Six Things You Didn’t Know About Edgar Rice Burroughs

BurroughsEdgar Rice Burroughs, one of the most popular and prolific authors of the early 20th century, was born in Chicago on this day in 1875. Burroughs is best known as the inventor of Tarzan, but here are five other things we bet you didn’t know about him:

Burroughs attended Michigan Military Academy, where he briefly taught geology after graduation. Afterward, he joined the Army, serving in the Arizona Territory with the U.S. Cavalry until being honorably discharged in 1897 for health reasons.

Burroughs held a wide range of jobs: He ran a stationery store, dredged for gold, and worked as a railroad policeman and door-to-door book salesman. He also unsuccessfully sought a commission in the Chinese army.

While working as a manager for a pencil-sharpener company, Burroughs wrote and sold his first short story, “Under the Moons of Mars,” in which a Confederate Civil War veteran named John Carter is mysteriously transported to Mars—known to locals as Barsoom—and meets a princess named Dejah Thoris. “Under the Moons of Mars” was serialized in All-Story magazine in 1912 under the pseudonym “Norman Bean.”

Burroughs soon began writing a book about a British child raised by apes in Africa. At first, he struggled to find a name for the character, considering both “Zantar” and “Tublat-Zan” before finding inspiration in “Tarzan.”

DCP Keepsake

This collectible package includes a sheet of 20 stamps and an envelope with the First Day of Issue color postmark. Click the image for details.

Burroughs’s Mars books are credited with popularizing what is now known as “planetary romance,” a highly popular genre that flourished in pulp magazines from the 1920s until World War II. Combining futuristic technology with anachronistic, feudal settings, these swashbuckling outer-space adventures inspired generations of science fiction writers and filmmakers. John Carter, a film adaptation of the Mars series, was released in 2012.

In 1973, the Burroughs crater on Mars was named in his honor. He would have loved it. “If there is a hereafter,” he once said, “I want to travel through space to visit other planets.”

The Edgar Rice Burroughs Forever® stamp was issued in 2012 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the publication of Burroughs’s first story, “Under the Moons of Mars,” and his first Tarzan story, “Tarzan of the Apes,” in 1912. It is currently available online and by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724).

Edgar Rice Burroughs: Curiosity on Mars

So what does a postage stamp have to do with the successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars? According to one of the planet’s biggest Mars geeks, this incredible scientific achievement might not have been possible without the inspiration of recent stamp honoree Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Digital Color Postmark Keepsake (click image to order)

In a far-ranging interview, the late Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles (1950), cited Burroughs as the writer who encouraged scientists to chase their Martian dreams.

“Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations,” Bradbury mused. “But as it turns out—and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.”

Bradbury enjoyed teasing snobs who cringed at the influence of science fiction, but he was making a serious point. Although Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t a scientist, his romantic visions of other planets sparked the dreams of generations of space explorers.

“I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic,” Bradbury said. “Burroughs put us on the moon. All the technologists read Burroughs. I was once at Caltech with a whole bunch of scientists and they all admitted it. Two leading astronomers—one from Cornell, the other from Caltech—came out and said, Yeah, that’s why we became astronomers. We wanted to see Mars more closely.”

Caltech, which manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA, has already begun posting remarkable images from the surface of Mars, with many more to come. As we continue to “see Mars more closely,” remember what Burroughs bequeathed to us: a legacy of curiosity.

Tarzan™ Owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Stamp Swings Into Post Offices Today

“I have been writing for nineteen years and I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing, and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.”

So wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875–1950) in the June 1930 issue of Writer’s Digest. And entertain he did. By 1930, Burroughs had published more than 40 novels, 13 of them about his most iconic character—Tarzan. By the end of his life he had written more than 70 books, including historical fiction and several popular series of science fiction tales.

Today we issue a new Forever® stamp in honor of Burroughs, one of the most popular and prolific writers of the early 20th century. (Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.) The artwork for the stamp features Tarzan, his most iconic character, clinging to a vine, with a profile of Burroughs in the background. The depiction of Tarzan is an interpretation of the character by artist Sterling Hundley. To create the portrait of Burroughs, Hundley used a photograph taken by the author’s son, Hulbert Burroughs. The 1934 photograph shows Burroughs reading a hardcover copy of Tarzan and the Lion Man, which was published the same year.

The first Tarzan story, “Tarzan of the Apes,” was published in the October 1912 issue of All-Story magazine and issued as a book in 1914. “I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays,” writes Burroughs in the first chapter, “but the fact that in the telling of it to you I have taken fictitious names for the principal characters quite sufficiently evidences the sincerity of my own belief that it may be true.”

And with that, America was hooked. Tarzan grew into a phenomenon that has transcended the printed word.

First Day Cover (click image to order)

In the years that followed, Burroughs’s Tarzan stories were published in magazines, syndicated in newspapers, and republished in more than 24 books. In 1918, the silent film Tarzan of the Apes became the first of more than 50 Tarzan movies. Tarzan was the subject of a comic strip beginning in 1929, radio series in the 1930s and the 1950s, and several television series in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Burroughs also wrote prolifically beyond the Tarzan series. He published dozens of stories in pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories, Argosy All-Story, and Blue Book, resulting in eleven books about John Carter of Mars and six books in the Pellucidar series, which focused on a world at the center of the Earth—a world also visited by Tarzan in the 1930 book Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. He wrote novels about Apache warriors, samurai, prehistoric islands, and adventurers on the planet Venus, and, in an interesting departure, he also explored the modern world in The Girl From Hollywood, a 1922 novel about stardom, drug abuse, murder, and power.

The Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp was issued today at a ceremony in (where else?) Tarzana, California. Those who missed the celebration can still pick up a ceremony program from the event.

Tarzan™ Owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission.

Tarzan Creator A Constant Seeker

Stamps typically mark the anniversary of an honoree’s birth—but with the Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp, set to be issued Friday, August 17, in Tarzana, California, the U.S. Postal Service is doing something a bit different. This time, we’re celebrating the centennial of the start of the honoree’s writing career—an event to inspire anyone who dreams of escaping a dead-end job.

Born in 1875, Burroughs was a famously restless soul. After high school, he briefly taught geology before joining the Army, serving in the Arizona Territory with the U.S. Cavalry until being honorably discharged for health reasons. Afterwards, he ran a stationery store, dredged for gold in Idaho, worked as a railroad policeman, and sold books door-to-door. Craving adventure, he even sought—unsuccessfully—a commission in the Chinese army.

Ironically, Burroughs found adventure in one of the least swashbuckling jobs of his life. In 1912, while working as a manager at a pencil-sharpener company, he published his first story, “Under the Moons of Mars”—with the first Tarzan story springing from his typewriter later that year, and more than 70 books in the decades that followed. Young writers who fear that their chances of literary fame diminish with maturity can take heart in Burroughs’s example: One of the most prolific authors of the 20th century didn’t publish his work until he was 37 years old.

Far from an irrelevant prelude to a successful career, that endless stream of unsatisfying jobs appears to have honed Burroughs’s professionalism. As he told Writer’s Digest in 1930, “the profession of fiction writing should be carried on upon a high plane of business integrity and professional ethics, without any vain and silly illusions as to the importance of fiction outside of the sphere of entertainment.”

Burroughs frequently downplayed his own literary merit, but from the first word to the last, he felt a deep sense of professional obligation. “My first stories were the best stories that I could write, and every story that I have written since has been the very best story that I could write,” he insisted. “I have felt that it was a duty to those people who bought my books that I should give them the very best within me.”

The Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp, which is available for pre-order now, commemorates the author who invented Tarzan, but it also celebrates an ambitious American who continually reinvented himself until finding his true calling. The lesson of his life story may be that tangents have something to teach us, and that even an unfulfilling job can stir the imagination, filling our futures with stories untold.

Tarzan™ Owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission.

2012 APS StampShow Right Around the Corner

This year the American Philatelic Society will hold its annual StampShow on August 16–19 at the Convention Center in Sacramento, California. We will be there, of course, browsing the collections on display, talking with collectors, and issuing new stamps! The final set of Flags of Our Nation stamps will be issued at the show at noon on Thursday, August 16. There will also be special ceremonies for the Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, August 17, and the War of 1812: USS Constitution stamp at noon on Saturday, August 18.

If you’re in the neighborhood, come on down and join us. Collectors can browse for elusive treasures and pick up a limited edition cachet (perhaps signed by stamp artist Chris Calle!). Those new to the hobby will enjoy “Stamp Collecting 101.” And don’t forget the “Stamps by the Bucket” booth, where you can get hundreds of stamps for just pocket change.

Will we see you there?