Claude Hope, pioneering horticulturist, was born on May 10, 1907, in Sweetwater, Texas, the ninth of twelve children of dairy farmer Wyatt Rosbrough and Mary Jane (Chappell) Hope. Claude graduated as valedictorian of his high school class and then attended Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University). He graduated with a horticulture degree.
Hope was employed by the Arizona Department of Agriculture as a horticulturist at a field station before returning to school to earn a master's degree in horticulture at Michigan State University in 1939. He then joined the Division of Plant Research and Introduction, part of the federal Agriculture Department, in Maryland.
Hope was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941 and, after Officers' Training School, was assigned to help develop an American supply of Cinchona ledgeriana, the plant from which the anti-malarial drug quinine was derived. The Axis powers controlled most of the world's supply, but the U.S. managed to fly four million seeds out of the Philippines just before that country fell to the Japanese.
Hope was sent to Costa Rica with the sprouted seeds and told to create a cinchona farm. He never succeeded, though the project's failure was rendered moot when scientists were able to synthesize antimalarial drugs, but he fell in love with the soil and climate of Costa Rica. He returned to the country in 1945 and helped found the PanAmerican Seed Company, which revolutionized the bedding plant industry in the early 1950s by hybridizing double and single grandifloras and multifloras.
In 1953 Hope started Linda Vista, S.A., in Costa Rica. Over the years the company grew from six employees to more than a thousand, and is now one of the largest seed producers in the world. He sold the company to the Ball Horticultural Company in 1981, but remained as president until 1989 and continued to work on the farm thereafter. Hope never married, and his devotion to his employees and his adopted homeland was legendary. He became a citizen of Costa Rica in 1966 and over the years helped many of his employees, who affectionately called him "El Capitán" (the captain), a reference to his Army rank, with education, housing, and other needs. He also made donations to build churches, schools, libraries, and athletic fields in the town of Dulce Nombre.
His first major success as a breeder was the introduction of a red petunia called the Comanche, and in 1977 he bred the first yellow petunia, called Summer Sun, but he is probably best known for his role in turning the impatiens, which originated as an African river plant, into the most popular bedding plant in North America. His first impatiens developed for the North American market was the F1 Elfin series, followed by the Super Elfin series. In 2000 there were an estimated 900 species of impatiens in a variety of colors.
In 1992 he was the subject of the book A Master of Seeds: The Life and Work of Claude Hope by Ricardo Arias Martinez. Throughout his career Hope received many floriculture awards, including the Liberty Hyde Bailey American Horticultural Society Award. He was inducted into the American Society of Horticultural Sciences, and he received an honorary doctorate of agriculture from Michigan State University in 1997. He died on July 14, 2000, at his home in Costa Rica.