August 17, 1999
More on The Pioneer Fund
A Breed Apart: A Long-Ago Effort to Better
the Species Yields Ordinary Folks
Pioneer Fund Tried to Spread `Natural Endowments'
of Top Air Force Fliers
'Sound and Desirable Stock'
By DOUGLAS A. BLACKMON
Staff Reporter, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
WARE, Mass. Tomorrow, Ward and Darby Warburton,
twin brothers born on Aug. 18, 1940, will celebrate their 59th birthdays
with cake and a crowd of grandchildren gathered at the home of their
86-year-old mother near this picturesque New England mill town.
The brothers' shared birthday marks something
more than another milestone in the lives of two World War II-era
babies. It also marks the start of their involvement in an odd
experiment six decades ago of which the Warburton family was a
mostly unwitting subject.
Long before cloned sheep, egg donors and sperm
banks, a group of wealthy Northeastern conservatives embarked
on an experiment with the help of the U.S. Army Air Corps to find
a way to improve the human race. The group, formed in 1937, called
itself the Pioneer Fund. As is spelled out in hundreds of pages
of documents and letters by its founders and their associates,
the Pioneer Fund, alarmed by the declining U.S. birth rate and
rising immigration, was at the forefront of the eugenics movement.
Like many other prominent leaders of the time, the fund's directors
were particularly concerned that "superior" Americans were not
reproducing enough to pass on their "natural endowments."
So they set out to spur procreation among a group
they regarded as superior indeed -- military pilots and their
crews. With the support of Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of
war, Harry H. Woodring, the group offered $4,000, about $46,000
in today's dollars, for the education of additional children born
during the year 1940 to any officer who already had at least three
The Air Corps precursor to the U.S. Air
Force promoted the program and provided the fund's psychologists
extensive records on its officers, including training, parentage,
race and religion, according to various memos and letters written
among Pioneer Fund leaders and records of the experiment. By the
end of 1940, a dozen qualifying infants seven boys and
five girls, including two sets of twins had been born.
The Pioneer Fund had expected bigger numbers. Looming war clouds
seemed to have trumped the fund's financial incentives. The Pioneer
Fund quietly made arrangements for the children to receive their
scholarships, and never contacted the families again.
The Pioneer Fund, which today remains a controversial
funder of research into the roots of intelligence, says the 1940
effort was a legitimate experiment to gauge attitudes toward family
size, and nothing more. The Air Force declines to comment.
But how did the kids turn out?
The Wall Street Journal was able to track down
eight of the 12 born in 1940. One died as an infant. But the other
seven grew up to be moderately successful citizens. Some didn't
know the background behind the payments received long ago and
were vaguely troubled to learn the details. Among the seven children
who survived into adulthood, there are no ranking generals and
no war heroes. No criminals, either.
"My dad told me they were trying to create more
fighting men," jokes Ward Warburton. "Well, I did get into a lot
of fights coming up. And I could always take care of myself pretty
Today, the Warburton brothers are air-conditioning
repairmen, each with his own successful small business here in
Ware, a town of 10,000 about 25 miles from Springfield, Mass.
"I doubt we're superior," says John F. Rawlings,
an affable Seattle homebuilder, whose father became one of the
first four-star generals in the Air Force and later the chairman
of General Mills Inc. The younger Mr. Rawlings joined the Air
Force but was too nearsighted to fly. He says he inherited the
bad eyes from his mother.
The stories of the Pioneer Fund children and
the largely routine lives they have led underscore the naivete
of such a clumsy effort to sculpt the human race. But they also
are reminders of sinister racial assumptions prevalent in mainstream
America just a generation ago.
All officers in the Air Corps were white; African-Americans
were barred from the Air Corps until 1941, and even then were
shunted into all-black squadrons. Many early genetic researchers
believed that race-mixing would damage the white race's "germ
plasm" a human component that early scientists believed
carried a race's hereditary traits. Leaders in Nazi Germany fervently
embraced such eugenic theories.
The pilot procreation plan was endorsed by an
array of high-ranking military and political leaders, including
Mr. Woodring, one of President Roosevelt's top aides. Moreover,
many U.S. states had laws in that era authorizing the sterilization
of mentally retarded people. Conventional wisdom held that whites
almost certainly were born smarter than blacks.
"Hitler thought that, too," says Michael Skeldon,
another of the Pioneer Fund children. Now a supervisor at a San
Antonio air-conditioner factory, Mr. Skeldon was troubled to learn
what was behind the mysterious payments his family received long
ago. "I find real odd this Pioneer group trying to mold people."
As it turns out, creating a better race was more
complicated than the Pioneer Fund and its allies thought back
in 1938. John C. Flanagan, a young researcher who became one of
the most famous behavioral psychologists in the U.S. in the ensuing
50 years, supervised the 1940 experiment. (He died in 1996.) Nonetheless,
scientists today say the test was fundamentally flawed; subsequent
scholarship has shown that highly successful parents don't necessarily
give birth to highly successful children. And indeed, counter
to the hopes of the Pioneer Fund's directors in 1940, the lives
led by the children born that year bear out precisely that idea.
The project was launched in the spring of 1937.
Frederick Osborn, secretary of the Pioneer Fund and a leading
proponent of racial eugenics, met at least twice with Mr. Woodring;
the secretary of war encouraged the project and hooked the fund
up with top military leaders, including famed aviation commander
Gen. H.H. "Hap" Arnold. "Secretary Woodring is really interested,"
Mr. Osborn wrote to other fund directors in May 1937. A few months
later, Gen. Arnold gave the fund's experiment the green light.
At the time, the fund was new, created just months
earlier with a promise of financial support from its principal
founder, Wickliffe Preston Draper, heir to a Massachusetts manufacturing
fortune. Mr. Draper, who died in 1972, and his support for southern
segregationists were the subject of a front-page
article in The Wall Street Journal on June 11.
The choice of pilots and their crews was logical
enough. Military aviators were the astronauts of their day. Charles
Lindbergh's heroic 1927 crossing of the Atlantic was a fresh memory.
Moreover, Mr. Draper was a veteran of World War I and an admirer
of military officers. He used the title "colonel" most of his
adult life. Clearly, aviators were "of sound and desirable stock,"
a Pioneer Fund memo asserted at the time.
Indeed, many of the fathers of the dozen children
born in 1940 were high achievers. Several were among the pioneering
military pilots who in the 1920s created what would become the
modern U.S. Air Force. During World War II, they rose to distinction
as pilots and generals. Later, some excelled as businessmen or
teachers. The six who could be identified by the Journal are now
dead. None of the parents appear to have known about Mr. Draper's
backing of the Pioneer Fund. Some did know vaguely that the fund
sought to breed better humans; they or their children say the
parents never shared the fund's racial views. Instead, most appear
to have considered the scholarships to be some kind of short-lived
government benefit for high-achieving fliers.
To foster replication of such men, the Pioneer
Fund first financed a detailed study in 1938 of the attitudes
of about 400 Air Corps officers and their wives toward family
size. It concluded that financial worry was a major reason why
the military men often limited themselves to three children or
Armed with the results, the Pioneer Fund's board
met a few weeks before Christmas 1938 and approved a plan for
the scholarship program. The following May, brochures outlining
the project were distributed at air bases around the country.
After a qualifying child was born during 1940,
the father would fill out a simple application form and mail it
in. Once the fund had confirmed the birth of the child and size
of its family, an "educational annuity" was established. The families
were to begin receiving payments of $500 a year when the child
turned 12 and continue for eight years, for a total of $4,000.
The whole thing looked dubious to some Air Corps families even
"We just kind of chuckled about it," says Helen
Ryan, an 87-year-old Air Force widow who remembers the program
but had no children then and couldn't participate. "We all thought
it was kind of a big joke."
Still, a no-strings-attached grant that was bigger
than most officers' total annual pay looked good to some. And
as winter lifted in 1940, word of new arrivals began trickling
into the Pioneer Fund.
Mr. Skeldon was born on March 2, in a military
hospital in Panama, where his father was stationed. The son would
follow his father's footsteps into the Air Force in the 1960s,
but worked as a mechanic, not a pilot. Born to Maj. John J. Morrow
was a son named Robert. He's an electrician in Pennsylvania, according
to his son. He couldn't be reached. On Aug. 18, the Warburton
boys were delivered at a hospital near Dayton, Ohio. Their father,
stationed at a nearby airfield, was one of the Air Corps' most
dashing "scout pilots" the term then used for the men who
flew fighter planes.
Two months later, on Oct. 17, came John Rawlings,
the fourth child of Edwin Rawlings, a fast-rising officer who
had been quietly hoping for a daughter. (He already had three
sons). Less than two weeks later came another set of twins, this
time at Barksdale Air Force Base outside Shreveport, La., to John
P. Ryan. Mr. Ryan, a future general, developed high-altitude bombing
tactics used in the war. A 1943 Pat O'Brien movie, "Bombardier,"
was based partly on his life. The twins were girls; the first
to arrive looked like her mother, Anna, so she was named Anne
Marie. Her twin looked like her paternal grandmother, Mary. She
became Maryann. Today, Maryann Russo is a former teacher who for
the past 17 years has worked on the factory line in a photo-processing
plant in Baltimore, cutting and inspecting thousands of glossy
prints. She gave up teaching elementary school because the pupils
were too unruly. "The belt doesn't talk back," she notes.
Her sister, now Anne Marie Bricker, is a nurse
practitioner in Arizona. Ms. Bricker, recently divorced, moved
this summer from Sedona to Phoenix, abandoning a private practice
to work in a clinic. "I want to have more time for doing fun things
for myself," she says.
The Warburton babies were certainly good candidates
for the Pioneer Fund project. Their father, Ernest K. Warburton,
was a young pilot who would soon be Brig. Gen. Warburton and the
most famous test pilot of the era, flying more than 400 different
allied and captured enemy aircraft. In 1945, he and the airmen
under his command were the first U.S. troops to land in Japan
after its surrender. Later, he commanded all air operations for
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The Warburton family heard about the Pioneer
offer after Anna Warburton realized she was carrying twins, her
fourth and fifth children, Mrs. Warburton says today. "I remember
him coming home all" excited about the scholarship, says Mrs.
Warburton, now 86. "All we really knew was that it was . . . for
the children's education, and it was intended to propagate a superior
Ward and Darby grew up in the classic life of
military children, moving often between Air Force bases in the
U.S. and Europe. Both finished high school and signed up as military
reservists, though they never saw active duty.
For more than 30 years, the brothers have kept
refrigerators, air conditioners and washing machines running in
this bucolic corner of Massachusetts, the family's home territory.
Darby works on commercial cooling units. Ward is a jack-of-all
appliances repairman. Their other siblings including two
doctors are scattered from Hawaii to North Carolina.
On a grassy hilltop just outside Ware, Ward lives
in a comfortable gray frame house overlooking the small tree-lined
lake on which his future wife was skating the first time he saw
her. His mother-in-law's home sits across the water from theirs.
A collection of used washers and other appliances scavenged for
spare parts protrudes from the woods behind the house.
Before venturing out a decade ago to start repairing
appliances in his garage, Mr. Warburton was a fix-it man for Sears,
Roebuck & Co. for 28 years. "I loved the job," he says.
Just down the highway lives Ward's fast-graying
twin, Darby, in a rambling white farmhouse. Out of a barn behind
the home, Darby runs a two-man commercial air-conditioning service
business, which he bought in 1962. He wants to retire next year.
So in June, his 26-year-old son, Ernest, started working in the
family business with plans to take over.
Ward is a member of Ware Lions Club. Darby is
a Rotarian. Darby, who attended the University of Michigan but
didn't graduate, is financially the more successful brother. He
keeps two vintage Corvettes as hobby cars, driving them to Rotary
meetings every week and on other special occasions. Over a recent
dinner at the Salem Cross Inn -- where Darby maintains the walk-in
cooler -- the brothers banter about their decades of mostly friendly
"I try to steal as many of Darby's customers
as I can," Ward says. "Darby gets mad when I do."
"I do not get mad," huffs Darby, partly serious.
Darby says he doesn't recall ever knowing anything
about the Pioneer Fund program before a reporter contacted the
family recently, though his brother and mother insist that he
was told. For his part, Ward clearly recalls the day more than
40 years ago that his father told him about the Pioneer Fund plan.
"I was the slow one in the family," says Mr.
Warburton, recalling his days as an academically frustrated teenager.
"Just kidding around one day . . . to cheer me up, he said, `Ward,
come out of it, you're the master race.'
Blackmon, Douglas A. "A breed apart: A long ago effort to better the species yields ordinary folks." Wall Street Journal. 17 Aug 1999.