Mark of the…Best

This blog entry is part of an ongoing series.
You can best understand the material below by reading it in full context,
starting with the first entry of the series, No Room in the Inn.

 You may have heard TV and Internet religious personalities speculate about a coming Mark of the Beast prophesied in the Bible.


But I’ll bet you’ve never heard of the Mark of the Best.

A name with eleven letters is not over long. The number 99,000,000,000 has only eleven figures, yet in a series of numbers of that size there could be individual number-names for each of sixty times as many people as now inhabit the earth. At slight cost per name the census bureaus of the world could place in such a single series the number-names of every person now living, every person of whom there is any history, and every person who might be born in the next thousand years. Once instituted, such a system of number-names would go on indefinitely and no two persons would have the same number.


If desired, a block of these numbers could be allotted to each country. By exchanging their lists of names and number-names the main bureau of each country would have the completed series as entered up to date. At relatively small cost the names and number-names of the parents of each person and the number-name of each child born to each person could be added to his own name, also birth and death dates and places, thus giving all needed basic facts regarding his lineage genealogy.

These universal world number-names could then be used in lineage genealogies along with any system of family number-names desired, thus placing a means of reference from each genealogical compilation to every other similar compilation. Private family bureaus, or even public bureaus, could request the census bureau to give each person of their families a lineage number in this world series.

The interested family could then give to each member a single number, usually in the form of a percentage, expressing the individual value of the general efficiency of the person. In like manner a single numerical statement, as a percentage, could be used to designate any marked characteristic, as ability in music, or personal beauty, or tendency to obesity.

Compilation of these percentages into averages, as of progeny, or of coordinate relatives, so as to give genetic ratings, also in a single numerical statement as a percentage of individuals and of families, would follow the same relatively simple bookkeeping or recording processes that are the common practice in plant breeding and in animal breeding.

Uh, yeah. Sounds like a plan to me. I’d derive great comfort knowing that somewhere in the world there was a memory bank keeping track of me with my Universal Identity Number, coordinated with my percentage scores about my “tendency to obesity” and such. That way anybody needing to know about it…could know about it.

Guess who, when, and where that quotation above comes from.

Sounds like it must have been written fairly recently, because of course only in the past few decades have we had the kind of computing power to do “bookkeeping and recording” processes on that level! What a hoot to think of armies of bookkeepers around the world trying to keep track of this sort of massive amount of info with boxes of index cards or somethin’! That would be ludicrous. Surely no one would be crazy enough to suggest that.


The quotation is from a 1912 edition of the American Breeders Magazine.

ab mag

It was written by Willet M Hays, US Assistant Secretary of Agriculture during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.


Hays was the founder and first president of the American Breeders Association, publisher of the magazine.

The ABA was created in 1903 by the Association of Agricultural Colleges and Experimental Stations, after four years of preparatory effort spurred by a request from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The American government urged animal breeders and seed experts to “join hands.” [War Against the Weak, Edwin Black]

What the government had likely not foreseen was the ABA’s decision almost immediately to add another set of “hands” into the mix…the ABA from the very beginning decided to be a mouthpiece for not just research and information about the breeding of animals and plants—but also for the breeding of people. At the very first annual meeting of the organization, December, 1903, the delegates set up a Eugenics Committee:

The establishing resolution declared the committee should “devise methods of recording the values of the blood of individuals, families, people and races.” The resolution specified that the goal was to “emphasize the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood.” [ibid]

By 1910 when they decided to begin publication of the American Breeders Magazine, the eugenical aspect of the organization was so prominent in its activities that they officially expanded the original small Eugenics “committee” to a full-fledged organization “section,” each section dedicated to one of three types of Breeding: Animals, Plants, and Human Eugenics.

By 1912 Eugenics often took center stage in ABA efforts. The first three articles in the magazine that year were all directly related to Eugenics, before ever getting around to horses and corn. Including Willet B. Hays’ article quoted above, “Constructive Eugenics.”

A later article in the same issue described in great detail the beginnings of the establishment of a vast program of info-gathering in the US, gearing up for the day when Willet’s proposal could be brought to life internationally. Harry Laughlin, coordinator of the “Eugenics Record Office” in Coldspring Harbor, NJ wrote a report on the progress of that Office:


The efforts of this office are directed toward indexing of all of the defective and sterling [splendid, outstanding, praiseworthy] germ-plasms of the American population. The making of such an index is an immense task, and will demand the cooperation of many persons and institutions, but its value in the practical application of any scheme looking toward the cutting off of the defective strains of the American population is obvious.

Yep. The ERO folks had plans to do the field work to study families throughout parts of the country first, with an eye to eventually developing streamlined and effective methods of information-gathering, and then building a network of organizations massive enough to study, investigate, and index the WHOLE American population with detailed information about the “quality of the germ-plasm” of every single person. The purpose? To eventually be able to find those with Sterling Germ Plasm. If Willet Hays’ system could be implemented speedily, you could then give the Mark of the Best, and the Number of that Mark, to those Sterling People so that they could be readily encouraged to propagate profusely and ultimately fill the country with their progeny.

Of course, this would also imply that there would be a Mark of the Least, and the Number of that Mark, that would be used to identify those with Defective Plasm. So that they could be readily prevented from propagating. Through a variety of … ahem… hygienic measures (yes, that was the term used…measures to “cleanse” America of the “infection of inferior blood.”) Proposed methods of such cleansing (ever hear the term “ethnic cleansing”?) included incarceration, castration, isolation, severe restriction on immigration, deportation, sterilization, segregation, laws against interracial marriage…and euthanasia. ALL of those methods were implemented to some degree in the USA during the heyday of the influence of Eugenics.

The eugenists such as Willet Hays proposed to do this massive project of the remaking of society with no computers, no photocopy machines, not even a pocket calculator. Just a bunch of secretaries using paper sheets and cards.

This material is gotten at first hand in the home territories of the families studied. The absence of a body of facts suited to the intelligent application of Eugenic remedies makes this method of original observation imperative. The field workers chart out as far as possible the complete family network along all ancestral, collateral, and consort lines. They spare no pains to secure an accurate family network, and an equally accurate description of the inborn traits of each member.

The facts so gathered are indexed at the Eugenics Record Office in accordance with a system devised by Dr. Davenport, and recorded …This index is an expansive one, and is based upon the decimal system, quite the same as the Dewey Decimal System for classifying books.

The first synopsis of traits is as follows:

0. General traits, General Diseases, Occupations

1. Integumentary System.

2. Skeletal system, Muscular system

3. Nervous system, Criminality.

4. Mental traits, Movements

5. Sense organs.

6. Nutritive system.

7. Respiratory system.

8. Circulatory system, Lymphatic system

9. Excretory system, Reproductive system.

All record is indexed on a sextuple system, with cards for each of the following combinations: (1) surname-trait, (2) trait-surname, (3) locality-trait, (4) trait-locality, (5) locality-surname, (6) surname- locality, The purpose of this system is to permit investigators to study traits and families and their geographical distribution from the point of view any of these combinations.

All this indexing of field workers’ reports was done at the facility pictured here below.

eropeopleero 1920

Need I point out that the Eugenics Committee of the ABA was founded in the good ol’ USofA when Adolf Hitler was only 14 years old? And these grandiose Eugenic plans for “cutting off defective strains” of people were homegrown right here.

But how did Eugenics get to this stage so quickly in America? After all, Francis Galton had only coined the word “Eugenics” in England in 1883, just twenty years before the founding of the ABA. And as noted in the previous entry in this series, the whole concept didn’t get very far in English society even after that twenty year period. Dabbling in the theory was barely more than a hobby shared by a small group of disorganized professional…and amateur…scientists Over There.

From what I can tell from my reading on the topic, there seems to have been in particular five influential factors that converged here in America at just the right time to set off an explosion of interest and activity related to Eugenics. I’ve decided to call these 5 factors the M&M&M&M&Ms.


No, not those 5 Ms. These Ms stand for Mendelism, Moneybags, and Media, along with Masses (huddled…) and Madison (Grant.)

We’ll start the exploration of these factors in the next installment of this series:

Mendelism: Monk-eying Around With Evolution


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