December 5, 2009

The Forgotten Hall of Fame

From the New York Times:
A Hall of Fame, Forgotten and Forlorn

On a leafy hilltop, dozens of busts of once-famous men stare mournfully at an empty walkway, their unfamiliar names chiseled in grand letters, their feats now obscure.

Josiah W. Gibbs? Augustus Saint-Gaudens?

Saint-Gaudens was the greatest American sculptor of the late 19th Century. Gibbs was a phenomenally accomplished physicist, chemist, and mathematician.

In general, the honorees reflects the tastes of the high-brow electors. For example, the first cohort of 29 elected in 1900 includes botanist Asa Gray, to whom Darwin addressed the 1857 letter that established Darwin's precedence over Alfred Russel Wallace in developing the theory of natural selection.

Welcome to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a lonely outpost in the University Heights section of the Bronx.

When it was founded in 1900, it was the first Hall of Fame in the nation, local historians say, and the elections to induct members were covered by the national press. ...

But when the hall’s host, New York University, sold its Bronx campus in 1973, the collection languished. The 98 busts tarnished, soot gathered, and the Hall of Fame slowly slipped into irrelevance. An election has not been held since 1976.

Today, the colonnaded hall sits high above the city as an awkward appendage to the campus of Bronx Community College. To history buffs, it is a forgotten gem; to nearly everyone else, it is just forgotten.

While the college faculty has sought to integrate the Hall of Fame into the school’s curriculum, the disconnect between the honorees and the student body has grown only wider, leaving even the hall’s few defenders to acknowledge that it is in desperate need of a face-lift. More than half of the college’s students are Hispanic; the Hall of Fame, however, honors few women and even fewer minorities.

Actually, the number of women seems about right: I come up with 11% female. If you made up a list today of the 100 most distinguished Americans who have been dead over 25 years, would it be much more than 11% female? What about among living Americans? The first name that springs to my mind among living Americans as a worthy honoree would be Edward O. Wilson for accomplishments as a scientific specialist (ants), scientific generalist (sociobiology), writer, and conservationist. James D. Watson would rank up there, too. Noam Chomsky, as well. How many living women approach the Wilson-Watson level?

In this Hall of Fame, I count two blacks (Booker T. Washington and George W. Carver), no American Indians, and no Hispanics. Two American Indians were nominated (Chief Joseph and Sacajawea), but didn't make it to enshrinement.

In general, I suspect that in the future, the lists of famous Americans of the 20th Century will reflect the tastes of the current students of Bronx Community College, so the recent equivalents of Josiah Willard Gibbs and Asa Gray will be even more forgotten than their predecessors.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


ricpic said...

Tito Puente!

Anonymous said...

Steve, is it possible that Women, only recently fully emancipated (despite irate and whiny feminist who claim otherwise--that they are still in "bondage.") haven't had enough time to rise, as a whole.

But, your theory, is entirely plausible too!

Middletown Girl said...

Hall of Famers dead for over 25 yrs...

Orson Welles
Alfred Hitchcock
Sam Peckinpah
Howard Hawks
Raoul Walsh
Anthony Mann
Budd Boetticher
D.W. Griffith
Charlie Chaplin
Buster Keaton

Luke Lea said...

Woody Allen!

stari_momak said...

Tito Puente!

Some day Tito Puente's gonna be dead, and you be able to say "I've been listening to Tito Puente for years, and I think he's great!.

Anonymous said...

Gibbs was recognized as an equal by Maxwell. One of the greatest theoretical physicists of the 19th century worldwide, and certainly the greatest American scientist until the mid-20th. His aloof and private personality made him anonymous in his own time. A hero of the intellect, though.

Anonymous said...

stari momak is my new fav commenter

Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

Apparently he is the Gibbs of Gibbs's Phenomenon fame - you can walk into just about any lab in the world and glance at the oscilloscope and notice it.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I've prepared a preliminary list of potential living nominees for your perusal. Let me know what you think.

Avram Noam Chomsky: For fundamental contributions to computer science, linguistics, and political philosophy.

Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.: Took the initiative in creating the Internet, Nobel Peace Prize, Emmy Award, Grammy Award, Academy Award (triple threat in the arts)

Madonna Louise Ciccone: Best selling American female artist of all time, helped normalize gay culture.

Oprah Winfrey: "world's most influential woman", billionaire philanthropist, spiritual icon, helped normalize gay culture.

Barack Obama: first black president, Nobel Peace prize, helped heal race relations in U.S., stopped the rising of the seas, etc.

RandyB said...

It can be dangerous to proclaim an artist among the immortals during this lifetime. You can wind up with embarrassments like Central Park's Literary Walk, that includes statues of Shakespeare, Scott, Burns, and Fitz-Greene Halleck, a 19th century American author of romances and humorous verse, who was very famous in his time.

Reginald Thompson said...

What's the deal with the Bronx Community College?

Does it have a bunch of Minorities or something?

Anyways Steve, don't you go and worry too much about the future versions of Josiah Willard Gibbs and Asa Gray being forgotten.

The chances are they won't even exist in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Actually, it's good this shrine is (was) obscure. If the masses knew of it, they would tear it down.

pouffiassei said...

George Washington Carver?

You are kidding, right?

Complete fraud.

Dan Kurt said...

re: Gibbs

We are of two worlds. That an educated American would not know of Joshua Gibbs astonishes me.

As an undergraduate Gibbs dominated my existence for the three courses in Physical Chemistry. The Phase rule, Free energy, Statistical Mechanics including the virial equation, crystallography.... It seemed as if everything was touched by his hand.

Dan Kurt

Kylie said...

A nominee who should be placed under immediate consideration for induction into the Hall of Fame:

Michael Joseph Jackson--singer, dancer, entertainer, cultural icon and dermatological phenomenon, holder of multiple Guinness World Records, winner of many American Music Awards, Grammys, etc. Didn't normalize anything but did revolutionize the use of the glove as a fashion accessory and the concept of the "sleepover".

dearieme said...

"certainly the greatest American scientist until the mid-20th": or, as I guess, until now.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that many living American movie directors will be remembered. Maybe in the future many movies of our time are seen as great art, but, of course, only after when the masses lose interest to them.

David Davenport said...

... their unfamiliar names chiseled in grand letters, their feats now obscure.

Josiah W. Gibbs? ...

Not forgotten. From page 609 of Cengel and Boles' Thermodynamics: An Engineering Approach, 4th ed. copyright 2002:

"The equations that relate the partial derivatives of properties of T,v, p, and s ( temperature, specific volume, pressure, and entropy ) of a simple compressible system are called the Maxwell relations. They are obtained from the four Gibbs equations by exploiting the exactness of the differentials of thermodynamic properties..."

More here:

The point is, Gibb's name will live on in science and engineering textbooks long after Michael Jackson et al. will be as obscure as Fitz-Greene Halleck.

Anonymous said...

J W Gibbs is certainly the greatest American scientist yet, maybe ever since the American experiment may soon end.

Immortality: the most important feature of matter in chemical engineering thermodynamics and in physical chemistry generally is named for Gibbs and has the symbol "G". Since Latin alphabetical symbols are apparently used almost universally, even to accompany Chinese text, this symbol may last for the lifetime of technological civilization. Scientists and technologists with no knowledge of the man and contempt for the culture that created him are doomed to repeat the initial letter of his last name ad infinitum.


Anonymous said...

"In general, I suspect that in the future, the lists of famous Americans of the 20th Century will reflect the tastes of the current students of Bronx Community College..."

Yeah, works like that everywhere:

James Kabala said...

"Actually, it's good this shrine is (was) obscure. If the masses knew of it, they would tear it down."

I don't know about that. Bronx Community College is full of the modern-day masses if any place is, and from the article, and they seem to have left it alone.

Peter A said...

Steve, I assume you're nominating Chomsky for his contribution to political thought, not his fraudulent linguistic theories. Future generations will probably view Chomsky the same way we're already starting to view Freud. An interesting original thinker whose theories are completely erroneous and unsupported by empirical evidence.

Anonymous said...

There are quite a few great women of the 20th century, who worked to preserve aspects of traditional femininity and in the areas of lactation and birth, synthesize tradition with modern medicine:

The seven founders of the La Leche League: Marian Tompson, Mary White, Mary Ann Cahill, Edwina Froehlich, Mary Ann Kerwin, Viola Lennon, and Betty Wagner.

Helen Andelin.

Phyllis Schafly.

Ina May Gaskin.

Anonymous said...

> I assume you're nominating Chomsky for his contribution to political thought, not his fraudulent linguistic theories. <

Always assumed it was the other way around. (Pol Pot was caused by American imperialism? The mind is a linguistic blank slate?) Or maybe he's a fraud in both. Likeable speaker and good writer, though.