The photos – from a time Britain and America would prefer to forget – show people’s heads being measured in order to determine their mental faculties as well as displaying the “undesirable” traits of people who “shouldn’t be allowed to breed”.
Before the atrocities of Nazi Germany, eugenics – the system of measuring human traits, seeking out the desirable ones and cutting out the undesirable ones – was once practiced the world over.
In the decades following the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species, a veritable craze for eugenics spread through Britain, the United States and Europe.
Advocates of the disturbing practice made significant advances during the early twentieth century – and claimed that “undesirable” genetic traits such as dwarfism, deafness and even minor defects like a cleft palate needed to be wiped out of the gene pool.
Portraits demonstrating the standard head shapes of “criminal types” of various races. France, 1914.
A photograph of a Fich Henri Leon, a convicted criminal, with the measurements of his various body parts. Paris, France, 1902.
Photographs of “human races,” organized to suggest a common trait shared by “primitive” Australians, Africans, and Neanderthals. Norway, 1939.
French weightlifter Alexandre Maspoli poses as an ideal human specimen on the cover of La Culture Physique. France, 1904.
A demonstration of how to measure a criminal’s ear, inspired by Alphonse Bertillon, Paris, France, 1894.
A child’s head is measured to determine his personality and predict his future. Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, 1932.
A poster warns that breeding among the unfit creates an unwanted burden on the rest of society. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1926.
Photographs of “Indian Dwarfism” from the Eugenics Society, 1912.
Various types of Indian dwarfs and giants, photographed by the Eugenics Society to demonstrate how humans could be selectively bred to control size, 1912.
German Dr. Bruno Beger measures a Tibetan woman’s head to demonstrate the ‘inferior’ characteristics of her race. Beger would soon work for the Nazi SS to help identify Jews. Tibet, 1938.
Bruno Beger measures the facial characteristics of a Tibetan man. Tibet, 1938.
Babies compete in the “Better Baby Contest,” where doctors try to find the perfect infant human specimen. Washington D.C, 1931.
A phrenologist demonstrates how to measure the mental energy inside of a woman’s head. London, England, 1937.
Families compete in the “Fitter Family” contest, meant to find the most eugenically perfect family. Topeka, Kansas, 1925.
A craniologist demonstrates how to measure a human skull. Sweden, 1915.
A phrenologist demonstrates how to measure a person’s head. United Kingdom, 1937.
The New York City Police Department demonstrates how to measure a criminal’s cranium. New York City, New York, 1908.
A class studies the Bertillon method of criminal identification, based on measuring body parts. Paris, France, ca. 1910s.
An anthropometry class learns about the different types of human noses, inspired by Aphonse Bertillon. Paris, France, ca. 1910s.
A woman wearing a psychograph, a machine designed to determine someone’s mental faculties by measuring their skull. United States, 1931.