William Z. Ripley

Last updated
William Z. Ripley
Born(1867-08-16)August 16, 1867
DiedOctober 16, 1941(1941-10-16) (aged 74)
Institution Columbia University (1893–1901)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1895–1901)
Harvard University (1901)
Alma mater Columbia University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

William Zebina Ripley (October 13, 1867 – August 16, 1941) was an American economist, lecturer at Columbia University, professor of economics at MIT, professor of political economy at Harvard University, and racial anthropologist. Ripley was famous for his criticisms of American railroad economics and American business practices in the 1920s and 1930s, and later for his tripartite racial theory of Europe. His work of racial anthropology was later taken up by racial physical anthropologists, eugenicists, and white supremacists, and was considered a valid academic work at the time, although today it is considered to be a prime example of scientific racism. [1] [2]


Early life and education

He was born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1867 to Nathaniel L. Ripley and Estimate R. E. Ripley (née Baldwin). He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his undergraduate education in engineering, graduating in 1890, and he received a master's and doctorate degree from Columbia University in 1892 and 1893 respectively. In 1893, he was married to Ida S. Davis.

From 1893 to 1901, Ripley lectured on sociology at Columbia University and from 1895 to 1901, he was a professor of economics at MIT. From 1901 onwards, he was a professor of political economics at Harvard University. [3]

He was a corresponding member of the Anthropological Society of Paris, the Roman Anthropological Society, the Cherbourg Society of Natural Sciences, and in 1898 and 1900 to 1901, he was the vice president of the American Economic Association. [4]


The Races of Europe

Ripley's map of cephalic index in Europe, from The Races of Europe (1899). Ripley map of cephalic index in Europe.png
Ripley's map of cephalic index in Europe, from The Races of Europe (1899).

In 1899, he authored a book entitled The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study , which had grown out of a series of lectures he had given at the Lowell Institute at Columbia in 1896. Like many Americans of his time, at every level of education, Ripley believed that the concept of race was explanatory of human difference. Even further, he believed it to be the central engine to understanding human history, although his work also afforded strong weight to environmental and non-biological factors, such as traditions. He believed, as he wrote in the introduction to Races of Europe, that:

"Race, properly speaking, is responsible only for those peculiarities, mental or bodily, which are transmitted with constancy along the lines of direct physical descent from father to son. Many mental traits, aptitudes, or proclivities, on the other hand, which reappear persistently in successive populations may be derived from an entirely different source. They may have descended collaterally, along the lines of purely mental suggestion by virtue of mere social contact with preceding generations." [5]
Map of Color of Skin - figures indicate tint in Broca's scale Color of Skin after G Gerland.jpg
Map of Color of Skin - figures indicate tint in Broca's scale

Ripley's book, written to help finance his children's education, became a widely accepted work of anthropology, due to its careful writing, compilation of seemingly valid data, and close criticism of the data of many other anthropologists in Europe and the United States.

Ripley based his conclusions about race on his attempts to correlate anthropometric data with geographical data, especially using the cephalic index, which at the time was considered a reliable anthropometric measure. Based on these measurements and other socio-geographical data, Ripley classified Europeans into three distinct races:

  1. Teutonic — members of the northern race were long-skulled (or dolichocephalic), tall in stature, and possessed pale eyes and skin.
  2. Alpine — members of the central race were round-skulled (or brachycephalic), stocky in stature, and possessed intermediate eye and skin color.
  3. Mediterranean — members of the southern race were long-skulled (or dolichocephalic), short in stature, and possessed dark eyes and skin.

In his book, Ripley also proposed the idea that "Africa begins beyond the Pyrenees", as he wrote in page 272:

"Beyond the Pyrenees begins Africa. Once that natural barrier is crossed, the Mediterranean racial type in all its purity confronts us. The human phenomena is entirely parallel with the sudden transition to the flora and fauna of the south. The Iberian population thus isolated from the rest of Europe, are allied in all important anthropological respects with the peoples inhabiting Africa north of the Sahara, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic." [6]

Ripley's tripartite system of race put him at odds both with others on the topic of human difference, including those who insisted that there was only one European race, and those who insisted that there were at least ten European races (such as Joseph Deniker, who Ripley saw as his chief rival). The conflict between Ripley and Deniker was criticized by Jan Czekanowski, who states, that "the great discrepancies between their claims decrease the authority of anthropology", and what is more, he points out, that both Deniker and Ripley had one common feature, as they both omitted the existence of an Armenoid race , which Czekanowski claimed to be one of the four main races of Europe, met especially among the Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans. [7] Writing at a time when such racialist theories were widely accepted among academics, Ripley was the first American recipient of the Huxley Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1908 for his contributions to anthropology.

The Races of Europe, overall, became an influential book of the era in the then-accepted field of racial taxonomy. [8] Ripley's tripartite system of racial classification was especially championed by the racist propagandist Madison Grant, who changed Ripley's "Teutonic" type into Grant's own Nordic type (taking the name, but little else, from Deniker), which he postulated as a master race. [9] It is in this light that Ripley's work on race is usually remembered today, though little of Grant's racist ideology is present in Ripley's original work.[ citation needed ]


Ripley worked under Theodore Roosevelt on the United States Industrial Commission in 1900, helping negotiate relations between railway companies and anthracite coal companies. He served on the Eight Hour Commission in 1916, adjusting railway wages to the new eight-hour workday. From 1917 to 1918, he served as Administrator of Labor Standards for the United States Department of War, and helped to settle railway strikes.

Ripley was the Vice President of the American Economics Association 1898, 1900, and 1901, and was elected president of it in 1933. From 1919 to 1920, he served as the chairman of the National Adjustment Commission of the United States Shipping Board, and from 1920 to 1923, he served with the Interstate Commerce Commission. In 1921, he was ICC special examiner on the construction of railroads. There, he wrote the ICC's plan for the regional consolidation of U.S. railways, which became known as the Ripley Plan. In 1929, the ICC published Ripley's Plan under the title Complete Plan of Consolidation. Numerous hearings were held by the ICC regarding the plan under the topic of "In the Matter of Consolidation of the Railways of the United States into a Limited Number of Systems". [10] [11] (In 1940, however, Congress declined to adopt the consolidation plan. [12] )

Starting with a series of articles in the Atlantic Monthly in 1925 under the headlines of "Stop, Look, Listen!", Ripley became a major critic of American corporate practices. In 1926, he issued a well-circulated critique of Wall Street's practices of speculation and secrecy. He received a full-page profile in The New York Times with the headline, "When Ripley Speaks, Wall Street Heeds". [13] According to Time magazine, Ripley became widely known as "The Professor Who Jarred Wall Street". [14]

However, after an automobile accident in January 1927, Ripley suffered a nervous breakdown and was forced to recuperate at a sanitarium in Connecticut. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he was occasionally credited with having predicted the financial disaster. In December 1929, The New York Times said:

"Three years ago [Ripley] spoke some plain words about Wall Street. An automobile crash and a nervous breakdown followed. A few weeks ago Wall Street had its crash and breakdown. Now Professor Ripley is preparing to return to his Harvard classes next February." [15]

He was unable to return to teaching until at least 1929. However, in the early 1930s, he continued to issue criticisms of the railroad industry labor practices. In 1931, he had also testified at a Senate banking inquiry, urging the curbing of investment trusts. In 1932, he appeared at the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, and demanded public inquiry into the financial affairs of corporations and authored a series of articles in The New York Times stressing the importance of railroad economics to the country's economy. Yet, by the end of the year he had suffered another nervous breakdown, and retired in early 1933.

Ripley died in 1941 at his summer home in East Edgecomb, Maine. An obituary in The New York Times implied that Ripley had predicted the 1929 crash with his "fearless exposés" of Wall Street practices, in particular his pronouncement that:

"Prosperity, not real but specious, may indeed be unduly protracted by artificial means, but in the end truth is bound to prevail." [3]

His book, Railway Problems: An Early History of Competition, Rates and Regulations, was republished in 2000 as part of a "Business Classic" series. [16]


See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Interstate Commerce Commission</span> Defunct United States federal regulatory agency (1887-1996)

The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was a regulatory agency in the United States created by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The agency's original purpose was to regulate railroads to ensure fair rates, to eliminate rate discrimination, and to regulate other aspects of common carriers, including interstate bus lines and telephone companies. Congress expanded ICC authority to regulate other modes of commerce beginning in 1906. Throughout the 20th century, several of ICC's authorities were transferred to other federal agencies. The ICC was abolished in 1995, and its remaining functions were transferred to the Surface Transportation Board.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carleton S. Coon</span> American anthropologist (1904–1981)

Carleton Stevens Coon was an American anthropologist. A professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, lecturer and professor at Harvard University, he was president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Coon's theories on race were widely disputed in his lifetime and are considered pseudoscientific in modern anthropology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dinaric race</span> Defunct antroplogic class

The Dinaric race, also known as the Adriatic race, were terms used by certain physical anthropologists in the early to mid-20th century to describe the perceived predominant phenotype of the contemporary ethnic groups of southeast Europe.

William Julius Wilson is an American sociologist. He is a professor at Harvard University and author of works on urban sociology, race and class issues. Laureate of the National Medal of Science, he served as the 80th President of the American Sociological Association, was a member of numerous national boards and commissions. He identified the importance of neighborhood effects and demonstrated how limited employment opportunities and weakened institutional resources exacerbated poverty within American inner-city neighborhoods.

The Caucasian race is an obsolete racial classification of human beings based on a now-disproven theory of biological race. The Caucasian race was historically regarded as a biological taxon which, depending on which of the historical race classifications was being used, usually included ancient and modern populations from all or parts of Europe, Western Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.

Scientific racism, sometimes termed biological racism, is the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism, racial inferiority, or racial superiority. Before the mid-20th century, scientific racism received credence throughout the scientific community, but it is no longer considered scientific. The division of humankind into biologically distinct groups, and the attribution of specific traits both physical and mental to them by constructing and applying corresponding explanatory models, i.e. racial theories, is sometimes called racialism, race realism, or race science by its proponents. Modern scientific consensus rejects this view as being irreconcilable with modern genetic research.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Craniometry</span> Measurement of the human cranium

Craniometry is measurement of the cranium, usually the human cranium. It is a subset of cephalometry, measurement of the head, which in humans is a subset of anthropometry, measurement of the human body. It is distinct from phrenology, the pseudoscience that tried to link personality and character to head shape, and physiognomy, which tried the same for facial features. However, these fields have all claimed the ability to predict traits or intelligence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph Deniker</span>

Joseph Deniker was a Russian and French naturalist and anthropologist, known primarily for his attempts to develop highly detailed maps of race in Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jan Czekanowski</span>

Jan Czekanowski was a Polish anthropologist, statistician, ethnographer, traveller, and linguist. His scientific contributions include introducing his system of racial classification and founding the field of computational linguistics.

The Nordic race was a racial concept which originated in 19th century anthropology. It was considered a race or one of the putative sub-races into which some late-19th to mid-20th century anthropologists divided the Caucasian race, claiming that its ancestral homelands were Northwestern and Northern Europe, particularly to populations such as Anglo-Saxons, Germanic peoples, Balts, Baltic Finns, Northern French, and certain Celts and Slavs. The supposed physical traits of the Nordics included light eyes, light skin, tall stature, and dolichocephalic skull; their psychological traits were deemed to be truthfulness, equitability, a competitive spirit, naivete, reservedness, and individualism. In the early 20th century, the belief that the Nordic race constituted the superior branch of the Caucasian race gave rise to the ideology of Nordicism.

The Mediterranean race was a historical race concept that was a sub-race of the Caucasian race as categorised by anthropologists in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. According to various definitions, it was said to be prevalent in the Mediterranean Basin and areas near the Mediterranean, especially in Southern Europe, North Africa, most of Western Asia, the Middle East or Near East; western Central Asia, parts of South Asia, and parts of the Horn of Africa. To a lesser extent, certain populations of people in Ireland, western parts of Great Britain, and Southern Germany, despite living far from the Mediterranean, were thought to have some minority Mediterranean elements in their population, such as Bavaria, Wales, and Cornwall.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nordicism</span> Ideology of "Nordic race" supremacy

Nordicism is an ideology of racism which views the historical race concept of the "Nordic race" as an endangered and superior racial group. Some notable and seminal Nordicist works include Madison Grant's book The Passing of the Great Race (1916); Arthur de Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853); the various writings of Lothrop Stoddard; Houston Stewart Chamberlain's The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899); and, to a lesser extent, William Z. Ripley’s The Races of Europe (1899). The ideology became popular in the late-19th and 20th centuries in Germanic-speaking Europe, Northwestern Europe, Central Europe, and Northern Europe, as well as in North America and Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine race</span> Historical racial category

The Alpine race is a historical race concept defined by some late 19th-century and early 20th-century anthropologists as one of the sub-races of the Caucasian race. The origin of the Alpine race was variously identified. Ripley argued that it migrated from Central Asia during the Neolithic revolution, splitting the Nordic and Mediterranean populations. It was also identified as descending from the Celts residing in Central Europe in Neolithic times. The Alpine race is mainly distinguished by its moderate stature, neotenous features, and cranial measurements, such as high cephalic index.

The Armenoid race was a supposed sub-race in the context of a now-outdated model of dividing humanity into different races which was developed originally by Europeans in support of colonialism. The Armenoid race was variously described as a "sub-race" of the "Aryan race" or the "Caucasian race".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Georges Vacher de Lapouge</span> French anthropologist

Count Georges Vacher de Lapouge was a French anthropologist and a theoretician of eugenics and racialism. He is known as the founder of anthroposociology, the anthropological and sociological study of race as a means of establishing the superiority of certain peoples.

Biraja Sankar Guha was an Indian physical anthropologist, who classified Indian people into races around the early part of the 20th century and he was also a pioneer to popularize his scientific ideas in the vernacular. He was the first Director of the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) (1945–1954).

Various attempts have been made, under the British Raj and since, to classify the population of India according to a racial typology. After independence, in pursuance of the government's policy to discourage distinctions between communities based on race, the 1951 Census of India did away with racial classifications. Today, the national Census of independent India does not recognise any racial groups in India.

<i>The Races of Europe</i> (Ripley book) Book by William Z. Ripley

William Z. Ripley published in 1899 The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study, which grew out of a series of lectures he gave at the Lowell Institute at Columbia in 1896. Ripley believed that race was critical to understanding human history, though his work afforded environmental and non-biological factors, such as traditions, a strong weight as well. He believed, as he wrote in the introduction to The Races of Europe, that:

The Atlantid race or North-Atlantid is a term historically used as one of the sub-races of the Caucasoid race. The term was popular in the early 20th century.

The history of anthropometry includes its use as an early tool of anthropology, use for identification, use for the purposes of understanding human physical variation in paleoanthropology and in various attempts to correlate physical with racial and psychological traits. At various points in history, certain anthropometrics have been cited by advocates of discrimination and eugenics often as part of novel social movements or based upon pseudoscience.


  1. Cravens, H. (1996). "Scientific racism in modern America, 1870s–1990s". Prospects. 21: 471–490. doi:10.1017/S0361233300006633.
  2. Spiro, Jonathan P. (2009). Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. University of Vermont Press. ISBN   978-1-58465-715-6.
  3. 1 2 Biographical information taken from "Professor Ripley of Harvard Dies". The New York Times. 17 August 1941. p. 39.
  4. "RIPLEY, William Zebina," in Albert Nelson Marquis, ed., Who's Who In New England (Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Co., 1916), p. 909.
  5. William Z. Ripley, The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1899), p.1.
  6. William Z. Ripley, The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1899), p.272.
  7. Czekanowski, Jan (1934). Człowiek w Czasie i Przestrzeni (eng. A Human in Time and Space) - The lexicon of biological anthropology. Kraków, Poland: Trzaska, Ewert i Michalski - Bibljoteka Wiedzy.
  8. Leonard, Thomas C. (2003). "'More Merciful and Not Less Effective': Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era". Historical of Political Economy. 35 (4): 687–712. CiteSeerX . doi:10.1215/00182702-35-4-687. S2CID   143764318. Discussion of Ripley's work on p. 690. .
  9. Guterl, Matthew Press (2001). The Color of Race in America, 1900–1940 . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-00615-7 , and Spiro, Jonathan P. (2000). Patrician racist: The evolution of Madison Grant. Ph.D. diss., Dept. of History, University of California, Berkeley.
  10. See Appendix B, "Review of Recent Railroad Merger History" in United States Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, A Review of National Railroad Issues (NTIS Order #PB-250622, December 1975).
  11. Miranti, Jr., Paul J. "Ripley, William Z. (1867-1941)" In History of Accounting: an International Encyclopedia, edited by Michael Chatfield and Richard Vangermeersch. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996. Pp. 502-505.
  12. United States. Transportation Act of 1940, Sept. 18, 1940, ch. 722, 54  Stat.   898.
  13. Much of this biographical information comes from the article, "When Ripley Speaks, Wall Street Heeds". The New York Times. 26 September 1926. p. 7, as well as "Professor Ripley of Harvard Dies". The New York Times. 17 August 1941. p. 39.
  14. Obituaries, Time magazine (25 August 1941).
  15. S.T. Williamson, "William Z. Ripley — And Some Others" The New York Times (29 December 1929), p. XX2.
  16. William Z. Ripley. Railway Problems: An Early History of Competition, Rates and Regulations. Beard Books, 2000.

Further reading