He created a hat with vents to keep a cool head, invented a new way to cut round cakes and devised an algorithm to make the perfect cup of tea.
But Francis Galton’s achievements as an inventor, meteorologist and statistician pale into insignificance compared to what he is primarily remembered for.
The Victorian scientist was the founder of eugenics: the movement that aimed to eliminate supposedly undesirable human characteristics from the population.
Now a new BBC Radio 4 documentary, presented by renowned scientist and author Adam Rutherford, will tell the dark history of eugenics.
The beliefs gained immense popularity around the world in the early 20th century, with the first international convention on the subject held in London in 1912.
Eminent figures, including the future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the inventor of the telephone Alexander Graham Bell were among those in attendance.
But the idea that the genetic quality of the human race could be improved eventually led to some of the worst horrors of the 20th century.
The first sterilization law – which prevented some disabled people from having children – was enacted in Indiana in 1907. About 70,000 people were forcibly sterilized in the country until the practice was finally discontinued in the 1970s.
Eugenic ideas were then fervently adopted in Nazi Germany, first with a similar sterilization program and then during the Holocaust, when six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered during World War II.
Francis created a hat with vents to keep a cool head, invented a new way to cut round cakes and devised an algorithm to make the perfect cup of tea. But the Victorian scientist was also the founder of eugenics: the movement aimed at eliminating supposedly undesirable human traits from the population
Galton’s work outside eugenics was wide and varied.
He was the first to plot a weather map and created a ‘beauty map’ of Britain that ranked women on a scale from attractive to repulsive.
Galton, who was very proud of the fact that he was a cousin of Charles Darwin – the father of evolution – coined the term eugenics in the 1880s by combining the Greek words for ‘good’ and ‘born’.
His initial ideas were inspired by reading Darwin’s famous work On the Origin of Species, which laid out his theory of natural selection.
Galton pursued eugenics to, in his words, “give the more suitable races or bloodlines a better chance of triumphing over the less suitable.”
He also said it should be pursued as a “jihad, a holy war against customs and prejudices that erode the physical and moral qualities of our race.”
In a conversation with Dr. Rutherford in Bad Blood: The Story of Eugenics, historian of science Professor Philippa Levine said: ‘Galton’s particular contribution, in addition to the term eugenics, is this principle of bringing together quantification on the one hand and the dream of the human race on the other.
About 70,000 people were forcibly sterilized in the country until the practice was finally discontinued in the 1970s. Above: Families in Topeka, Kansas compete in the “Fitter Family” competition designed in 1925 to find the most eugenically perfect family. These competitions were a popular form of eugenics education in the 1920s.
Eugenic ideas were then fervently adopted in Nazi Germany, first with a similar sterilization program and then during the Holocaust, when six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered during World War II. Above: Auschwitz prisoners are photographed after the liberation of the extermination camp in 1945
Photos from “Indian Dwarfism” by the Eugenics Society in 1912. Dwarfism refers to people who are four feet tall or under as a result of a genetic or medical condition. Before the atrocities of Nazi Germany, eugenics – the system of measuring human traits, seeking out the desirable and removing the undesirable – was once practiced all over the world
“And if you add those two and two together, you get the explosion, I think, of eugenics.”
The idea of eugenics proved extremely popular in wider society, with over a hundred novels written on the theme.
Galton’s ideas were also adopted by the Eugenics Education Society, which was founded in Britain in 1907.
It campaigned for sterilization and marriage restrictions on the weak to prevent the degeneration of the British people.
A year after Galton’s death in 1911, the International Eugenics Congress was attended by the great and the good.
Speeches at the conference included those asserting the perceived inferiority of the poor and working class.
As Home Secretary, Churchill would write the first drafts of the Mental Deficiency Act, which came into effect in 1913.
It allowed for the involuntary institutionalization of those deemed “feeble-minded,” but crucially, the law did not include any program of forced sterilization.
In the US, however, forced sterilization was taken up with fervor in 32 states.
Winston Churchill would go on to write early drafts of the Mental Deficiency Act, which became law in 1913
French researcher Alphonse Bertillon demonstrates how to measure a human skull in 1894 in Paris, France. Bertillon was a criminologist who was the first to develop a system for measuring physical body parts – specifically of the head and face – to find out if someone might be a criminal
In California alone, from 1918 to 1953, more than 20,000 people imprisoned in institutions for the mentally ill were put through the process.
In Virginia, more than 7,000 people were rendered permanently infertile between 1924 and 1979.
Other countries that passed similar sterilization laws in the 1920s and 1930s include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland.
But it was in Nazi Germany that the most barbaric crimes were committed in the name of the betterment of society.
In a network of extermination camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau in Nazi-occupied Poland, millions of people were murdered in gas chambers and other means from 1941 to 1945.
In Auschwitz alone, 1.1 million people met their fate.
The Nazis murdered thousands more disabled, mentally ill and gay people.
But even after the atrocities committed in World War II, eugenics didn’t go away.
China allegedly sterilized 10,000 women who violated the former one-child rule.
The practice is also reportedly used by Chinese authorities on thousands of Uyghur Muslims.
In India, millions were allegedly forcibly sterilized under the policies of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The first episode of Bad Blood: The Story of Eugenics airs Monday at 4.30pm on BBC Radio 4.