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Tuesday, July 16

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Everyone knows Tarzan's call of the jungle. You've probably imitated it at least once in your life, pounding your fists on your chest while crying that distinctive, piercing sound. The character of Tarzan is a cultural icon, recognized around the world. But did you know Tarzan's creator, author Edgar Rice Burroughs, was from Chicago?

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago on September 1, 1875, to Mary and George Tyler Burroughs. His father was a successful whisky distiller with the Phoenix Distillery Company. The family, including Edgar's four older brothers, lived together on Chicago's West Side at 646 Washington (later renumbered to 1943 West).

As a boy, Burroughs attended several different schools, including Brown School and Harvard School, located at 21st and Indiana Avenue. Later, he was briefly a student at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. But after Burroughs received poor grades at the Phillips, his father finally enrolled him at the Michigan Military Academy in Orchard Lake Village, Michigan.

Just as Burroughs attended a number of schools growing up, he also followed many career paths before finding success as a writer. He was, at various times, a bill collector for the Knickerbocker Ice Company in Grand Crossing, Illinois; railroad policeman; door-to-door salesman; and manager of the Stenographic Department at Sears, Roebuck & Company.

Edgar Rice Burroughs is even credited with driving the first automobile in Chicago. In 1893, Burroughs drove a "nine-seater horseless surrey" at the World's Columbian Exposition. The historic event was part of an exhibition organized by his father's American Battery Company, which his father founded after the distillery burned down in 1885.

It wasn't until 1910, however, that Burroughs seriously contemplated a career writing the adventure novels for which he became famous. That year he owned a business selling pencil sharpeners, and he develop an interest in pulp magazines as he inspected the advertisements his company had placed in the publications. He apparently formed the opinion that he could write stories at least as good as the ones already being published and immediately set out to prove it. The following year, in 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs sold the serialization rights for his first manuscript, "Under the Moons of Mars," to All-Story Magazine.

Burroughs had finally found his calling. He became a prolific writer, turning out stories and novels at astonishing speed. In addition to "Under the Moons of Mars," Burroughs also began writing the first Tarzan story, Tarzan of the Apes, in 1911. The book was published in 1914, and its success led Burroughs to write a number of Tarzan sequels, including The Return of Tarzan (1915), The Beasts of Tarzan (1916), Son of Tarzan (1917), and Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (1918).

In 1914, Burroughs moved with his wife, Emma Centennia Hulbert, and family to Oak Park. Between 1914 and 1919 they moved frequently, living in three different homes in Oak Park. But in 1919 the Burroughs family left the Chicago area for California so Burroughs could pursue opportunities to develop his stories for motion pictures.

Edgar Rice Burroughs died on March 19, 1950, at age 74. He had written nearly 70 novels, including the John Carter of Mars series and The Land That Time Forgot. But he will always be best known for his Tarzan stories. Tarzan became a cultural phenomenon, spawning two dozen novels, comic books adaptations, radio serializations, television programs and more than 40 films. Today, Tarzan continues to be one of the world's best-known literary characters. Not bad for a local boy.


Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.
This website is the official home of Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., the company Burroughs founded in 1923 to market and license his works. Download Burroughs-related backgrounds and screensavers, read a history of Tarzan and find out about Edgar Rice Burroughs fan clubs around the world.

ERBzine: Edgar Rice Burroughs Web Museum and Weekly Online Fanzine
To call this website "comprehensive" wouldn't do it justice. The homepage of the ERBzine and Web Museum is a portal to more than 3,000 pages of content dedicated to Edgar Rice Burroughs, including rare photographs, cover art and illustrations for his books, archival letters, documents, articles and much more. Written and collected by Canadian Bill Hillman, the ERBzine is your one-stop site for anything you could possible want to know about Burroughs and his works.

Holden, Greg. Literary Chicago: A Book Lover's Tour of the Windy City. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2001.

Chicago Authors: First Lines

"I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage upon the narrator for the beginning of it, and my own skeptical incredulity during the days that followed for the balance of the strange tale.

"When my convivial host discovered that he had told me so much, and that I was prone to doubtfulness, his foolish pride assumed the task the old vintage had commenced, and so he unearthed written evidence in the form of musty manuscript, and dry official records of the British Colonial Office to support many of the salient features of his remarkable narrative.

"I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays, 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."
--Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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