William Z. Ripley

William Z. Ripley

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 economics at Harvard University, and racial theorist. Ripley was quite famous for his criticisms of American railroad economics and American business practices in the 1920s and 1930s and later his tripartite racial theory of Europe. His work of racial anthropology was later taken up by physical anthropologists, eugenicists and white nationalists.


William Z. Ripley was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1867 to Nathaniel L. Ripley and Estimate R.E. Baldwin Ripley. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his undergraduate education in engineering, graduating in 1890, and 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 until 1901, Ripley lectured on sociology at Columbia University and from 1895 until 1901 he was a professor of economics at MIT. From 1901 onwards, he was a professor of political economics at Harvard University. [Biographical information taken from "Professor Ripley of Harvard Dies," "New York Times" (17 August 1941), p. 39.] 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 1900-1901, the vice president of the American Economic Association. ["RIPLEY, William Zebina," in Albert Nelson Marquis, ed., " [http://books.google.com/books?id=tQAWAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA909&lpg=PA909 Who's Who In New England] " (Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Co., 1916) , p. 909.]

"The Races of Europe"

In 1899, he authored a book entitled "", which had grown out of a series of lectures he had given at the Lowell Institute at Columbia in 1896. Ripley believed that race was the central engine to understanding human history. However, 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." [William Z. Ripley, "The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study" (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1899), p.1.]

Ripley's book, written to help finance his children's education, became a very-well respected work of anthropology, renowned for its careful writing, compilation, and criticism of the data of many other anthropologists in Europe and the United States.

Ripley based his conclusions about race by correlating anthropometric data with geographical data, paying special attention to the use of the cephalic index, which at the time was one of the most consistent anthropometric measurements. From this and other socio-geographical factors, Ripley classified Europeans into three distinct races:

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

Ripley's tripartite system of race put him at odds both with other scholars who insisted that there was only one European race, and those who insisted that there were dozens of European races (such as Joseph Deniker, who Ripley saw as his chief rival). Ripley was the first American recipient of the Huxley Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1908 on account of his contributions to anthropology.

"The Races of Europe", overall, became an influential book of the Progressive Era in the field of racial taxonomy. [Thomas C. Leonard, "'More Merciful and Not Less Effective': Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era" "Historical of Political Economy" 35:4 (2003): 687-712, discussion of Ripley's work on p. 690. Available online at http://www.princeton.edu/~sbwhite/eugenicsC.pdf.] Ripley's tripartite system was especially championed by 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. [Matthew Press Guterl, "The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940" (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), and Jonathan P. Spiro, "Patrician racist: The evolution of Madison Grant" (Ph.D. diss., Dept. of History, University of California, Berkeley, 2000).] It is in this light that Ripley's work on race is usually remembered today, though little of Grant's ideology is present in Ripley's original work.


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". [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), available online at http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/000/600/642/7509.htm.]

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". [Much of this biographical information comes from the article, "When Ripley Speaks, Wall Street Heeds" "New York Times" (26 September 1926), p. 7, as well as "Professor Ripley of Harvard Dies," "New York Times" (17 August 1941), p. 39.] According to "Time" magazine, Ripley became widely known as "The Professor Who Jarred Wall Street". [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,765997,00.html?iid=chix-sphere Obituaries] , "Time" magazine (25 August 1941).]

However, after an automobile accident in January of 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. One article published in 1929 implied that his automobile accident may have been part of a conspiracy: :"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." [S.T. Williamson, "William Z. Ripley — And Some Others" "New York Times" (29 December 1929), p. XX2.]

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." ["Professor Ripley of Harvard Dies," "New York Times" (17 August 1941), p. 39.]

His book, "Railway Problems: An Early History of Competition, Rates and Regulations", was republished in 2000 as part of a "Business Classic" series. [William Z. Ripley, "Railway Problems: An Early History of Competition, Rates and Regulations" (Beard Books, 2000), description online at http://www.beardbooks.com/railway_problems.html.]


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