Popular Science Monthly/Volume 76/April 1910/The Progress of Science



The bill before the congress to incorporate the Rockefeller Foundation opens up many social, educational and scientific problems. Its objects are stated to be "to promote the well-being and advance the civilization of the peoples of the United States and its territories and possessions, and of foreign lands, in the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, in the prevention of suffering and in the promotion of any and all the elements of human progress." The bill names as incorporators of the foundation John D. Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Fred T. Gates, Starr J. Murphy and Charles O. Heydt. The amount of the endowment is not known, but it is assumed that it will be very large, as Mr. Rockefeller has already given fifty-three million dollars to one board of much narrower scope.

There should be nothing but sincere appreciation of Mr. Rockefeller's generosity and public spirit. It is quite absurd to fancy that he has sinister motives or any other wish than to do good with his wealth. This would be the right attitude even if the money had been obtained by improper methods. But there are probably not many men of affairs in America whose transactions if so fully known would be less open to blame. Secret rebates and harsh competition are the charges. There are not many clergymen or statesmen who refuse to accept rebates from the railways and competition to the limit of the law is the common method of business. As a matter of fact, there has never been a man of business who has done so much to abolish competition as Mr. Rockefeller, who will probably be looked upon hereafter as the principal promoter of socialism.

Mr. Rockefeller's corporation for charity and public service is less original and less imposing than his business corporation. It is insignificant beside the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages or beside what is now being done by every state for charity and education. Mr. Rockefeller's wealth would scarcely support the public schools of the country for a single year. None the less a corporation of this kind will for a time have considerable power and there is some reason to fear that it will not be wholly beneficial.

Society is concerned more about the consumption of wealth than about its ownership, so long as the ownership is not used outside the ordinary methods of business. It is obvious that wealth is consumed more profitably in promoting the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and the prevention of suffering than along the paths which lead to the divorce courts. But it is not certain that it is better to divert capital from business enterprises, tie it up in real estate and lands exempted from taxation, and use the income permanently for charity. What may happen is shown by the Roman Catholic Church, which in the middle ages acquired naif the wealth of the nations and instead of contributing to the advancement of civilization became on the whole a barrier to progress.

Other corporations for public and charitable purposes are controlled by a board representing a church, the educational interests of a community, or the like, and have some definite object. This new corporation represents and is controlled by the Rockefeller family and its scope is unlimited. An emergency fund for the promotion of civilization appeals to the imagination, but it will not be easy to administer it. We have had recently experience of two such funds with more limited scope—the General Education Board and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, to which, respectively, Mr. Rockefeller has given $53,000,000 and Mr. Carnegie, $12,000,000.

The General Education Board does not even make public its activities or its accounts. It has concerned itself with agricultural education in the south, but its income has been spent in the main in contributing to the funds of colleges and universities on the condition that four times as much should be collected from other sources. It is not clear how the foundation is more useful than if the whole capital were at once distributed among the colleges and universities of the country in proportion to their existing endowments. The Carnegie Institution was established as an emergency fund for scientific research, but it was not found feasible to conduct it on these lines, and it now administers certain research institutions. Here again there seems to be no advantage in maintaining at Washington an expensive administrative office. It would be better to divide the capital among the observatories and laboratories and let them develop as they can.

Mr. Rockefeller's most useful and important benefactions are the University of Chicago and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. It would probably be of greatest benefit for society if he should use his fortune to establish three or four great universities with their research institutions, libraries, museums, theaters and hospitals. Chicago could be further endowed and universities established in the city of Washington, Texas and Oregon, or, if it were preferred to make the influence world wide, the universities could be in Washington, South America, China and Russia.


The benefits and dangers of a centralized endowment for public purposes are well shown by the Carnegie Foundation, the fourth annual report of whose president has recently been issued. On April 16, 1905, Mr. Andrew Carnegie addressed a letter to twenty-two college presidents and three business men whom he had selected as trustees, transferring to them $10,000,000 in bonds of the U. S. Steel Corporation "to provide retiring pensions for the teachers of universities, colleges and technical schools in our country, Canada and Newfoundland." He says that "expert calculation shows that the revenue will be ample for the purpose" and "I have reached the conclusion that the least rewarded of all the professions is that of the teacher in our higher educational institutions."

These college presidents drew up an act of incorporation and rules which in the main would distribute the income among certain institutions for their advantage rather than for the benefit of the individual professors. Cornell and Williams have continued to pay the pensions for which they had contracted, so their professors receive double pensions, but other institutions having pension systems have withdrawn them and diverted the money to other purposes. Professors in colleges accepted by the foundation and not having pension systems may benefit, as they receive annuities which they did not earn; but the salaries will soon be adjusted with a view to the I pensions, and the income of the foundation will be distributed among certain institutions having pension systems, not at all to individual professors.

The professors benefit only if a pension system is advantageous to them. Any one can purchase an annuity, and j it is doubtful whether the enforced purchase of annuities by professors combined with dismissal from their work is of benefit to them. A centralized system works especially to the disadvantage of the individual professor. If an institution had to pay a pension from its own funds, it would be much more conservative in retiring a professor who is willing and competent to stay in service. To benefit the professor, his salary should be paid for life and he should render such services as he can to advantage. The dismissal of professors on pensions throughout the country against their will may have the unfortunate effect of breaking down the permanent tenure of the professor's office, which has done more than anything else to give it dignity and to attract to it able men willing to serve for small salaries.

The act of incorporation of the Carnegie Foundation provided for two kinds of retiring allowances: (1) for long and meritorious service, and (2) for old age, disability or other sufficient reason. At the last meeting of the trustees, the retiring allowances for length of service were withdrawn, not only for the future but also retroactively from those to whom they had been promised. Dr. Pritchett, the president, states that the ground for withdrawal was that the rule worked badly: Dr. Jordan, one of the trustees, states that it was financially impossible to carry it out. Both results might have been foreseen, but neither seems to justify the foundation in breaking its engagements. The editor of the New York Evening Post does not hesitate to charge "a misty notion of the nature of moral obligations" and a violation of "the ordinary standards of honorable conduct between man and man."

The foundation supplies an additional income to a number of colleges and universities; but this appears to be the end of its usefulness. The attempt of an energetic president to lord it over the educational development of the country has done some temporary harm; but the money by which he can purchase submission will soon be exhausted. It has been a sorry sight to see institutions raising standards which they can not and should not maintain, freeing themselves nominally from denominational control—one has offered to establish an undenominational holding company—and most of

PSM V76 D418 Harvard university grounds around 1857.png
This photograph, showing a part of Harvard University in 1857 or 1858, is contributed to the Harvard Graduates' Magazine by Professor F. W. Putnam. The small square building of wood on the right of the church is the Agassiz Museum. Massachusetts Hall and Harvard Hall are shown on the right. The Agassiz Museum Building was erected in 1850. After the first section of the present Museum of Comparative Zoology was built, in 1859-60, the old Museum Building was moved to the site now occupied by the Peabody Museum. It was remodeled for living-rooms for Agassiz's students and assistants.

all to watch the great state universities begging the favor of a private corporation. Thirty-two state legislatures have approved the request for money, and the foundation finds that four of the universities are worthy, while the others—institutions such as California and Illinois—must be further investigated. The president tells the governor of Ohio how the universities of that great state should be administered; he says that "in nearly every state" there is "educational demoralization."

In his last report Dr. Pritchett makes all kinds of recommendations. Some are in themselves good and some bad, but all are bad in so far as they come from that source., for there is an implicit threat everywhere that institutions must do as they are told or they will not receive Carnegie money. The best thing that could happen would be for the foundation to retire its president with a liberal pension to write about education over his own signature, and then, as the Peabody Fund has wisely done, to dissolve and distribute its funds among our colleges.

PSM V76 D419 Amos Emerson Dolbear.png
Amos Emerson Dolbear.


In the death of Dr. Dolbear, for thirty-six years professor of physics and astronomy at Tufts College, America loses a man of science of a type that is now becoming rare. Born in New England in 1837, and left early an orphan child, he worked on a farm and at other odd jobs, attending the district school when he could. He became a machinist, had various adventures, and when twenty-six entered what is now the Ohio Wesleyan University. He taught natural history and the physical sciences in western institutions until called to Tufts College in 1874. He was early an inventor and later made inventions which led him to believe that had anticipated both the telephone and wireless telegraphy. He was, however, unsuccessful in his suit against the Bell Telephone Company. But Dr. Dolbear did not confine himself to inventions; he did experimental work in various directions, wrote text-books and made addresses, and in his last work, entitled "Matter, Ether and Motion," discussed the fundamental principles of his science. Dr. Dolbear, in whose personality were commingled some of the traits of the scholar, the clergyman, the mechanic and the farmer, won the affectionate regard of all who were associated with him.


We record with regret the deaths of Dr. Charles R. Barnes, professor of plant physiology at the University of j Chicago; Dr. Henry Byron Newson, professor of mathematics in the University of Kansas; Professor J. Edmund Wright, associate professor of mathematics in Bryn Mawr College; Dr. J. A. Bergstrom, professor of pedagogy in Sanford University, and Dr. Charles F. Wheeler, botanical expert in the Department of Agriculture.

Lord Rayleigh has been elected a foreign associate of the Paris Academy of Sciences in succession to the late Simon Newcomb.—The Edison medal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers has been presented to Professor Elihu Thomson.—Dr. Hugo Münsterberg, professor of psychology at Harvard University, has been appointed exchange professor to lecture at Berlin in 1910-11.—Dr. S. Weir Mitchell celebrated his eightieth birthday on February 15. On the following day he gave a lecture before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia on "William Harvey, the Discoverer of the Circulation of the Blood."—Sir William Huggins, F.R.S., the eminent astronomer, celebrated his eighty-sixth birthday on February 7 at his residence at Tulsehill.

For the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which is to take place this year at Sheffield, beginning on August 31, under the presidency of the Rev. Professor T. G. Bonney, F.R.S., the following presidents have been appointed to the various sections: Section A (Mathematical and Physical Science), E. W. Hobson, F.R.S.; Section B (Chemistry), J. E. Stead, F.R.S.; Section C (Geology), Professor A. P. Coleman, Ph.D.; Section D (Zoology), Professor G. C. Bourne,.D.Se.; Section E (Geography), Professor A. J. Herbertson, Ph.D.; Section F (Economic Science and Statistics), Sir H. Llewellyn Smith, K.C.B.; Section G (Engineering), Professor W. E. Dalby, D.Sc.; Section H (Anthropology), W. Crooke, B.A.; Section I (Physiology), Professor A. B. Macallum, F.R.S.; Section K (Botany), Professor J. W. H. Trail, F.R.S.; Section L (Educational Science), Principal H. A. Miers, F.R.S.—The French Association for the Advancement of Science will hold its thirty-ninth annual meeting at Toulouse in August under the presidency of M. Gariel, professor of biological physics in the faculty of medicine of the University of Paris.

Columbia University has received an anonymous gift of $350,000 for a building for the faculty of philosophy.—A gift of $150,000 for the erection of an administration building and library at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been made by the Pittsburgh Alumni Association.—The medical school of the University of Pennsylvania has been given $100,000 by an unnamed alumnus to endow a chair to be known as "the Benjamin Rush professorship of physiological chemistry."—Tufts College has been made the residuary legatee under the will of John Everett Smith, and will, it is said, receive on the death of Mrs. Smith the sum of $500,000.