Timeline of Scientific Racism

This timeline gives an overview of scientific racism throughout the world, placing the Eugenics Record Office within a broader historical framework extending from Enlightenment-Era Europe to present-day social thought.


1759: Botanist Carl Linnaeus publishes the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, which is the first to fully describe the four races of man.

1770: Dutch naturalist Petrus Camper begins developing his “facial angle” formula, basing his ideal angle on Grecian statues.

1795: Anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach names the five races of man.

Early 1800s: Franz Joseph Gall develops “cranioscopy,” which is later renamed phrenology by his disciple Johann Spurzheim.

1810: John Caspar Lavater publishes the foundational text Essays on Physiognomy.

1828: George Combe publishes The Constitution of Man Considered in Relation to External Objects, linking phrenology and racial comparison.

1830s: Orson Fowler opens his Phrenological Cabinet in the heart of downtown Manhattan.

1832: Johann Gaspar Spurzheim invigorates the American phrenology movement with his series of lectures in Boston.

1839: Samuel George Morton introduces his theory of craniometry in Crania Americana.

1844: Scottish publisher Robert Chambers releases his Vestiges of the Natural History of Mankind, the most popular work of natural history prior to Darwin’s Origin of Species. Chambers argues that each race represents a different stage of human evolution with whites being the most evolved.

1852: American physician James W. Redfield writes Comparative Physiognomy, which equates each type of people with a specific animal.

1853: French thinker Arthur Comte Gobineau publishes An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Race, arguing for the primacy of the Aryan race.

1859: Charles Darwin release the first edition of On the Origin of Species.

1864: Herbert Spencer coins the phrase “survival of the fittest” in developing his theories of social Darwinism.

1865: French anthropologist Paul Broca develops his “table chromatique” for classifying skin color.

1866: Physician John Downs defines “Mongolian idiocy” which he argues is a regression to the “Oriental stage” of human development.

1869: Francis Galton publishes Hereditary Genius, outlining his theories or human breeding.

1876: Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso releases Criminal Man, which outlines his theory of criminal anthropology.

1877: Richard Dugdale publishes The Jukes, which links crime and heredity.

1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed, excluding Chinese laborers from immigration for ten years.

1883: Galton coins the term eugenics.

1886: Chief of the New York City Detective Bureau Thomas F. Byrnes publishes Professional Criminals of America in which he collects the mug shots of notable criminals.

1892: The Chinese Exclusion Act is renewed for ten more years under the Geary Act.

1893: The World’s Columbian Exposition opens in Chicago with country pavilions organized according to scientific theories of race.

1889: Andrew Carnegie pens “The Gospel of Wealth,” justifying the extreme wealth of the robber barrons.

1900: Gregor Mendel’s theories of inheritance are “rediscovered.”

1902: The Chinese Exclusion Act is made permanent.

1904: Curator of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institute Ales Hrdlicka publishes Broca’s “table chromatique” in the U.S.

1905: The German Society for Racial Hygiene is founded.

1905: Alfred Binet invents the IQ test for measuring intelligence.

1907: The Eugenics Education Society is founded in Britain.

1907: The first American compulsory sterilization law goes into effect in 1907 in Indiana with dozens of states following suit.

1910: Zoologist Charles Davenport founds the Eugenics Record Office at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory with a grant from Mrs. E.H. Harriman.

1911: The Joint-Congressional Dillingham Commission recommends reading and writing tests to slow “undesirable” immigration.

1911: Franz Boas publishes The Mind of Primitive Man arguing for the role of environmental factors in the apparent differences between races.

1912: The First International Conference of Eugenics is held in London, presided over by Charles Darwin’s son Leonard.

1913: Eugenicist Henry Goddard introduces the IQ test at Ellis Island.

1916: Madison Grant publishes The Passing of the Great Race, splitting Europe into three racial groups: Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans.

1917: The Immigration Act of 1917 includes the Asiatic Barred Zone, which excludes nearly all immigrants from Asia.

1920: Lothrop Stoddard writes The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy.

1921: The Emergency Quota Act is signed into law, heavily restricting immigration from Eastern & Southern Europe.

1921: The Second International Congress of Eugenics is held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

1923: Carl Bringham publishes A Study of American Intelligence, which uses the IQ testing done by Robert Yerkes to support differences in intelligence between races.

1924: The Immigration Act of 1924 becomes law imposing a quota system that favored Northern & Western Europe and excluding immigration from all of Asia.

1924: U.S. Congressman from New York Emanuel Celler gives his first major speech on the House floor against the Immigration Act of 1924.

1927: The Supreme Court upholds compulsory sterilization in Buck v. Bell.

1932: The Third International Eugenics Conference is held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. ERO Director Charles B. Davenport presides.

1932: The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences is released with many of the anthropology articles written by Boasians, not Grantians.

1933: The Third Reich enacts the first German compulsory sterilization law.

1935: The Carnegie Institution of Washington orders an external scientific review of the ERO, and finds its records “unsatisfactory for the scientific study of human genetics.”

1937: Madison Grant dies.

1937: The Pioneer Fund is founded by Wickliffe Draper to support racial research. ERO superintendent Harry Laughlin serves as its first president.

1939: The Eugenics Record Office shuts down.

1943: Chinese Exclusion is repealed and a quota is given of 105 immigrants per year.

1952: The McCarran-Walter bill is passed, revising but not eliminating the quota system of immigration.

1965: The Hart-Celler Act repeals the immigration quota system and establishes a new system based on skills and family relation.

1994: Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray release The Bell Curve which argues for racial difference in IQ.

1998: The American Anthropological Association issues a statement on race, concluding that contemporary science makes clear that human populations are not “unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups.”

2003: North Carolina finally repeals its compulsory sterilization law.

2014: New York Times journalist Nicholas Wade argues for race-based science in A Troublesome Inheritance.