The Chicago and Oak Park Years

Burroughs in Military Uniform Captain George Tyler Burroughs of the Union Army married Mary Evaline Zieger on February 23, 1863. After the war, George and Mary Evaline move to Chicago in Fall, 1868, where George is successful in the distillery business and becomes very involved in political, civic, and social affairs.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born to the couple on February 23, 1875. He is the youngest of four boys -- George Tyler Jr., Henry (Harry) Studley and Frank Coleman -- and grew up in a three-story brick house on Chicago's West Side, at 650 (later 646) Washington Boulvevard between Lincoln and Robey Streets.

In his late teens, Edgar spent part of the year working on his brother's cattle ranch (the Bar Y) along the lower Raft River in Cassia County, southeastern Idaho. Edgar's high school experiences included a period of study at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts and later the Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake. His time at the Michigan Academy included many adventures - quarterback of the Prep School Team of the West, 1894; escape from barracks (desertion!) in 1893; he had his own "fiery cavalry horse", "Captain", on whom he won second prize in exhibition drills.

In 1893, Edgar drove the first automobile in Chicago, thanks to his father's new occupation as owner of the American Battery Company.

In May, 1896, Cadet Burroughs resigned from the Academy to enlist in the US Army, and was stationed with Troop B, 7th U.S. Cavalry at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. Expecting to chase Apaches, he got to dig ditches instead. In Spring of 1897, Edgar was discharged from the Army, and joined brother Harry and Lew Sweetser at Nogales, Arizona to help in the moving of a herd of starving Mexican cattle to Kansas City. The following summer, he took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In Fall, 1898, Edgar bought a stationery shop in Pocatella, Idaho and pursued a sideline taking and developing photographs. By January, 1899 he had sold the shop. Notably, around this time it is recorded that he read Darwin's treatise "On the Descent of Man". The winter of 1899 was spent wrangling on the Snake River, Idaho.

On January 31, 1900, Edgar married his childhood sweetheart, Emma Centennia Hulbert, after a 10-year courtship. They lived in Chicago while Edgar worked at his father's business.

In Spring, 1903 the couple moved to Idaho's Stanley Basin where the Sweetser-Burroughs Mining Company gold dredging operation was located. About that time, Edgar started taking correspondence lessons in drawing, hoping to be a cartoonist. By April 1904, Edgar was a railroad policeman for the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company at Salt Lake City, but the couple was on their way back to Chicago by October of that year.

What followed were a series of unsuccessful attempts at jobs: as a high-rise timekeeper, door-to-door book salesman, a seller of electric light bulbs to janitors and candy to drugstores, an accountant and office manager, among others!

Equally notable, Edgar had started to write short stories and illustrated booklets. There is also evidence that the first ideas for the Tarzan series was incubating around 1907. To supplement his income, Burroughs made drawings and wrote verses for home-made Christmas cards.

Around 1910, Edgar bought what amounted to a franchise in which he directed the sales of lead pencil sharpeners out of a borrowed office at Market and Monroe in Chicago. This job afforded him the free time to read the ads in pulp magazines - he apparently was fascinated with the writing of some of the pulp authors. He has also started writing his first Mars book, which developed over the next couple of years. The Outlaw of Torn was completed in late 1911, and he then started on a manuscript called Tarzan of the Apes. His manuscript Under the Moons of Mars appeared in the February 1912 issue of All-Story. The first Tarzan manuscript was finished in May 1912.

After this incredible series of adventures and mishaps, and with his increasingly prolific writing, the Burroughs' family moved to 414 Augusta Street in Oak Park in May, 1914. There followed a halcyon period of new novels and stories, and also professional recognition for Edgar Rice Burroughs writing and civic contributions. The Return of Tarzan was first published in March 1915, while the next manuscript Son of Tarzan was completed. Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar was completed later in 1915.

The Beasts of Tarzan and The New Stories of Tarzan were completed the following year, 1916. Incredibly, the Tarzan stories were just a portion of Edgar Rice Burroughs many and varied writings during the period 1914-1916.

In April, 1917 the Burroughs family moved to a larger home at 700 Linden Avenue. With the entry of the US in the First World War, in April 1917, Burroughs wrote numerous patriotic pamphlets in support of the war effort, and joined the Illinois Reserves as a Captain.

In January, 1918 the eight-reel "Tarzan of the Apes" premiered at the Broadway Theatre in New York. It starred Elmo Lincoln and Enid Markey, and became one of the first motion pictures to gross more than a million dollars.

In September, 1918 Burroughs was honored in Oak Park for his contributions to the war effort.

The Burroughs family would frequently winter in California, and finally in January, 1919 they moved permanently from Oak Park to Los Angeles to pursue his interest in movies. He purchased "Mil Flores", the 540-acre country estate of the late General Harrison Gray Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times, rechristening the estate, Tarzana Ranch. It was located in the San Fernando Valley in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. The ranch was later developed with housing tracts and golf courses, and incorporated as the City of Tarzana.

Our biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs in Oak Park ceases at this point - after all, he has left Chicago for good.

The historical details above were obtained from the web site, Edgar Rice Burroughs: 1875 - 1950, compiled by Bill Hillman. This extremely comprehensive resource continues through and beyond Burroughs death on March 19, 1950, and includes much more detail than cited above. Our thanks to Bill Hillman for compiling this information, and apologies to the reader for only providing a glimpse of the incredibly diverse and varied life of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Somehow, Edgar Rice Burroughs creation of the incredible fantasy worlds of his novels is not quite so mysterious after reading of his own exploits and experiences - today, his own life appears like a fantasy.

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Comments to -- Updated Jul 31, 1999