business. 3. Create a business plan implementing the business components about which they studied.

Standards Alignment

  • Geography

    7.1.6. B. Describe and locate places and regions.
    7.2.6. A. Describe physical characteristics of places and regions.

  • History

    8.1.3 B. Develop an understanding of historical sources.
    8.1.6. D. Describe and explain historical research.
    8.2.6. A. Identifies political and cultural contributions of individuals to Pennsylvania history
    8.2.9. C. Identify and analyze how continuity and change have influenced Pennsylvania history.
    8.3.9. C. Analyze how continuity and change has influenced United States history from 1787 to 1914.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.2.8.A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.4.8. B. Write multi-paragraph informational pieces.
    1.6.8. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.8. D. Contribute to discussions.

  • Science and Technology

    3.3.7. C. Know that every organism has a set of genetic instructions that determines its inherited traits.

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