Gene Pool of Geniuses

Robert K. Graham, born in the small town of Harbor Springs in northern Michigan, had a curious mind even as a young boy. He noticed in his small town that many of the successful people in his town were childless, and this troubled him.

Then, after attending college at Michigan State,  he became a salesman calling on doctors for ten years. Robert Graham made his fame by “perservering with an abandoned effort to transform a plastic used in World War II bomber fuel tanks and windows into lightweight eye-glass lenses” (Van-Gelder). A self-made millionaire due to these shatter-proof eyeglass lenses, Graham began to set his sights on the problem that had been bothering him. He wrote a book, “The Future of Man,” in which he proposes “various ways  to deal with vast human derangement brought about by the decline in average human intelligence” ( With his friends Raymond Cattell and through Cattell famous geneticist  Hermann J. Muller, he began to brainstorm a facility that would assist in the creation of a new breed of high intellectuals.

A revolutionary idea that sounds like it couldn’t be real, was brought forth in 1980 when Graham created the Repository for Germinal Choice. Despite the fancy language, this facility was in it’s primary function, was essentially a sperm bank for geniuses. With Nobel Laureates and intellectuals across the globe making donations, it would seem that Graham was on the path to creating a population of humanity’s finest. Despite allegations that he was a racist and even a Nazi (he admitted all of the donors were white), Graham denied the accusation that he was attempting to build a super race of any kind,  stating ” We will accept excellence in any race. What we’re trying to do is optimize the conditions for having children” (Van Gelder).

According to Anita Neff, the administrator of the Repository, around 218 people had been born at the time (1997), the oldest being fifteen (now thirty-two). Recruiting donors from all over college campuses,  Julianna Mckillop revealed that the she traveled up and down the West Coast several times to ask for samples from students and professors. However despite this, one donor ever publically acknowledged taking part: William Shockley. According to Graham, there were at least two other Nobel donors, and a total of nineteen donors who repeatedly donated.\

Interestingly enough, the optimal women that took part in the Repository did not need to meet the same requirements. Most of them had trouble producing children, and in several cases hereditary effects possessed by the husbands prevented any chance of further lineage. Furthermore, these women were not required to go through any genetic screening or take an IQ test of any kind, which seems odd for group that wants to breed geniuses.

Fifteen years after the closing of the Repository for Germinal Choice and seventeen years after Robert K. Graham’s death, the results of his genetic matching seem relatively ordinary. Though many of them did well in school, most have settled into a more normal adult rhythm of life: an owner of a roofing business, a dancer, and an opera singer, among other careers.

While it seems that what was once fantastical and shocking brainstorm by a brash millionaire has just petered out into something non-extraordinary and that’s the end of it, there are still questions that linger around what might have been.



4 thoughts on “Gene Pool of Geniuses

  1. I find this particularly interesting when looked at in terms of the nature vs. nurture debate. The nature argument would assume that with the DNA of these highly intelligent men, that their offspring would possess high IQ’s as well. The information above promotes the nurture debate- that their intelligence was determined by their upbringing not their genes. The fact that the women participating in the study did not have exceptionally high IQs could have also contributed to their “average” offspring. I guess though if the mothers did have the same high IQ’s as the fathers, the nature vs. nurture experiment would be tainted since likely a parent with a high IQ would raise a child with to value intellect and academia. Therefore, the nurture wouldn’t be neutral.


  2. Despite the fact that Graham was a Nazi and denied the accusation of trying to build and form a superior race, this experiment is incredibly interesting. However, it does seem as though they would have tried to find women with high IQ’s willing to participate in the experiment. Because their IQ’s were not taken, it seems as though it would make sense that the results were average. I would like to see what would have happened if women with high IQ’s were used to raise these kids.


  3. cotterem says:

    One part of this post that stood out to me was the fact that Graham believed there was a “decline in average human intelligence”. If this is true (I don’t know if it because I don’t know what kind of evidence he was using to support this claim), why is his solution to breed supposedly more genetically intelligent humans instead of targeting the reasons for this decline in intelligence? How does he know that this is because of nature and not nurture, as Emma mentions? Although education isn’t necessarily part of this experiment, I think there is more to be looked at in that direction and shows that this topic that extends into many, many other discussions.


  4. A very outlandish idea to say the least. I think if we’re to relate this to economics, his goal was to create geniuses who would hopefully go out into the world and do amazing things, start businesses, revolutionize theories, etc. Imagine if this idea were to have taken off our way of reproduction would be drastically different, and natural selection would be much more prevalent in the human race. A very interesting topic, crazy to think what it would be like had this plan gone accordingly.


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