The life of Elbert Hubbard began in Bloomington, Illinois, where he was born to Silas Hubbard and Juliana Frances Read in 1856. He grew up in Hudson, Illinois, where his first business venture was selling Larkin soap products, a career which eventually brought him to Buffalo, New York. His innovations for Larkin included premiums and "try now, pay later". After twenty years in the soap business he decided to change careers and become a writer. Inspired by William Morris's Kelmscott Press in England, Hubbard began the Roycroft Press in East Aurora, New York in 1895. It would quickly grow into an Arts and Crafts community which became a haven for artists, writers and philosophers.
Hubbard edited and published two magazines, The Philistine and The Fra. The Philistine was bound in brown butcher paper and full of satire and whimsy. (Hubbard himself quipped that the cover was butcher paper because: "There is meat inside.") In March 1899, Elbert would pen his most famous piece, “A Message to Garcia.” It would sell more than 40 million copies and be the biggest seller of the time behind only the Bible and the Dictionary. It would make him a celebrity and he became a popular lecturer. His homespun philosophy evolved from a loose William Morris-inspired socialism to an ardent defense of free enterprise and American know-how.
Hubbard's second wife, Alice Moore Hubbard, was a graduate of the New Thought-oriented Emerson College of Oratory in Boston and a noted suffragist. The Roycroft Shops became a site for meetings and conventions of radicals, freethinkers, reformers, and suffragists.
On May 1, 1915, little more than three years after the sinking of the Titanic, Elbert and Alice boarded the Lusitania in New York City. On May 7, 1915, while at sea, it was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine Unterseeboot.
The Roycroft Shops, would continue being run by Hubbard's son, Elbert Hubbard II, and operated until 1938, finally closing due mainly to The Great Depression.