Bancroft, Hubert Howe

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bancroft, Hubert Howe

Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1832–1918, American publisher and historian, b. Granville, Ohio. Bancroft began his career as a bookseller in San Francisco in 1852. Soon he had his own firm, the largest book and stationery business W of Chicago. He also developed a passion for collecting materials on the western regions of North and South America, from Alaska to Patagonia. After toying with the idea of compiling an encyclopedia, he settled on the publication of a prodigious history (39 vol., 1874–90), reissued (1882–90) as The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft. The Works cover the history and to some extent the anthropology of Central America, Mexico, and the Far West of the United States. The first 5 volumes concern the native races, the next 28 the Pacific states, and the last 6 are essays. Literary Industries, the 39th volume, contains autobiographical material and an account of Bancroft's historical method. About a dozen assistants—out of hundreds Bancroft had tried out in his "history factory" —did the actual writing of the Works; Bancroft personally wrote very little. Because his assistants were not given credit lines and because of Bancroft's rather unethical business practices, Bancroft and the Works were at first severely attacked. However, his enormous contribution soon received just recognition. When Bancroft presented his library to the Univ. of California (1905) it contained about 60,000 items, including rare manuscripts, maps, books, pamphlets, transcripts of archives made by his staff, and personal narratives of early pioneers as recorded by his reporters. Known as the Bancroft Library, the collection remains an outstanding repository of the history of the West.

See biography by J. W. Caughey (1946, repr. 1970).

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