The Kroger Grocery Empire: Barney’s Blueprint for Success

Regional History, Retailing history, Social History

The history of the Kroger Grocery Company has parallels with the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, another pioneering powerhouse of American food retailing. Both grocery businesses started in the 19th century as tea and coffee purveyors, however Kroger, unlike A&P Tea, has survived through the centuries and still trades today as lucratively as ever. In the 2016 fiscal year Kroger was the largest supermarket chain by revenue in the US (yielding US$115.34 billion). It shares a roost with Walmart at the top of the US retail tree…it is number 2 general retailer behind Walmart in the US, and is the third largest retailer in the world[1].

Origins, growth and expansion of the Kroger name
The man behind the Kroger Company was Bernard Kroger, better known as ‘Barney’. Kroger, the son of German immigrants, got into the retailing world at the basement level – working door-to-door selling coffee first for the Great Northern and Pacific Tea Co and then the Imperial Tea Co. By 1883 Kroger was in business for himself, his first store traded under the name The Great Western Tea Co…soon renamed Kroger Grocery and Baking Co✳. The Cincinnati-based business expanded exponentially into the 20th century, by the end of the 1920s decade Kroger had over 5,500 stores in the US[2].

The Kroger business ethic
Not afflicted with the curse of Hamlet, Barney Kroger was not one to overthink or complicate matters, as his simple motto attested: “Be particular. Never sell anything you would not want yourself.” Kroger’s business style was heavily and idiosyncratically micro-managerial, the businessman personally maintained an account book which meticulously recorded all the firm’s financial transactions. Kroger’s business credo was “First: Do it first. When seasonable goods come into the market, have the first. When prices go down, be the first to reduce them. Second: Never sell anything except for just what it is, and don’t sell it then if it isn’t good. Third: Advertise as liberally as business income permits. Fourth: sell on a small margin and make the turnover rapid”. The Ohoian entrepreneur’s pragmatism emphasised “duplicating and reduplicating…what works”[3].

One of Barney Kroger’s most enduring contributions to grocery retail revolves around his minimum cost/high volume approach to trading. He is remembered for introducing the template of the low-cost grocery chain, still much duplicated in modern retailing. Kroger was also innovative in his store design, adding distinct bakery, meat and seafood departments in his grocery stores[4].

In-house food manufacturers
Bread-making was a good example of the Kroger cost minimisation strategy…at variance with most grocers in the early 20th century who purchased the product from independent bakeries, Barney Kroger baked his own bread. This way he could further cut the price for customers and still make a profit. Kroger after the death of Barney has rapidly expanded its own product manufacturing facilities, now making thousands of comestibles within the company[5].

A typical mid-century Kroger store
Merger juggernaut
From the 1950s on Kroger embarked on an ongoing series of mergers with smaller firms to consolidate its market position in the US grocery/supermarket trade. The most significant of these, in 1999, was with Fred Meyer, Inc., then the fifth biggest American grocer. This new acquisition by Kroger saw it reach a new high of 2,200 stores in 31 states, netting the supermarket giant billions in annual revenue[6].

Kroger innovations
Kroger has led the way in retail grocery innovations…the innovations pioneered by the company include ‘firsts’ for a grocery chain, eg, the routine monitoring of product quality and the scientific testing of foods; testing of electronic scanners. As well Kroger was a pioneer in modern consumer research in grocery lines[7].

Kroger’s position today as a market leader in the US grocery and supermarket field (FN1) rests firmly on the solid foundations laid down by its founder Barney Kroger. Contemporary growth by the company has continued a trajectory of diversification well beyond the grocery staple into fuel centres, florists, drug and convenience stores.

▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁
✳ eventually the company name was shortened simply to Kroger

[1] as at December 2015 Kroger operated a total of 2,778 supermarkets and multi-department stores across 34 American states, ‘Kroger’, Wikipedia, http://Wikipedia.org
[2] ibid.
[3] ‘Bernard Heinrich Kroger (1860-1938)’, (Zachary Garrison, 08-Jun-2011), Immigrant Entrepreneurship: 1730 to the Present, www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org; BM Horstman, ‘Barney Kroger: Hard work, marketing savvy won shoppers’, Cincinnati Post, 17-Jun-1999, www.webarchive.org
[4] Horstman, ibid.; ‘Kroger’, Wikipedia, loc.cit.
[5] ‘History of Kroger’, (Kroger), www.thekrogerco.com
[6] Dana Canedyoct, ‘Kroger to Buy Fred Meyer, Creating Country’s Biggest Grocer’, New York Times, 20-Oct-1998, www.nytimes.com
[7] ‘History of Kroger’, loc.cit.

Foundations of Basic Brewing: Beer’s Formative Role in the Making of Western Civilisation

Archaeology, Pre-history, Social History

If you delve into the story of beer’s prehistoric origins, you are instantly struck that its trajectory parallels that of another contemporary alcoholic beverage, wine. Just as with wine, drinking beer❈ was perceived from the earliest times not only to have an euphoric effect on consumers, but to contain tangible nutritional and medicinal properties.

Clay tablet – Sumerians drinking beer through elongated bent straws
The consensus among historians is that the production of beer probably started in Western Asia, more exactly in the ancient lands of Mesopotamia. Dating its beginnings is hard to say with precision, the best evidence lies in discoveries of ancient drinking vessels and utensils. The earliest such artifacts are possibly some 7,000-year-old pottery jars with traces of beer substances that were found in Iran (Persia), and a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet of people drinking a beer-like beverage through reed straws[1]. Another finding, a tablet recording a poem written in the 19th century BCE in honour of the Sumerian goddess of beer, Ninkasi, also represents the first known recipe for the craft of brewing beer[2].

Bread or beer – what came first?
In the beginning there was the domestication of cereal grains, the transition from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists … well not quite the beginning, this occurred (very roughly) 10,000-year-ago in the Neolithic period. The precedence of cereal grains is incontrovertible. What the next step was is not so black-and-white. The conventional wisdom has been that the cultivation of cereals was undertaken for the production of food. The grain would permit crops such as emmer wheat, einkorn wheat and barley to be grown … this led to the baking of bread and other food items.

Beer came about, according to this view, by association with bread, possibly by accident. A likely explanation for this might entail a situation where a farmer or a baker samples water in which bread had been sitting for some period of time. The water having undergone spontaneous fermentation, the natural spoilage of the germinated grain created a beer substance. The sampler liked the taste and it caught on, and thus a beer culture was born[3].

Beer the conduit for permanent human settlement?
But did humankind get serious about crop cultivation solely to produce flour for bread-making, this theory is still the orthodox view but a body of research over recent decades suggests that the earth’s grains were possibly domesticated for beer before they were for bread. This counter-view has its genesis in the early 1950s with two scholars, Robert J Braidwood and Jonathan D Sauer. It was anthropologist Braidwood who posed the question “Did man once live by bread alone?” As a result of research on a site in Jarmo (present-day Iraq) Braidwood hypothesised the earliest farming of wheat and barley was more to do with the taste that had been acquired for beer. Botanist Sauer proposed that “thrist rather than hunger may have been the stimulus behind the origin of small grain agriculture”. Beer being a “palatable and nutritious beverage” (was a) “greater stimulant” for the cereal producers[4]. The desire for the beverage according to this view was the lever that prompted humans to begin forming permanent settlements[5].

Building on this argument, Katz and Voight in the 1980s argued that beer had a dual appeal in antiquity: people enjoyed “the altered state of awareness” that sufficient intake of beer engendered, and at the same time they benefitted from beer’s nutritional superiority to every other food in their diet aside from animal proteins[6]

Recent anthropological studies conducted in Mexico support the contention that beer took primacy over bread. Teosinte, the ancestral grass of modern maize common to Meso-America, was much more suited to beer making than for making corn flour for bread or tortillas. Mexican farmers only managed to domesticate the grass into the diet staple maize much later[7].

First draughts: Sumer, Mesopotamia and the Levant
Although the Greeks traced the genesis of beer to Ancient Egypt, the general consensus of scholars would attribute its origins, based on clear archaeological evidence, to Mesopotamia, and more specifically, mainly to sites in modern-day Iraq. Recent research from Simon Fraser University (Canada) suggests the importance of the brewing of beer to Natufian culture (the Levant) in the Late Epi-Paleolithic period (around 10,000-9,500 BCE[8]. The Godin Tepe (“Grand Mound”) site (Tepe Gawra settlement) in Northern Iraq is one of the oldest in the world to yield evidence of beer production and consumption.

Chinese rice-beer brewmasters
As is the case with the origin of wine, the Orient has thrown up a worthy contender for the mantle of the first known instance of the brewing of beer. Recently a team in Jiahu (Yellow River Valley), Northern China, found pottery residues of a 5,400 to 4,900 year-old⊛ beer made from rice, barley and other grains[9]. Just as the Chinese used rice in their beer, other early brewers experimented with different materials aside from wheat and barley – rye in Thracian beer (as did the Russians later to make kvass), date palms and pomegranates in Babylon. Excavations at a 2,500-year-old Celtic site in Eberdingen-Hochdorf (Germany) unearthed the remnants of beer mixtures which had added the ingredients henbane, mugwort and carrot seeds to a base of barley malt[10].

Beer, a healthy option?
The Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians believed that beer had health benefits. The brewing process involved in producing beer killed off any inherent bacteria and viruses, this made drinking beer preferable to water which retained various pollutants that made it unsafe by comparison. It was also nutritionally advantageous – providing much-needed carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. The Ancient Egyptians moreover thought that sage and thyme contained anti-cancer properties and integrated these herbs into their beers. Positive medicinal effects in ancient beer included the essential amino acid lysine and the brews were high in B-vitamin content. The Egyptians identified the existence of some 100 remedies in beer. Further south on the Nile the Ancient Nubians 2,000 years ago infused their beers with antibiotic medicine, tetracycline[11].

Ancient Egyptian brewster making beer
A heavenly brew
Beer in ancient times was integrated into mythology and religion, thus elevating its status. It was part of the Sumerian “god myth” with Babylonians believing that beer was “a gift from the gods’ – or more precisely the ‘goddesses’ (Ninkasi – the ancient Sumerian titular goddess of beer). Egyptians associated their main goddesses, Hathor and Heqet, with the creation and consumption of beer (zytum¤), as was Tenenet (or Tjenenyet) who was the “Goddess of Beer and Childbirth” … beer was an integral part of the religious festivals and state occasions of Ancient Egypt (for which ‘special’ beer brews were produced)[12].

Wine Vs Beer
Ancient Greeks and Romans were generally less enamoured with beer than other ancient civilisations – although each still produced the beverage. In both societies wine was the preferred drink and one that bestowed social status. The great Ancient Greek philosophers and historians (eg, Xenophon in Anabasis) derided beer as a low-class drink for ‘Barbarians’. An indicator of the Greeks’ low opinion of beer as a beverage was that they exported it to Mediterranean ports as an aid to craftsmen to soften ivory in the making of jewellery[13]. A common perception concerning Ancient Egypt is that whilst the lower echelon of society drank beer (the “poor man’s” liquor), the upper strata right up to the Pharaohs drank wine only which was much more expensive. It would appear though that, to the contrary, beer was a staple in the diet of all Egyptians regardless of class, the Pharaohs included[14].

PostScript I: Women – the original home brewers
Sumerian society was structured around the home, the men hunted and the women collected and prepared the ingredients for eating and drinking. Within the domain of the home the first beers were brewed – by women! Women brewers in Sumeria were often also priestesses and thus held in high social esteem. When Babylon eclipsed the Sumerian Empire Babylonian women also enjoyed a similar prestige – having the right to divorce and own a business and property, and to work as brewsters (professional female brewers) and as tavern keepers (and as well as bakers)◘[15]. Early beer making elsewhere was also the preserve of (elite) women! eg, the indigenous Wari (Sp: Huari) society in the Andes in Southern Peru that flourished before the rise of the Inca Empire[16].

Beer brewing and the product’s distribution and sale remained women’s work until brewing moved away from the home when beer-making took on a commercial-scale of activity. By the Industrial Revolution the brewing of beer had been fully taken over by men[17] .

The Mesopotamian symbol for beer

PostScript II: The world according to beer
In 2011 a documentary, How Beer Saved the World, screened on the Discovery Channel. The film, once you get past the irritatingly over-the-top, megaphonic introduction, makes a reasoned case for beer’s fundamental role in shaping the world as we know it. A battery of scientists and anthropologists take turns explaining the breadth of the ancient (and the modern) world’s debt to beer – eg, it fuelled the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza (workers were paid in beer۞); it prompted the invention of mathematics and the world’s first form of writing, Cuneiform (the film argues that arithmetic and writing was necessary to account for beer’s production and distribution); it contributed to the modern process of pasteurisation. It also reinforces the view that barley was grown for beer before bread, and that the brewed beverage came about by accident.

╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼
❈ with the seemingly inexorable onslaught on the market of craft beers today, brewers are sifting increasingly exotic and sometimes weirder ingredients into their brew concoctions (so much so that lentil beer for instance seems almost a mild deviation from orthodoxy). For the ancient pioneers of beer-making though the basics comprised water, barley (or similar grain, eg, emmer, malt), yeast, but not hops … this last naturally growing plant ingredient was somewhat of a late-comer added to the composition of beer, it seems that the human cultivation of hops came much later (ca. AD 12th century), ‘The Short and Bitter History of Hops’, (D Martorana, Philly Beer Scene, Apr/May 2010), www.beerscenemag.com
⊛ early Yangshou period, flourished c.5000BCE
¤ the honey-flavoured Hqt or Heqet was the most popular of the beer brews in Ancient Egypt
◘ this brings us back to the beer or bread debate – was beer-making an offshoot of bread-making or vice versa? Evidence from Ancient Egypt doesn’t resolve this question, but we do know that specially made bread was the basis for some of the beer brewed (beer loaves); also in Sumeria bippar (twice-baked barley bread) was used in the brewing of beer, Hornsey, loc.cit
۞ each one received a daily allowance up to one gallon of low-alcohol beer

[1] ‘History of the word Beer’, (Beer100.com Your place for everything Beer), [NDP] www.beer100.com
[2] ‘Discover the Oldest Beer Recipe in History from Ancient Sumerian, 1800 B.C.’, (Open Culture), 03-Mar-2015, www.openculture.com
[3] B Mauk, ‘When was beer invented?’, (Live Science), 18-Jan-2013, www.livescience.com
[4] JW Arthur, ‘Beer through the Ages: The Role of Beer in Shaping Our Past and Current Worlds’, Anthropology Now, 6(2), Sept 2014), www.jstor.org; D Spector,’How Beer Created Civilisation’, Business Insider Australia, 27-Dec-2013www.businessinsider.com.au
[5] although the “beer first” thesis has enjoyed a vogue, some scholars reject the argument wholly, eg, Paul Mangledorf: “Man cannot live on beer alone … Are we to believe that the foundations of Western Civilization were laid by an ill-fed people living in a perpetual state of partial intoxication?”; [6] Spectorloc.cit.
[7] JP Kahn, ‘How Beer Gave Us Civilisation’, The New York Times, 15-Mar-2013, www.mobile.nytimes.com
[8] ‘What Was Brewing in the Natufian? An Archaeological Assessment of Brewing Technology in the Epipaleolithic’, Hayden, B, Canuel, N & Shanse, J. J. Archaeol Method Theory (2013), 20:102. Doi:10/1007/s10816-011-9127-y
[9] J Wang et al, ‘Revealing a 5,000-year-old beer recipe’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (113:201601466), 23-May-2016, www.pnas.org
[10] B Bower, ‘2,550-Year-Old Celtic Beer Recipe Resurrected’, (Science News), 17-Jan-2011, www.wired.com
[11] C Seawright, ‘Ancient Egyptian Alcohol: Beer, Wine and the Festival of Drunkenness’, 02-Jan-2013, www.thekeep.org; ‘Wiki History of Beer’, (Wikipedia), www.em.n.wikipedia.org; S Webb, ‘Did Beer create civilisation?’, Daily Mail (Aust), 21-Dec-2013, www.dailymail.co.uk
[12] SH Katz & MM Voight, ‘Bread and Beer: The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet’, www.penn.museum/bread.pdf; IS Hornsey, A History of Beer and Brewing (2003)
[13] Hornsey, ibid.; JJ Mark, ‘Beer in the Ancient World’, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 02-Mar-2011, www.ancient.eu
[14] ‘Ancient Egypt Online’, www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/index.html
[15] T Nurin, ‘How Women Brewers Saved the World’, 21-Apr-2016, www.bearandbrewing.com
[16] RR Britt, ‘Elite Women Made Beer in Pre-Incan Culture’, (Live Science), 14-Nov-2005, www.livescience.com
[17] ‘Women in Brewing’, (Wikipedia), www.em.n.wikipedia.org

Fountainhead of the Fermented Grape: Wine’s Ancient Origins

Archaeology, Pre-history, Regional History, Social History

Where did the story of wine and wine-making begin? As with many things whose beginnings are shrouded in the mystery of ancient and even pre-historic times, it is very hard to pinpoint a one hundred percent, definitive answer to this question. The evidence for when and where humans might have first cultivated Vitis vinifera va. sylvestris (the wild grape fruit)❈ lies in the realm of archaeology.

Today’s Transcaucasian republics – physical map
The timeline for the first experiments with wine-making, thanks to a wealth of archaeological evidence, puts it in the pre-recorded history stage of humanity, more precisely in the Neolithic Era (in Eurasia this was, very roughly, from 9,000 to 4,000 BCE). The consensus view has traditionally tended to be that the rudiments of viticulture can be located in the area around Mesopotamia and the Caspian Sea.

The Fertile Crescent: home of Ur-winemakers
Transcaucasia (the Caucasus), that relatively narrow strip of multi-ethnic lands separating the Black Sea from the Caspian, stretching south to include the northern parts of Turkey and Iran, has perhaps the best claim to the honour. Archaeologists have discovered early signs of wine activity and implements in southern Georgia, north-western Azerbaijan, and northern Armenia, suggesting that “Stone Age people took advantage of a temperate climate and availability of wild fruit species to experiment with cultivating grapes”[1].

Wine expert Caroline Gilby identifies three basic pre-conditions for successful wine-making in the Neolithic era, (i) a stable human population settled in the one place for some time, (ii) invention of pottery/clay vessels for storage✜, and (iii) existence of wild grapevines (plus a self-fertile plant to cross-pollinate with). Transcaucasia fits the bill – plant cultivation for most of the major agricultural crops began in the Middle East region around 10,000 years ago. Within the greater Caucasus, Georgia for which wine is a national obsession has 500 distinct varieties of the vine, whilst Turkey and Armenia have around 600 and 200 respectively[2].

Not to be outdone, Iran itself has a claim worthy of contention for longevity of vine production. In the mid 1990’s evidence of mey (Persian: wine), dating to about 5,400 BCE, was found in excavated jars at the Hajji Firuz Tepe site in the Zagros Mountains of north-western Iran. What was especially significant about this location was that it also contained evidence of the preservation of wine (in the form of a resin from the local terebinth tree)[3].

Armenia: site of oldest known vineyard
In recent years archaeologists discovered and excavated the Areni-1 Cave – the earliest known site of wine production (pre-historic “wine-making on an industrial scale” not hitherto unearthed)[4]. Items found at the vineyard at Vayots Dzor included a wine-press, fermentation vats, jars and cups[5]. The clay receptacles with their wine traces were radiocarbon-dated after being chemical analysed at between 4100 BCE and 4000 BCE. A side-effect of the recent vinaceous archaeological discoveries has been squabbling among the various Transcasusian states as to who were the first wine-makers[6].

Egyptian winery, 2nd millennium BCE
Mediterranean wine culture
Transcaucasian wine production and consumption clearly predates those from the Mediterranean region. Egypt is closest in time to the northern Eurasian area, its oldest traces of wine (yrp or irep), found inside the Tomb of the Scorpion King (Abydos, Upper Egypt), is about 5,000-years-old. Interestingly they were found to be spiked with natural medicines (effectively herbal wine). These medicinal additives were later adopted by Greek and Roman winemakers who followed the Egyptian practice[7]. The ancient Egyptians, who had a preference for red wine, were the first to depict wine and wine-making in their hieroglyphics.

Roman wine jars – great & small
In Grecian Macedonia fragments of crockery and assorted pottery with wine traces have been found dating back to around 4,500 BCE. Evidence of wine cultivation – dating from the mid-3rd century BCE – was also found on the Greek island of Crete. For ancient Romans wine was the drink de jour … initially Roman attempts at the craft of wine-making were derivative of the established Greek (and Etruscan) methods of viticulture but the Romans later drew on the ample supply of indigenous vines in southern Italy to produce their own varieties. With the ever widening reach of Roman imperial expansion – through war, trade and settlements – the Romans spread wine consumption and viticulture to the countries and regions it conquered (especially France, Germany, Spain and Portugal)[8].

Vino in eastern Asia: China’s early wine origins
In the mid 2000s China emerged as a candidate for the world’s earliest consumers of wine. An international team of archaeologists (Chinese, American and German) dug up an early Neolithic village (Jiahu) in Henan Province, unearthing pottery with traces of “wine-like drinks”(sic) (a fermented mixture comprising rice, honey and hawthorn fruit and grape). The beverage has been dated somewhere between the year 7,000 BCE and 5,500-6,000 BCE[9].

Whether China has the bragging rights to being the earliest consumer of wine (and perhaps the first centre of wine production), or Transcaucus does, one point remains clear: the interest and active, on-going work of archaeologists in this field, ensures that ownership of the title has a fluidity to it. Yet more candidates for the world’s earliest pioneers of viticulture are likely to be unearthed in the future.

∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸∸
❈ the European grape-vine common to western Eurasia – between the Mediterranean and Caspian seas
✜ ceramic containers were invented around 20,000 years ago

[1] T de Waal, The Caucasus: An Introduction, (2010). For instance, discoveries in the 1960s of domesticated grape pips in N/W Azerbaijan have been dated at around 6,000 BCE; in Shulaveri, Georgia, University of Pennsylvania academic Patrick McGovern found wine residues in the shards of 8,000-year-old ceramic vessels, A Friedrich, ‘Georgia’s Vintners Thrist for the Past’, The Washington Post, 22-Feb-2004
[2] C Gilby, ‘The Birthplace of Wine?’, Decanter, (Jan. 2012), www.winesofturkey.org. The domesticated form of the grape has hermaphrodite flowers which self-pollinate, KK Hurst, ‘Wine and its Origins – The Archaeology and History of Wine Making’, (About Education), www.archaeology.about.com
[3] ibid.; M Berkowitz, ‘World’s Earliest Wine’, (Newsbriefs) Archaeology Archive, 49(5) Sep/Oct 1996, www.archaeologicalarchive.org/9609/newsbriefs/charlesfort.html
[4] Dig project co-director Boris Gasparyan, cited in Gilroy, op.cit.
[5] ‘History of Wine’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[6] Gilroy, loc.cit.
[7] the Scorpion I wine did not emanate from a local production point, but was imported to the Nile from the Levant, B Handwerk, ‘Scorpion King’s Wines — Egypt’s Oldest — Spiked with Meds’, National Geographic News, 13-Apr-2009, www.news.nationalgeographic.com; J Butler & R Heskett,
Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age, (2012)
[8] ‘Ancient Rome and wine’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[9] ‘Chinese People were Drinking Wine 9,000 Years Ago’, (Phys Org) 19-Dec-2004, www.phys.org

Bonaparte in America

Biographical, Regional History, Social History

The association of America with Napoleon Bonaparte for most people probably revolves round the purchase by the US of huge swathes of territory (the Louisiana Purchase) from Napoleon in 1803. Napoleon Bonaparte (Italian: Nabulione Buonaparte) never came to the United States or to anywhere in the New World – although it was the core element of his Plan B in the event of his grand scheme to conquer Europe going pear-shaped (as it ultimately and irrevocably did in 1815)[1]. However Napoleon’s older brother Joseph (born Giuseppe), formerly King of Spain and the Indies, and before that, King of Naples and Sicily, did come to the American continent and moreover lived in the US for some 17 or more years after the Emperor’s fall from power.

King Joseph
Joseph succeeded in his getaway where Napoleon failed, slipping out of French waters and travelling incognito to New York, albeit narrowly avoiding detection by the British. In America Joseph styled himself the Comte de Survilliers … after living in New York and Philadelphia for a period Bonaparte purchased a palatial residence in Bordentown, New Jersey called “Point Breeze” – one of the finest country houses in the Delaware Valley. Joseph was able to afford (and subsequently vastly improve) one of the republic’s grand mansions because he had brought the Spanish Bourbons’ crown jewels with him which he had acquired when abdicating the Spanish throne. With his dubiously acquired riches Bonaparte made other land acquisitions in upstate New York on the Black River (a locale still known as Lake Bonaparte)[2].

‘Point Breeze’, Bordentown, NJ
Joseph AKA the Count of Survilliers largely led a quiet, uneventful and comfortable life in the US, taking no interest in a political role … when Mexican rebels and expat French supporters gave their backing to him to be made emperor of Mexico (1820), he demurred at the offer. In 1832 Bonaparte returned to Europe (although he did return briefly to the US and his much loved mansion ‘Point Breeze’❈ in 1839), living for a while in London and in Italy where he died in 1844. The ineffective, former ‘puppet’ king of Spain was never permitted to return to his native France again because of the French government’s concern that it might provoke a groundswell for a Bonapartist restoration[3].

Joseph was not the only Bonapartist to flee to America following his brother’s downfall in 1815. The return of the Bourbons with the ascension of Louis XVIII prompted a “witch-hunt” of Bonapartists in France. Many followers of Napoleon escaped to America to avoid arrest and recriminations … once there some of Napoleon’s loyal soldiers set up Bonapartist colonies in Alabama (Vine and Olive Colony) and Texas (Champ d’Asile) – which were uniformedly unsuccessful and short-lived[4].

PostScript: Napoleon’s “life in America”
A) Rescue plans – before and on St Helena
In the aftermath of the disaster of Waterloo rumours abounded about various plots and attempts to rescue Napoleon. One plot involved a mega-wealthy French-born banker Stephen (Étienne) Girard living in the US who supposedly hatched an elaborate plan to transport the deposed emperor to Virginia (claim made in the Baltimore American, 1902). According to some sources Girard played a role in the Louisiana Purchase machinations[5].

Napoleon’s island prison
By far the most bizarre plot involved a Brit of Irish parentage Tom Johnson, who as well as being a recidivist smuggler had a bit of a reputation as an escape expert. Johnson’s claim was that in 1820 he was offered £40,000 to rescue Napoleon from St Helena, using two primitive types of submarines he had designed as the “getaway” vessels. Johnson’s colourful account reads as highly fanciful and the plot was in any case never implemented … the one plausible element of the story being that Johnson’s underwater crafts (for which designs did exist) were inspired by Robert Fulton’s 1806 submarine – the American engineer and inventor had earlier worked for both Napoleon and the British government on armed maritime vessel projects (what is less certain is whether Johnson had actually met Fulton as he claimed)[6].

B) Exploring the “What If …” scenario for Napoleon
Devotees of alternative history have speculated lyrically about what might have happened had Napoleon made good his escape to the Americas. One of the early imaginative conjectures (1931) came from British historian HAL Fisher who hypothesised that the exiled emperor might have established a base in New York and then gone on to Spanish America to liberate the masses, finally drowning at sea whilst attempting to conquer India[7].

Outlawed in Europe after Waterloo, it would have been logical for Napoleon to gravitate towards America … the US had only recently engaged in hostilities with Britain (War of 1812), so the locals would probably have been disposed or at least neutral towards him, he would have been able to live as a free man. The US was a new country born of revolution (and one inspiring a revolution in his native France which promoted his own rise). An American base would position the ambiguous ex-monarch well to marshal his resources and launch an invasion of Central and South America which was ripe for revolution against the Spanish conquerors. One of Napoleon’s aide-de-camp in fact made the suggestion to him that he should make himself “emperor of Mexico”[8].

A recent alternative history (Shannon Selin, Napoleon in America) postulates three possible theoretical courses of action for Napoleon – settling on the eastern (Atlantic) seaboard, living peacefully, probably near his favoured brother Joseph (possibly biding his time, building up the necessary support for another go at overthrowing the French Bourbons and reclaim the throne either for himself or for his son); establishing a colony within the US peacefully (in fact Bonapartists later attempted to forge colonies in Alabama and Texas – both then controlled by Spain); and as with Fisher’s supposition, invading Spain’s American colonies and thereby securing a new throne[9].

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❈ as boys Frank and Charles Woolworth (the future retail empire giants) lived close to ‘Joe’ Bonaparte’s abandoned Bordentown mansion, spending lots of their leisure time playing at ‘Point Breeze’

[1] originally Napoleon and Joseph had laid plans for the two of them to seek refuge together in America in the likelihood of a worst-case scenario … a location in New Jersey was picked out as the optimum place for settling. Napoleon missed a real chance to escape to the US by stealth, having prevaricated too long waiting for anticipated passports which did not come, and then making the fateful decision to give himself up to the British authorities, CE Macartney & G Dorrance, The Bonapartes in America, (1939), www.penelope.uchicago.edu (see also PostScript above)
[2] R Veit, ‘Point Breeze (Bonaparte Estate)’, (2015), www.philadelphiaencyclopedia.org; ‘Joseph Bonaparte at Point Breeze. New Jersey’s Ex-King and the Crown Jewels’, Flatrock, www.flatrock.org.nz
[3] ibid.
[4] ‘Bonapartist Refugees in America, 1815-1850’, www.napolun.com
[5] L Weeks, ‘What if Napoleon Had Come to America’, NPR, 10-Feb-2015, www.npr.org. Girard also underwrote the American war effort in the War of 1812.
[6] M Dash, ‘The Secret Plot to Rescue Napoleon by Submarine’, Smithsonian Magazine, 08-Mar-2013, www.smithsonian.com
[7] H.A.L. Fisher, ‘If Napoleon had Escaped to America’, (Scribner’s Magazine, Jan. 1931), www.unz.org
[8] M Price, ‘How Napoleon Nearly Became a U.S. Citizen’, History News Network, 28-Dec-2014, www.historynewsnetwork.org
[9] Weeks, op.cit.

Nature Vs Nurture and the Unravelling of ‘Scientific Racism’

Racial politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture

By the mid 1930s the allure of “scientific racism” was on the wane in advanced western countries❈. Although scientists were in the thick of the movement both as eugenicists and as propagandists, significant numbers of scientists and politicians never bought the shonky scientific approach of the eugenics movement. Many in the science community never accepted the methodology for the eugenicists’ grand schemes[1]. Information on heredity was far from comprehensive in that era, the science was misguided and there was a vastly imperfect understanding of genetics, at best rudimentary, at the time. Eugenic hygiene organisations were unable to produce reliable statistics. As John Averell pointed out, “proof’ of research” in the field comprised “primarily statistical correlation within conveniently constructed ‘races’ rather than individual case studies to see if the desirable characteristics were actually inherited”[2].

Mendel's schema
Mendel’s schema
The scientific genesis of the 20th century eugenics movement was located in the rediscovered research of 19th century Austrian monk Gregor Mendel. Mendel experimented in plant hybridisation and his laws of inheritance based on the crossing of garden peas✥ were the foundation for the theories of eugenicists like American Charles Davenport. Davenport et al applied the Mendelian method to human traits such as eye colour which he argued was inherited (as the colour of Mendel’s pea plants were). The eugenicists employed an overly simplified dominant/recessive scheme to account for complex behaviours and mental illnesses, this was a fundamental flaw in their thinking (derived from ‘pedigrees’ based on Mendelian inheritance), a single-gene explanation of human characteristics and conditions. Contemporary science unequivocally accepts that these traits are in fact shaped by (many, many) multiple genes, ie, the existence of polygenic traits[3].

Although eugenics was portrayed by its adherents in the early 20th century as a “mathematical science”, a clinical method of predicting traits and behaviours and controlling human breeding, its drew criticism from scientific quarters on a number of levels. The ‘evidence’ was typically shoddy, such as the research into determining just who was to be classified as being ‘feeble’ and ‘unfit’ in society. The eugenicists relied often on subjectivity, second-hand accounts and hearsay to establish the lineages of the ‘undesirable’ gene pool (see PostScript 1), or on visible observable (physical) features (the resort to phrenology and the like). The theories of eugenics did not seem adequate to explain some traits, such as shyness – rather than being an immutable genetic condition, this could be subject to change over time (ie, some people grow out of shyness!). In addition eugenicists took no account of factors external to a person’s gene makeup in the categorisation of the ‘unfit’, such as his or her contracting a transmissible disease such as syphilis[4].

The scrutiny on eugenics, its growing characterisation as a pseudoscience unable to stand up to academic scientific rigour, prompted some proselytisers of eugenics to claim that eugenics was more than merely science, that it was tantamount to a new religion or moral code[5]. One of the eugenics practitioners who typified this was Alexis Carrel, an American-based French surgeon and Nobel Laurette biologist. Carrel’s eugenics was a strange mix of science, religion, clairvoyance and ultra right-wing politics … his extreme ideas were infused with an anti-materialist, holistic spiritual mysticism. In his 1935 international best-seller, Man, the Unknown, Carrel warned against the degenerative effect of modernity and outlined his notion of an autocratic utopia in which the dysgenic elements were eradicated from society[6].

The eugenics scene in Australasia mirrored Europe and America in questioning the correctness of the ‘science’. The scientific community although entrenched in the vanguard of the eugenic movement threw up its share of dissenters from within its ranks. One such was geographer Griffith Taylor who championed “racial hybridity” and cast serious doubts on the goal of race purity and its assumptions that underpinned eugenics. Moreover there was a lack of cohesion and camaraderie among the individual eugenicists who are often rivals of each other … this of itself did not make for a strong, lasting movement in Australia[7].

J B Watson, Behaviourist
J B Watson, Behaviourist
The Behaviourist counterpoint:
The rise of behaviourism in the West as a valid analytical tool for explaining human nature was a counterweight to the biological determinism of eugenics whose advocates preached that biology was destiny. The behaviourist backlash against the persuasive eugenics ideology was led by pioneering American psychologist John B Watson▣ around the time of the Great War. Watson, rejecting Freudian concepts of the unconscious mind, or that mental states or ‘instincts’ were significant, arguing instead that observable behaviour was the key to explaining human traits and complex mental states. In doing so, Watson was also refuting the view that heredity played a role in this construct. For Watson, and for B F Skinner who later took up his mantle as a radical behaviourist, the environment, modelled behaviour, was the source of human change. The work of Watson and Skinner and other behaviourists undercut the eugenics movement’s singular reliance on nature by shifting the debate to the significance of nurture in the process[8].

PostScript 1: ‘Feeble’ family studies template
The belief of eugenicists that all social ills – poverty, alcoholism, prostitution, criminality, venereal disease, epilepsy – could be traced back to one genetic flaw, and that intelligence was determined by heredity, was shaped by seminal pioneering studies in the field. One of the most influential was by psychologist Henry Goddard (1912) who analysed the genetic pattern of one man’s lineage (known as “Martin Kallikak” – fabricated name derived from the conjunction of ‘kallos’ beauty and ‘kakos’ bad). ‘Kallikak’ produced two widely divergent types of families (one ‘good’, one ‘bad’), which despite being nurtured in two radically different environments, the patterns of which Goddard concluded was solely the result of heredity[9].

PostScript 2: Polygenism debunked
The polygenists accepted that the species had more than one origin (cf. monogenism – deriving from one, common ancestor). Morton (see FN 2 below) believed that races were arranged in order of intelligence … the fairer the skin the more intelligent. DNA evidence, tracing human markers, has disproved the theory by proving that all Eurasians, Americans, Austronesians, Oceanians and Africans, share the same, common ancestor[10].

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❈ Scientific racism uses ostensibly scientific or pseudoscientific techniques and hypotheses to support or justify racial inferiority or superiority, Scientific racism’, Wikipedia, www.en.m.wikipedia.org
Scientific racism was denounced by UNESCO in a 1950 statement on race
✥ for what Mendel described as ‘factors’ (the “heredity unit”), the early eugenicists substituted the word ‘genes’
▣ Watson’s life reads like some kind of early 20th century Mad Men persona (influential ad man, marital infidelities, monumental falls from grace, self-exile, etc)

[1] for instance in the interwar period, Thomas Hunt Morgan, a Noble Prize winning evolutionary biologist, rejected the eugenicists’ inadequate methodology, ‘Eugenics in the United States’, Wikipedia, www.en.m.wikipedia.org
[2] this view prescribed a hierarchical order of races, an Anglo-Saxon ‘race’, a Nordic ‘race’, and so on down the line. Polygenists in the 19th century like Samuel G Morton contended that different races were in fact different species, each with separate origins, ‘Science: 1770s-1850s: One Race or Several Species’, RACE, www.understandingrace.org; J Averell, ‘The End of Eugenics … or is it?’, Melrose Mirror, www.melrosemirror.media.mit.edu
[3] ‘Mendelian genetics cannot fully explain human health and behaviour’, DNA from the beginning, www.dnaftb.org; ‘Rocky Road: Charles Davenport’, www.strangescience.net
[4] Eugenics and scientific racism had been described as “folk knowledge validated by scientific inference”, S A Farber, ‘U.S. Scientists’ Role in the Eugenics Movement (1907-39): A Contemporary Biologist’s Perspective’, Zebrafish, 2008: December; 5(4), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
[5] A H Reggiani, ‘Drilling Eugenics into People’s Minds’, in S Currell [Ed.],
Popular Eugenics, National Efficiency and American Mass Culture in the 1930s
[6] ibid
[7] D H Wyndham, ‘Striving for National Fitness: Eugenics in Australia 1910s to 1930s’ (Unpub. PhD, Dept of History, University of Sydney, July 1996), www.kooriweb.org
[8] ‘Eugenics movement reaches its height 1923’, A Science Odyssey (PBS), www.pbs.org; ‘John B. Watson’, Wikipedia, www.em.n.wikipedia.org
[9] ‘Kallikak Family’, http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/356/Kallikak-Family.html
[10] ‘Scientific Justifications for Racism’ (Polygenism), www.sites.google.com

The Eugenics Movement in Australasia V: The Fate of the Social Movement after World War II

National politics, Racial politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture

BMA building, Sydney
BMA building, Sydney
Decline of eugenics in Australasia
Unlike the US the eugenics movements in Australasia failed to even make legislative inroads, let alone implement their theories with any measure of success. Mandatory sterilisation did have genuine community support – from eugenicists, the medical profession, the health bureaucracy, racial hygiene and feminist organisations – but its extreme agenda did not secure the acquiescence of the general public behind it. Moreover, Claudia Thame concluded in her 1974 paper that only a “small minority of zealots” in Australia (some members of the BMA – British Medical Association) held an extreme position on sterilisation[1]. Most practitioners of eugenics in the country tended towards the segregation approach.

Eugenics ideas continued to have some credence after World War II – although not legislated by state authorities, sterilisations continued to be performed on the disabled, especially those with an intellectual disability. Commonly in rural Australia this was done without proper consent (or only with the consent of a third party). Girls from impoverished backgrounds unfortunate enough to be chosen for sterilisation often were told they were having appendectomies. In an era of deinstitutionalisation the eugenic motive for sterilisation tended to be overridden by that of contraception. It was an easier alternative for medical authorities to resort to hysterectomies and tubal ligations than to spend money on educating disadvantaged parents on how to handle their children’s sexuality[2]. There remains a continuity with present practices❃.

1928 Mental Defectives Bill: New Zealand
1928 Mental Defectives Bill: New Zealand
In New Zealand the 1928 Mental Defectives Amendment Bill was the eugenicists’ best legislative hope for Aeotearoa. It provided for the establishment of a national eugenics board and its sterilisation clauses came close to being law but failed to pass due to a combination of government doubts about the public support for sterilisation and the concerted political opposition to it from Peter Fraser and the Labour Party and intellectuals like university professors Thomas Hunter and Arthur Fitt[3]. Subsequently, the Act’s provision for the registration of mental ‘defectives’ was pursued by the state “without enthusiasm or notable result”[4].

As with Australia and other western countries the lack of legislative support for sterilisation did not prevent its continued ad hoc practice in NZ. Data on involuntary sterilisations of the disabled in postwar New Zealand is sketchy but the numbers of women involved are thought to be significant … like elsewhere, the eugenic motives of the prewar period have a diminished importance, in their place the demand for sterilisation is driven by the priority of managing the sexuality and reproductive capacity of disabled girls and women (also as “an adjunct to the management of bodily hygiene”)[5].

Many churches went along with the eugenics orthodoxy and some Protestant clergymen actually advocated eugenics✥. The Catholic Church however, with its large Irish-Catholic working class following in Australia as well as New Zealand, staunchly opposed eugenics on theological (moral) grounds (the Vatican condemned artificial methods of birth control which interfered with “natural reproduction”)✦. Another formidable institution with class-based objections to the goals of eugenics was the trade union movement. Although not operating as a unified opposition against the spread of eugenics, there were significant sections of organised labour who were concerned that laws affecting mental defectives would heavily target working class children and withheld their support for it[6]. There was considerable skepticism within the Australian and New Zealand working classes about eugenics, many on the left saw it as espousing “elitist definitions of unfitness”[7].

IQ tests continued to be fashionable in the 1950s & beyond: giving ‘scientific’ credence to the stigmatising of those in society labelled as “less intelligent”
By the 1950s in Australasia eugenics had become unfashionable and had fallen out of favour with the public at large … biologists and other scientists, distancing themselves from the discredited eugenics tag, were shifting their focus and energies to working in the dynamic and burgeoning field of human genetics.

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❃ incapacity for parenthood is still used as a valid justification by the Australian judiciary to authorise sterilisations – eg, the ‘burden’ of parents having to deal with the menstrual management of their disabled daughters, even in some cases where the girl was pre-menstrual!, ‘Fact Sheet: Forced Sterilisation – People With Disabilities Australia’, (C Frohmader, Women With Disabilities Australia, submission, 53rd Session of the Committee Against Torture, Geneva, Nov 2014)
✥ non-Catholic church support for eugenic aims in Australia and New Zealand was not as powerfully concentrated as it was in the United States
✦ practicing Catholics as a block tended to oppose eugenics, including writers of the faith such as G K Chesterton, Graham Greene and James Joyce

[1] C Thame, ‘Health and the State: the Development of Collective Responsibility for Health Care in Australia in the first half of the Twentieth Century’, (PhD dissertation, ANU, 1974)
[2] J Goldhar, ‘The Sterilisation of Women with an intellectual disability’, ‘Law and Society Conference’ (Brisbane, December 1990), www.austlit.edu.au
[3] T Taylor, ‘Thomas Hunter and the Campaign Against Eugenics, NZJH, 39(2) 2005
[4] M Finnane, ‘From dangerous lunatic to human rights?: the law and mental illness in Australian history’ in C Coleborne [Ed.], Madness in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum
[5] C Hamilton, ‘Sterilisation and intellectual disabled people in New Zealand – still on the agenda’, Kōtuitui: the New Zealand Journal Social Sciences Online, 7(2), Nov 2012
[6] S Garton, ‘Eugenics in Australia and New Zealand: Laboratories of Racial Science’, in A Bashford & P Levine [Eds.], The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics
[7] ibid.

The International Climate for Eugenics after 1945: Decline? Transformation? Redux?

National politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture

As bad as the atrocities committed by the German National Socialists under the guise of “eugenics science” were, it would surprise some to learn that it did not put a death knoll on the practice and advocacy of eugenics in western countries. After the war governments and some eugenicists tended to be a bit more circumspect in talking about the subject but in countries like Great Britain and the United States, rather than disappearing, eugenic ideas and (especially in the US) programs continued to flourish.

The British Welfare State and National “Social Efficiency”
Comparatively, Britain never remotely matched that the eugenics legislative zeal of the US, after WWII however UK policy-makers’ enthusiasm for and belief in eugenics remained high. In 1946 influential English macroeconomics guru John Maynard Keynes was still proclaiming that eugenics was “the most important and significant branch of sociology”[1].

The British Eugenics Society (BES) adopted a manoeuvrable position in the wake of the widespread discrediting of eugenics after the war. BES directed its efforts towards the “rebrand(ing) of race … by arguing that it remained a valuable concept for study” and dismissing the Nazi experience as an aberration which distorted and abused the concept of eugenics. The restrained, liberal stance taken by BES in the United Kingdom ensured the continued support for the Society of progressive and respected scientists like Julian Huxley and J B S Haldane[2].

imageClare Hanson characterises eugenics as less a science than a social and cultural movement, drawing its power from its “dissemination across a range of discursive fields”[3]. Hanson notes that eugenics played a key role in post-war British reconstruction, its ideas sustained and incorporated into the development of the country after 1945. The national efficacy goals of eugenics were visible in the Attlee Labour government’s endorsement of the ‘meritocratic’ ideal. Postwar education reform in the UK illustrates this: the division of secondary education into three strands – grammar, technical and modern – was a philosophical approach geared to the needs of social efficiency, not social justice. A further connexion with pre-WWII’s eugenics was the seminal roles in public policy in the postwar reconstruction and foundation of the welfare state played by eugenics advocates William Beveridge and Richard Titmuss[4].

America: controlling the reproduction of minorities
Across the Atlantic in the US there seems to have been broad support for sterilisation prior to WWII. This was inferred by two polls taken in 1937 … one by Fortune magazine found that 66% supported the existing sterilisation laws, the second, a Gallup poll found 84% in favour of sterilising the chronically mentally ill[5]. Eugenics programs continued to have a vitality after the war. Moreover in a number of states of the US there was a continuance (albeit a reduction in numbers) of forced sterilisations (over 64,000 American people were sterilised under eugenics legislation between 1907 and 1963[6]. The word ‘eugenics’ was removed or downplayed but eugenics ideas still circulated in public discourse (as in Britain) – in the 1950s it manifested in the emphasis placed on family values and child rearing (ie, concerns about the quality of the population). US eugenicists who had flourished in the 1930s reinvented themselves postwar as “genetic scientists” and “marriage counsellors”, some using the term “genetic counselling” to explain what they did[7].

Nth Carolina's sterilisation record
Nth Carolina’s sterilisation record
One of the leading American eugenics propagandists was Dr Clarence Gamble (heir to the Procter and Gamble “Ivory Soap’ fortune). Gamble funded ‘Birthright’, a birth control organisation, and embarked on a sterilisation drive through the South and Midwest in the 1940s, having most success in North Carolina where he established a ‘showcase’ sterilisation program. Gamble had an intense personal involvement (and financial investment) in the compulsory sterilisation cause, spearheading a saturation campaign of national television ads. Significantly, eugenics activities in postwar America, in a shift from prewar, targeted minorities for remedial action (ie, sterilisations). Enforced sterilisation programs in California were directed primarily at Asians and Mexicans whilst the southern states’ preoccupation was with controlling the African-American population[8].

The end of eugenics? … or a new, ‘better’ form of eugenics by a different name?
As indicated above, revelations of the horrors of Nazi eugenics during the Third Reich and the news of the worse excesses of sterilisation in the US and elsewhere did not put an end to belief in the supposed efficacy of eugenics or to the practice itself. The term was in the main quietly sidelined but the thing itself is like Ulysses’ “bag of winds” or Pandora’s Box – once opened, it is virtually impossible to stop. The desirability of breeding better humans has continued to exercise the minds of the scientifically curious. Eugenics may have passed out of the lexicon (in any positive sense at least)❈ but interest in genetic arguments and ideas remain✥. Many in the scientific community agree with evolutionary theorist R A Fisher that “technically advanced civilisation is unsustainable without eugenics” (The genetical theory of natural selection. A complete variorum edition, 1930)[9].

Public opinion in Britain and America after the war, influenced by a growing recognition of civil and human rights of citizens, became increasingly disaffected with the illiberal idea of coerced sterilisation. Consequently the practice largely came to a halt in the US around the early to mid 1960s[10]. However isolated calls for ad hoc voluntary sterilisation continue to be voiced (often under the guise of “social protection”) regarding people labelled as “low IQ”, “mentally defective” or with large welfare-dependent families[11].

PostScript: A comparative look at the exceptionalism of Scandinavian eugenics
The pattern of legislation on eugenics in the Nordic countries was quite different to the experience of politicians in other western countries. At the height of the eugenics phenomena in the twenties and thirties, sterilisation and marriage bills had an easy passage into law in Scandinavia, with surprisingly little opposition. In the case of Sweden especially, the 1934 Act was not repealed until 1975, by which time there had been upward of 63,000 sterilisations performed on citizens deemed ‘unfit’ by the state to procreate (the great majority on women)回. Scandinavian historians have tended to attribute this to a combination of factors many of which were peculiar to the pheripheral region of North-eastern Europe. These include the rapid industrialisation and modernisation of towns from the late 19th century … the emerging secular and scientific nature of life in Scandinavia contributed to this easy acceptance. Other factors in the explanation for why there was general consensus with the eugenic objectives was the commonality of the Lutheran faith and culture and the relatively egalitarian character of the Scandinavian social structure[12].

Sweden’s eugenic practices stretched from the mid 1930s to the 1970s, with the targeted groups of people coming from the poor, of mixed racial quality or of non-Nordic stock. Often the victims were labelled as educationally ‘inferior’, their sin being that they had learning difficulties such as poor eyesight preventing them from reading the class blackboard[13].

Socialdemokraterna
Socialdemokraterna
Nils Roll-Hansen has pointed out that Scandinavian society was quick to reject the excesses and unscientific attitudes of eugenics (eg, in Nazi Germany), whilst not rejecting the basic ideas and beliefs of eugenics. The political structure inherent in the Nordic countries was considered conducive to the success achieved by proponents of eugenics. The dominant labour parties (especially the Swedish Social Democratic Party) elicited effectively co-operation from the labour organisations in implementing social policy (as part of the country’s “social contract”). Roll-Hansen has contended that the region’s liberal-democratic tradition with its stress on the rights of the individual ensured that the eugenic practices that were put in place were moderate only[14]. The unearthing of Roll-Hansen and Broberg’s ‘bombshell’ had a big effect on Scandinavians, especially the Swedes … in 1999 Sweden agreed to compensate victims of forced sterilisations, offering each individual affected up to 175,000 kronors[15].

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❈ to be replaced with terms like “human genetic science” or “human genetic engineering”
✥ eradicating disease, lengthening the human lifespan, the human genome project, genetic enhancement, environmental and food applications, etc.
回 Sweden was the only one of the Nordic states with a national eugenics society

[1] V Brignall, ‘The eugenics movement Britain wants to forget’, New Statesman, 9-Dec-2010, www.newstatesman.com
[2] G Schaffer, Racial Science and British Society, 1930-1962. With the name ‘eugenics’ becoming a taboo word post-WWII the BES eventually changed its name to the Galton Institute … likewise in the US, the American Eugenics Society finally changed its name in 1973, becoming the more neutral-sounding Society for the Study of Social Biology
[3] C Hanson, Eugenics, Literature and Culture in Post-war Britain; S Garton, ‘Eugenics in Australia and New Zealand: laboratories of racial science’, in A Bashford & P Levine [Eds.], The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics. Eugenics has also been described as a straight out political movement, a form of ruling class consolidation, M Quigley, ‘The Roots of the I.Q. Debate. Eugenics and Social Control’, PRA (Professional Research Associates), www.publiceye.org
[4] ibid.
[5] Also, the New York Times in 1933 opined that the US policy on sterilisations was “harmless and very humane”, P Levine, Eugenics: a Very Short Introduction
[6] states leading the way were California, Virginia and North Carolina, ‘Eugenics in the United States’, op.cit.
[7] L Ko, ‘Unwanted Sterilizations and Eugenics programs in the United States’, PBS, 29-Jan-2016 www.pbs.org; P Lombardo, ‘Eugenic Sterilization Laws’, in the Eugenics Archive, www.eugenicsarchive.org; Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, Ed. by I Ness (D Hoff, ‘Survival of Euugenics’). Genetic counselling had the same euphemistic usage in Britain after the war with the first genetic counselling clinic in the UK opening in 1946
[8] K Begos, ‘The American eugenics movement after World War II’ (3 parts), Indy Week, www.indyweek.com. Paul Ehrlich’s highly influential Population Bomb (1968) in advocating world population control derives its premise from eugenics thought and rhetoric
[9] F K Salter, ‘Eugenics Ready or Not’, Quadrant, 11-May-2015, www.quadrant.org.au
[10] although it has been revealed that as recently as the mid 1970s over 3,000 native American women were involuntarily sterilised by the IHO (the US Indian Health Service), G W Rutecki,’Forced Sterilization of Native Americans: Late Twentieth Century Physician Cooperation with National Eugenic Policies’, Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 8-Oct-2010, www.cbhd.org
[11] ‘Compulsory Sterilization’, Wikipedia, www.em.n.wiki.org
[12] N Rolls-Hansen, ‘Conclusion: Scandinavian Eugenics in the International Context’, in G Broberg & N Rolls-Hansen [Eds], Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policies in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland
[13] ‘Sweden admits to racial purification’, The Independent,, 25-Aug-1997, www.independent.co.uk
[14] Rolls-Hansen, op.cit.
[15] ‘Sweden to reflect on eugenics past’, The Local (Sweden), 21-Dec-2005, www.thelocal.se