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William Upson, Alexander Botts, and the Earthworm Tractor

An exhibit in Special Collections highlights the works of William Hazlett Upson, a Vermonter who wrote over one hundred stories about an extraordinary salesman that were read and loved by millions.

After a stint in the army during World War I and a short career with the Caterpillar Tractor Company as a service mechanic, Upson turned to writing. Between 1927 and 1975, he wrote 112 stories for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as numerous books and other articles. Many of his stories and books featured the character Alexander Botts, a tractor salesman for the fictional Earthworm Tractor Company. Botts–“an indomitable (though sometimes deluded) fellow American well acquainted with the sweet uses of adversity and adept at the fine art of plucking victory from the jaws of defeat”–became a folk hero to a generation of Americans.

Upson’s works reached his audience in many forms. The exhibit includes examples of his comic strip “Alexander the Great” and publicity posters for the 1936 movie “Earthworm Tractors.” The stories were adapted for radio during the 1930s and 1940s. He also wrote several plays, including “Middlebury on Parade,” which was produced at Middlebury College.

Upson lived in Middlebury and Ripton, Vermont from 1928 until his death in 1975. In 1965, he donated material relating to his personal and professional life to Special Collections at the University of Vermont. The William Hazlett Upson Papers contain articles, news clippings, notes, photographs, plays, scripts, and miscellaneous material relating to Upson’s published and unpublished writings, his presidency of the Middlebury Maternal Health Council (an affiliated chapter of the American Birth Control League), and his life in Middlebury.

The exhibit is free and can be viewed when the Special Collections reading room is open. For more information, call 656-2138 or email uvmsc@uvm.edu

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