May 7

At ten minutes after two o’clock on the afternoon of this day in 1915, the Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat. It sank in the Irish Sea with a loss of life of 1,257. Among these were Elbert Hubbard of East Aurora, New York and his wife Alice. Hubbard, the self-styled Fra Elbertus, Sage of East Aurora, was a controversial figure upon the American scene for almost twenty years preceding his death. Fra to some and fraud to others, he had organized in the little upstate village an establishment which he called the Roycroft Shop, after the two 17th century English printers. Here were produced standard authors in special editions and the voluminous writings of Hubbard himself in addition to a widely-circulated magazine called The Philistine. The shop also contained craftsmen who produced furniture and wove fabrics. The idea behind the venture was that the workers would learn a craft at the Roycrofters, earn a wage and live in a community of craftsmen. By 1910 over 400 people were working at the shop.

In appearance Hubbard was a rather odd individual, affecting long hair, a flowing windsor tie, and a wide-brimmed black hat, but he took his business very seriously. He was proud of his reputation as a self-made man. During a trip to Europe he visited the famous Kelmscott Press in London and talked to William Morris. From this point his life seemed to take shape, as he returned home to set up an American Kelmscott Press. He began to lecture on the lives of famous people and very quickly became a feature on lecture circuits, earning over ten thousand dollars from that source yearly. His greatest success as a writer was the well-known Message to Garcia which the Roycrofters turned out by the hundred thousand. His books were all rather heavy-handed in appearance and very close in general structure to the Kelmscott printing. They were criticized by the more sophisticated typographers of Hubbard’s time, and even today they are considered to be superficial copies of Morris books. They were, however, widely circulated and were undoubtedly admired by their many purchasers.

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