Tarzan of the apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs


When Edgar Rice Burroughs sat down to write his now-legendary Tarzan of the Apes in 1911, he had a young family to support and a string of business failures weighing heavily on his mind. Among other ventures, he had sifted for gold in Idaho, run a stationery store, worked as a railroad policeman, and sold candy, light bulbs, and a snake-oil cure for alcoholism. Nothing led to success, however, and since he had been reduced to pawning some of his possessions for food, it’s reasonable to think that escapism played a role in inspiring his wildly imaginative early tales.

Life was not always so financially fraught for Burroughs, who was born into a prosperous Chicago family on September 1, 1875. His father, a former Union Army officer, owned a distillery and then a battery company; his mother raised four sons, of whom Edgar was youngest. Also the most rebellious, he spent one unsuccessful year at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts before being sent to the Michigan Military Academy; there, although he excelled in Greek and Latin, his academic life took second place to writing and drawing for the school newspaper, horseback riding, and playing football. A taste for adventure and dreams of battling Apache warriors in Arizona led Burroughs to join the Army in 1896. But when poor health and boredom set in, he pleaded with his father to get him released from duty. After working for a short time for his father’s company and marrying his childhood sweetheart, Burroughs flailed from one business failure to another before striking it rich with his fictional ape-man.

His first Tarzan story, Tarzan of the Apes, was published in 1912 by the pulp-fiction magazine The All-Story. The tale of a man reared by apes in an African jungle caused a sensation among readers of all ages and quickly became a cultural icon. Despite Burroughs’s desire to write more serious fiction, demand for additional Tarzan adventures persisted throughout the author’s life; he created a total of twenty-four Tarzan tales. A secondary market for Tarzan comics, films, radio shows, and the like led Burroughs to create his own corporation, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., to manage the Tarzan empire.

At home at Tarzana, his 540-acre estate in California, Burroughs held interviews, rode horses, and wrote. Besides a large number of books, including three science-fiction series (set on Mars, Venus, and in the hollow core of Earth), he also authored many patriotic journal pieces and, after witnessing the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, served as a war correspondent in the South Pacific. After a year spent rereading all of his books, Edgar Rice Burroughs died of a heart attack while perusing the Sunday comics on March 19, 1950.



1875 Edgar Rice Burroughs is born in Chicago on September 1 to George Tyler Burroughs and Mary Evaline Burroughs. His father, a former Union Army officer during the American Civil War, runs a successful distillery business. Mary Evaline, a talented writer, raises the four Burroughs children while intermittently compiling a book, Memoirs of a War Bride, which Edgar will help her publish in 1914.

1876 Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is published.

1881 Edgar enters the Brown School in Chicago. He and his brothers become friends with the four Hulbert sisters; the youngest, Emma, will become Edgar’s wife.

1883 Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is published.

1885 A fire destroys George Burroughs’s distillery; over the next few years, he will create a new venture, the American Battery Company.

1886 Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is published.

1887 Diphtheria warnings motivate Mary Evaline to place Edgar in the private Maplehearst School for Girls until the outbreak subsides. Edgar exchanges letters with his two older brothers, Harry and George, who attend Yale. Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, the debut Sherlock Holmes story, is published.

1888 Edgar enters the Harvard School in Chicago.

1891 When a flu epidemic erupts, Edgar’s parents, concerned that he has had several bouts with childhood illness, remove him from school and send him to work on his older brothers’ ranch in Idaho; he develops what will be a lifelong passion for horseback riding. Under protest, he is sent in the fall to Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, where he contributes regularly to the school newspaper.

1892 Edgar leaves Phillips because of ill health and poor grades. Hoping to provide his son some discipline, George sends Edgar to the Michigan Military Academy. The results are mixed: Edgar is punished for attempting to run