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Elbert Hubbard, Roycroft and the Arts & Crafts Movement in America

A failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in the experience.” --Elbert Hubbard

Roycroft LogoThe Arts and Crafts community of Roycroft was as prolific and diverse Elbert Hubbard the man. Before Roycroft, Elbert Hubbard was an extremely successful marketer, salesman and capitalist. He was also a failed college student, a frustrated writer and an adulterer with a troubled marriage. His single success before building his own community was made in his Brother-in-law’s soap business. By developing and instituting new marketing and direct mail strategies, Hubbard turned a small lye soap company into a leader within its industry. His marketing efforts with The Larkin Soap Company had a far-reaching affect and forever changed the process of product sales and marketing.

Elbert Hubbard on the Phone

After forcing his Brother-in-law into buying out his interest in the soap business, Hubbard decided to pursue his dreams of becoming a writer and attempted college by enrolling at Harvard. During a school break and summer vacation in England, Hubbard became influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement sweeping through Britain. In his personal Credo, Hubbard likens Morris to a prophet of God, “I believe John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Leo Tolstoy to be Prophets of God, who should rank in mental reach and spiritual insight with Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.”

So inspired was he by Morris, Hubbard created his own community in East Aurora, New York which he named, Roycroft, which was one of many new American communities created to embrace the Arts and Crafts Movement. Producing furniture, copper and art, the Roycrofters (as the community members were called) were a well-rounded group of talented artisans. But perhaps the most important aspect of Roycroft was the printing press, where Hubbard finally achieved his dream of being a published writer.

When looking at the surface, one might ask why a salesman who clearly profited from the mass-production of the Industrial Revolution would create a community with the central focus of rebelling against mass-consumerism. Is it possible that, in his forward-thinking marketer’s mind, Ebert saw his Roycroft community as the ultimate money making venture? Is it possible that he saw this brand new community, with him as the implied leader, as the perfect way to right the wrongs and failures he had endured and that he took so personally?

Regardless of his intentions for creating the community, the influence that Roycroft had on the American Arts and Crafts Movement is undeniable. The intuition, determination and vision of Elbert Hubbard- whether selfish and capitalistic or altruistic and inspired, are admirable and a great lesson in tenacity. His “work around” for failure has never been more relevant or copied than now, during the age of the internet, when musicians, writers, bloggers and the like have the power to create their own communities and success right at their fingertips.

A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”
--Elbert Hubbard