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David Lubin (1849-1919) - An Appreciation


In the first hours of 1919 one of the great originators of cooperation between countries for the benefit of all men died in Rome. David Lubin was not only an original thinker about world agricultural problems but also a man of action who left behind him a successful accomplishment - the International Institute of Agriculture, established in 1905.

The Food and Agriculture Organization which has superseded David Lubin's Institute has a programme which is much broader than that of the older organization. Yet the difference between the two organizations is more one of scale than of fundamental intent. Central to the programmes of both is concern for the farmer and for agriculture as the basis for overall economic development.

In June 1969, the 52nd session of FAO's 34-nation council, during its discussions of the future of world agriculture, took time out to commemorate the life and work of a man whose ideas and ideals are as relevant today as they were when he died half a century ago. The statements made are reproduced in the following pages.


The Chairman: We have with us members of Mr. Lubin's family, ­Mrs. Evangelina Lubin-Silenze, Mr. David Lubin's daughter, accompanied by several other membersof the family. I welcome them on behalf of the Council and say to them how much we appreciate their presence on this day when we commemorate the death of an eminent man who took part in the creation of this house.

I now give the floor to personages who are more familiar than I am with the origin of our Organization.

Mr. Cépède (France): Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director-General, Madam, my dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen. Among the great dead whose work we aspire to continue in this Organization, the earliest was David Lubin who died in Rome on 1 January 1919. Within four days he was carried off by the influenza epidemic which ravaged Europe following the First World War, claiming more victims than the conflict itself.

The founder of the International Institute of Agriculture was born at Klodowa near Cracow on 1 June 1849 - June 13 according to the Western calendar - the youngest of six children whose father died of cholera shortly afterwards. His mother, remarried to Solomon Weinstock, decided to emigrate to the United States. After spending two years in London, where his half-brother Harris was born in 1854, they arrived in New York in 1855. David was about six years old.

At 12 he left school to earn a living. He went to work in Massachusetts where his elder brother Simon was a goldsmith and jeweller. In this craft he worked as a solderer and polisher for about four years at North Attleboro with Morse Brothers. In 1865, his sister Jeannette, married in California, called him to San Francisco where he worked as a jeweler for some months, but then took a job in a timber yard at Los Angeles. In 1868, he set out for Arizona in a group of 14 prospectors. He found neither gold nor oil...

On 8 October 1871, on his way back to New York, he lost everything except his clothes and violin, in the Great Fire of Chicago. He then worked as a traveling salesman for a lamp factory... inventing a non-explosive oil lamp.

After a first trip to Europe, which took him from Amsterdam to Poland, he and his half-brother Harris Weinstock rejoined their widowed sister Jeannette in 1874. They worked together in a clothing shop. Then, after accumulating a capital of 600 dollars, they opened a new type shop, “D. Lubin One Price”, at 100 K Street, Sacramento, on 6 October 1874. Ten years later, D. Lubin headed the biggest department store and mail order house on the Pacific coast...

He was able to fulfill the promise that one day, when he had enough money, he would take his mother to the Holy Land. They crossed the United States, England France and Italy, visiting museums, then Egypt whence they reached Jaffa. He had very little or nothing of what Europeans call “culture”. His aesthetic sense was rudimentary. He could perceive and appreciate the beauty of sanctity, but not the sanctity of beauty. Nothing in David Lubin’s adventurous life up to that moment was very different from the lives of pioneers who had made a fortune in the conquest of the West...

Nothing foreshadowed the prophet of a new order and of a peace made more secure by justice for farmers, announced at the International Agriculture Congress in 1896... the author of “let there be light” in 1900... the founder of the International Institute of Agriculture in 1905... the champion of the “United States of the World” who in 1911 proposed the establishment of a “Permanent International Parliament” to ensure peace among nations by economic progress... the author, publisher and disseminator in 1917 of “An International Confederation of Democracies under a Constitution” in one and half million copies in English but also in Chinese, French and Italian...

Yet David Lubin’s life, which we can recall here only in broad outline, is worthy of the great heroes of mankind. What a fine edifying story - why not in cartoon strips - we could tell our children and children’s children! What a new chapter an inspired pen could write about it...

... For it has all the ingredients of the beautiful legends of predestined men: There is that mark on the face caused by the burn when a Sabbath candle fell into his cradle on the fourth day of his life...

... the wrath of the saintly man whom the father has brought to share the evening meal and who scolds the mother for weeping over her son injured on such a day, and who praises the Lord for choosing by this sign this infant for His service...

“You wanted to call him Pinchas, like his grandfather. You are going to call him DAVID because he will grow up to be a mighty man among his own people; he will sit at the table of kings!...

There is this pious mother who “keeps all this in her heart”... There is that two years’disappearance in the Arizona desert where death grazed him several times...

There is this extraordinary material success of a man who refuses to swerve from the “straight path” of those “who demand and who give full weight and full measure”... His watchword is “RIGHTEOUSNESS”: Rectitude but also Justice, the cry of all the revolts of the oppressed.

This man who used to say that life in a ghetto of Czarist Russia was less dangerous for men than the conditions which elsewhere reduce them to the materialism of worshippers of MAMMON, considered himself a “fighter for God”: “Fighter for God” for the same reason as “that band of faithful workers of all times and of all nations who have striven for development and civilization”, as he said in Washington in November of 1911.

David Lubin realized the greatness of his mission but he regarded himself only as an ordinary man. He explained his stand in a letter of September 1908 to Gilford Pinchot, founder of the American Forestry Service: “I think that you follow me. But humanlike you want to know my motive before you can trust me. Well, my motive is not salary, not medal, nor social scintillations, nor is it to be a Count of Sacramento. I wish to serve the dear old Uncle, Uncle Samuel, and you laugh! But how many better men have given their lives for the Uncle. But there is a higher service still, and that is for the United States of the World. And I am happy to be a humble soldier, a private, in this Army. Do you understand? And when one is such in dead earnest, the Almighty does not mind that he is an ordinary scrub and no educated diplomat.

“The same Almighty makes him a persona gratissima just everywhere, because this is His great fun in His Divine Comedy. And that is the reason that He took common scrubs for His prophets and His great workers, and ‘who shall say Him nay?’...”

The superb impertinence David Lubin derived from these convictions enabled him to succeed in business although he went against the stream on what appeared to be the way to success; it was going to enable him to win his struggle for Justice among nations, as he had won the struggle for Justice among individuals.

This is what matters for us here and what has now to be recalled. First of all, how did David Lubin become involved in AGRICULTURE? The explanation must doubtless be sought in the long frustration of a family debarred for centuries from the possession of land, who descendant, after reaching a free country, realized that the crowning of his economic success would be incomplete without the ownership of a farm holding.

Thus, on his return to California in 1885, he began to grow wheat on two areas of Colusa County and to cultivate 120 hectares of orchard about 10 to 15 miles from Sacramento. He used modern techniques, such as agricultural explosives which Frenchmen had taught him.

But technique was not enough, for 1885 was the first year in California when supply exceeded demand... when the best peaches, apricots and table grapes were sold at prices that did not even cover their packing. People were talking about “overproduction”, about uprooting orchards and vineyards and seeking their luck elsewhere. David Lubin, who had suffered heavy losses, told the Fruit Growers’convention of San Francisco as early as September 1885 that it was absurd to talk of overproduction, that supply was a mere trifle compared with the demand of those who wished to eat good fruit if they could pay for it. He organized the California Fruit Growers’ Exchange. The following year - 1886 - was another very bad year. David cabled from London to recommend sale by auction, as at Covent Garden.

In 1893, wheat was in a crisis. David Lubin realized that it was not merely a Californian problem and extended his action to the United States as a whole. In 1894, he launched the direct sale of farm produce by mail, then pressed for import duties on industrial products and export premiums for farm produce. The farmers’ lot had to be improved by raising prices “faked” to the detriment of producers.

In the spring of 1896, the crisis had exhausted David Lubin; his home was shattered and he left for Europe with his five children and their governess. The Californian who had become an American was going to become a citizen of the world in 1896.

On the occasion of the millennium of Hungary, Budapest had been chosen as the venue of the International Agriculture Congress. No American was listed as a participant, and the Hungarian Agriculture Minister invited David Lubin who explained to the congress what later became his project for an International Agriculture Organization.

On his return to the United States in December, he settled in Philadelphia, remarried in 1897, and opened a San Francisco branch of the Sacramento department store - “Weinstock Lubin and Co”.

In August of 1904, he left New York to lay his project before the European governments. Received with scepticism more or less everywhere, David Lubin decided to go to Italy and deal with King Victor Emmanuel III himself. He reached Rome on 4 October 1904. He asked Commendatore Chimoni, Director-General of Agriculture, straight out, how he could meet the king. “There are names that must not be lightly invoked” he was told... But David Lubin was not so easily put off and insisted...

To get rid of the nuisance, he was told that the king had left Rome, that he was in his hunting reserve at San Rossore near Pisa. That was no obstacle for Lubin. He travelled to Pisa and asked for an audience.

At 9 p.m. on Saturday, 22 October, he received a summons for 9 a.m. on Sunday, the 23rd! Lubin had no time to buy what he had been told was indispensable for the audience - hat, gloves... Never mind. He set out for San Rossore at dawn and arrived long before the appointed time... The audience, scheduled for ten minutes, lasted three-quarters of an hour! Victor Emmanuel, taken aback at first, decided to listen to this America citizen who was talking with the impertinence of a man of God coming from the desert...

In fact, David Lubin’s speech was not of the kind a sovereign normally hears: “I bring you the opportunity to perform a work of historic importance, which will entitle you to more enduring fame than the Caesars; they earned fame by wars, you would earn it by working for peace, the peace of righteousness... You are, of course, a very important person here, but remember you are a small potato in the world, the monarch of a third-rate nation. Take up this work in earnest and at one leap Italy can head the nations in the general fight of our days: the fight for Justice in economic relations.”

Victor Emmanuel III agreed to sponsor the project: when it had been worked out, he would submit it to the Italian Government.

Lubin returned to Rome and on the evening of October 25, at the Bristol Hotel, assembled a group of Italian friends - Pantaleoni, Montemartini, Guerazzi, Agresti, Bosco, Colletti - for the first working session... Many others followed.

And on 24 January 1905 Victor Emmanuel III wrote the famous letter to his Prime Minister:

“My dear President, “A citizen of the United States of America, Mr. David Lubin, has explained to me, with all the warmth springing from sincere conviction, what appears to me a happy and good idea and I commend it to the attention of my Government. “The rural classes are generally the most numerous and have great influence on the conditions of nations everywhere but, scattered as they are, they cannot do what would be necessary to improve the various crops and distribute them in line with the requirements of consumption. Moreover, they cannot adequately defend their interests on the market which, for the most important produce of the soil, is widening more and more to embrace the whole world.

“Therefore, it might be extremely useful to set up an International Institute which, without any political designs, would study the conditions of agriculture in the various countries of the world and would periodically issue information on the quantity and quality of crops...” Here I stop my quotation.

An international conference was called in Rome. It opened on 28 May 1905 and resulted in the signature of the Convention of 7 June 1905 by 40 states - 38 years before Hot Springs... For David Lubin, this success was to be accompanied by many disappointments and difficulties.

Obtaining a hearing from a sovereign who had no other reason to receive you than the title of “citizen of the United States of America”... and convincing him by “warmth springing from sincere conviction”... was by no means impossible for someone who wished to be a “fighter for God”, but the fight David Lubin had to wage with the governments, or rather the bureaucracies, of the member states of the conference, and later of the Institute, was altogether of a different nature!

People distrusted “David Lubin’s ideal and somewhat nebulous concepts” and the “generous and humanitarian ideas contained in the letter of His Majesty the King of Italy”. This had to be turned into “practical action”. I have taken these terms from Louis Dop who was for a long time the French delegate and vice-president of the Institute... This is how he set out “the very vast and very complex idea, but very imprecise and very vague as to its means of implementation”, before the Academy of Agriculture in Paris 20 years later:

“David Lubin’s great idea consisted above all in setting up an international commercial organization of agriculture. For David Lubin, farmers suffer especially from their isolation and their powerlessness to fight against organizations which, as industrial or commercial trusts and cartels, impose on them their tariffs, prices, their economic and financial conditions, which keeps agricultural production in a constant state of inferiority compared with industrial production.”

To fight against this irresistible force of companies and trusts, David Lubin said, it was necessary to oppose it with an equal or superior force. This force was to have as its principles the collective interest, as its rule the use of licit means in conformity with established laws, and as its aim the satisfaction of farmers’ individual and collective efforts to provide the producer with a reasonable and legitimate benefit. This force was to be backed by state aid. No, David Lubin’s ideas were not “vague”. The less they were, the less they were acceptable to many people. The Conference was going to show it soon:

David Lubin envisaged the Institute as composed of two chambers: An upper house in which each country was represented by one member, and a lower house consisting of members elected by private agricultural organizations on the basis of their membership and importance.

The Institute was an exclusively intergovernmental body in which the states could, at their request, have one to five votes, depending on their commitment to pay for 1 to 16 shares; the colonies, at the request of the countries on which they depended, could be admitted to the Institute on the same conditions as the independent states... David Lubin had originally thought that the Institute should have an “International Trade Commission” with powers similar to those of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The Institute was given only tasks of study, documentation and information... Yet David Lubin never gave up his plan. In 1917, he wrote in “An International Confederation of Democracies under a Constitution”:

“The International Institute of Agriculture and the International Postal Union are already here to serve the purposes of the Confederation, perhaps with added powers and increased duties. Similarly departments could be formed to deal with the international phases of commerce and labor when reciprocal commercial and industrial treaty measures could be placed in their hands, while the Department of Transports could be entrusted with the international phases of Ocean carriage”.

Then, from the 1905 Conference, the battle of the budget was joined: 850 000 gold francs a year, of which 300 000 lire was provided by the annual contribution of His Majesty the King of Italy, was considered necessary. The quotas to be subscribed by the member states were thus limited to 550 000 francs for 40 countries, some of which paid for up to 16 units. It was not ruinous.

Nevertheless other precautions were taken: a unit must never exceed 2 500 francs, and 1 500 francs in the transition period of the first two years...

The General Assembly and the Permanent Committee were assisted by a Secretariat headed by a Secretary-General, which comprised three offices - statistics, agricultural information, as well as economic and social studies - and two services - legislation and library. This Secretariat started operations in 1908.

In the following year David Lubin reprimanded the officers of the Institute who asked for time to make studies and... suggested that commissions be set up. “While you are studying, the governments will get tired of paying, and the Institute will die of inanition.”

In spite of its limited tasks and its modest resources, the Institute’s possible action gave rise to concern:

Professionals of international trade did not like the simple dissemination of information. Louis Dop presented to David Lubin the magnate of the wheat trade, Louis Dreyfus, who tried to argue the case for long studies - ten years, it seemed to him, were the minimum: “Remember that the world’s eyes are on the Institute and you must do nothing, give no advice and no information before you are absolutely certain about it”. If he had been more cynical, he might have added the tenet of that agent of the Union Stockyard in Chicago who complained that the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the US Department of Agriculture was issuing too much information: “A piece of information known to everybody is of no interest to me, but a piece of information that I have and the others have not can be turned into money! ..”. s This conversation could not but strengthen David Lubin’s determination to urge the Institute to go ahead because this was proof that the farmers’ isolation and their lack of information were the cause of their exploitation by industrial and trading companies, trusts and cartels.

The idea of stabilizing prices at an equitable level for producers, and therefore of raising them, also caused the governments of importing countries to prick up their ears.

David Lubin had to go and explain his faith that justice was in the common interest. In 1906, for example, he told the Board of Trade:

“I can see what’s in your minds, Gentlemen. You think that England is a buyer not a grower of the staples, and you fear that the activities of the Institute would tend to level up prices, making it increasingly difficult to secure ‘deals’ in the less organized countries, such as Argentina or Russia or the Balkans.

“The cheap loaf is good for the British workman and may not the Institute interfere with the cheap loaf? Now the cheap loaf may be all very well, but there is another side of the story. You have some industries in England, you sell your manufactures abroad: Your cotton stuffs, your machinery, your boots, your valises, your suspenders and what not - and you export capital.

“England holds bonds and stocks and shares in those very countries. Now if you squeeze the life out of them, if you force down the price of their staples through price manipulation, it may seem a cheap loaf and a big stomach for the British workman today but, mind you, it may mean unemployment for him tomorrow.

"That same workman will soon find his job gone, for such a policy amounts to strangling your best markets; your bonds and shares will not be worth the paper they are printed on. You will kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Help to build the Institute up and make it a living force working for equity in exchange and you will be building up the economic strength, the purchasing power of the great agricultural countries which are the natural market for British manufactures”.

Until his death David Lubin fought to strengthen the Institute, and his struggle proves that the weaknesses of this first organization were not due to the “vague” ideas of its promoter but to the brakes put on its action by selfish private or national interests...

However, David Lubin had the great joy of seeing his work live through the First World War, preserved as it was from political debates. In 1915, all the belligerents worked side by side on the best methods for drawing up the half-yearly grain balance-sheets... This miracle was repeated at the 15th General Assembly in May of 1940, when all the belligerents of the time were represented among the 38 delegations present... Later, when nothing could be expected of governments, and at worse moments, the Institute was nevertheless kept up as a place of asylum... This, too, would have shown David Lubin that his spirit had survived in his work.

For despite the difficulties our Organization and younger ones encountered and are encountering, David Lubin was able to accomplish an undertaking which, as he predicted to Victor Emmanuel III, has given pure glory to this sovereign and an historic place to Italy in the struggle for justice in economic relations.

While his native land and his people, as well as California and the United States of America may be proud of David Lubin... this “fighter for God”, this “citizen of the world”, “just an ordinary scrub man”, belongs to all of us... He has deserved well of mankind.

The Chairman: I thank you, Professor Cépède, in the name of the entire audience, for your moving speech on the origins of this house. I am now, with the permission of the Council, going to ask Professor Papi to take the floor.

Professor Papi (Italy): Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, Mrs. Silenze, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Italian Delegation is very much appreciative of the celebration of the anniversary of David Lubin at the beginning of the work of this Council Session. It has listened with interest and admiration to the effective speech of Mr. Cépède. I would like to thank the French Delegate for having recalled with delicate taste some episodes and characteristics of the founder of the International Institute of Agriculture and of his environment.

Now, at a distance of many decades, the size of an unusual personality can only be measured by the power and by the lasting fertility of his invention. David Lubin was indeed a pioneer in the field of collaboration among countries for a better international community. His faith in the method of diffusing confidence in a concerted action among governments has been largely supported by the examples the more numerous international organizations, created later on, have continuously offered.

But the merits of David Lubin cannot be confined to the creation of the International Institute of Agriculture, the first among international organizations. His merits have made a much greater impact, in my very modest opinion. He spread the notion of the immense usefulness of political and technical cooperation all over the world, and we are now already experiencing some considerable and fruitful results.

David Lubin started using a juridical instrument: the convention. By convention, on 7 June 1905, as has been recalled by Mr. Cépède, was established the International Institute of Agriculture. In its turn, the Institute, by means of six conventions, promoted the solution of various technical matters. For the first time it was possible to present an alternative to incomprehension and misunderstanding. For the first time it was possible to replace ignorance and the blind struggle of immediate interests with the order and rectitude of international law.

Should every government, being aware of its responsibility, decide, in agreement with other governments, to enact assiduous confrontation of its own economic policy with the policies of other governments, as the experience largely demonstrates, each government would more easily attain an equilibrium also in its national behavior between its own structure policy and price stabilization policy.

What, in the spirit of David Lubin, does FAO actually do after sixty years of trial and error in international cooperation? FAO carries out surveys, undertakes studies, converts its action into “conventions”. By conventions, for example, FAO upon request by a country, grants technical assistance. By conventions, FAO on several occasions, has sent equipment to the less-advanced countries.

But at the same time - and this is the fruitful result of the work of David Lubin - the assiduous work for the preparation of recommendations and of concerted action imply another major activity which FAO is performing in the same spirit of cooperation, diffused by David Lubin, with invitations sent to Member Governments and other International Organizations to participate in its conferences, Council sessions, meetings of commissions, committees and working groups. FAO leads the administrations of the various countries to take a new look at the problems facing their respective governments.

We see so frequently within these walls young Ministers representing countries which have acquired political independence only recently, through strong drives of chauvinism coming to listen to appeasing and solemn declarations during the sessions of the Organization. The young Ministers, the young functionaries are induced to consider the matters according to a technique which they could hardly find in any literature, and this is, in my very modest opinion, a result of enormous importance because the countries they represent are precisely the countries which need FAO most, and which need FAO much more than, for instance, other countries like the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom.

The faith in the method of mutual understanding and cooperation instilled by David Lubin will never, I hope, disappear. More particularly, now it has to inspire the translation into practice of the tremendous task of helping the developing countries. What does, for instance, the Indicative World Plan - in preparation by the FAO Secretariat - also mean if not the utmost expression of collaboration among governments by the intermediation of an international organization like ours.

The three stages of the Indicative World Plan: Projections for agricultural commodities in 1975 and 1985; regional and sub-regional studies, embodying suggestions about the policy structure best suited to each region; and assistance by FAO to the representatives of the countries concerned, at their request, to draw up a development project, country by country, in each region - all these stages imply the highest degree of world cooperation, so that we can nowadays see in full operation the spirit which has inspired the pioneer work of David Lubin, a spirit continuously present and continuously expanding, the more technological progress is developing.

May I submit that exactly this spirit of mutual comprehension and assistance which animated the first realization by David Lubin and gave origin to the many other international bodies, makes his stature at so great a distance in time, really a gigantic one. The aspirations, the ideals of David Lubin are becoming universal, are enhancing international collaboration, are permitting us to pursue not only practical results but much nobler purposes. For instance: to free man from want and to create more and more free men. Only a man who is free can really be the promoter of his own economic and social progress. Only a man who is free can really be beneficial to mankind, and this is the unforgettable teaching left by David Lubin.

The Chairman: the Council will allow me, no doubt, to thank Professor Papi for his stirring speech.

A.J. Mair (United States of America): The United States Delegation is deeply appreciative of the statement just made by Mr. Cépède, the Delegate of France, and the eloquent words of Professor Papi. David Lubin was not only a highly respected citizen of our country but, in a very real sense, he was a citizen of the world. At a time when serious thinking regarding cooperation among countries through international organizations had hardly begun to emerge, David Lubin had the foresight not only to see the problems of the farmers of his own country, but to recognize that these problems were linked to the problems of the farmers around the world. He had the vision and the fortitude to set out to do something about it, to create some kind of international mechanism, through which the combined forces of farmers everywhere could be heard. He was thus a pioneer in the field which evolved very slowly over the 40-odd years that elapsed after his frustrating efforts led him to Rome and to some degree of success.

That initial effort by David Lubin opened the way to a substantial expansion in international activities following World War II, and FAO is one of the major results of that expansion. Consequently we are grateful for the recognition given today by this Council to the contributions of David Lubin to international cooperation in the field of agriculture.

While I have the floor, I also wish to express my personal appreciation of the welcome we have received here today. Thank you very much.

The Chairman: After these speeches, that were so eloquent and stirring, I believe, and you will certainly agree also, that we should not prolong our meeting, so that we may keep in our minds the memory of the moving words of the speakers.

The meeting rose at 12.35 hours.



OLIVIA ROSSETTI AGRESTI & DAVID LUBIN A study in practical idealism. University of California Press, 2nd edition, 1941.
LOUIS DOP Rapport sur la condition économique et financière de l’IIA. Rome, 1916.
LOUIS DOP La réorganisation de l’IIA - VIe Assemblée générale. Rome, 8 mai 1922.
LOUIS DOP Académie d’agriculture - Le passé, le présent et l’avenir de l’IIA. Paris, 7 mars 1928.
H.C. TAYLOR A century of agricultural statistics - Journal of Farm Economics November 1939.