Joseph Smith III, the Reorganized Church Presidency, and Divine Appointment

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

In a blog post last week I discussed the issue of lineal succession for Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While the church’s leadership certainly accepted without qualification the role of primogeniture in presidential succession, Smith also emphasized the divine aspects of his call to preside over the Reorganized Church. He spoke and wrote about his development between 1844 and 1860, especially about his spiritual experiences confirming the rightness of his place at the head of the church. His memoirs, his editorials in the church newspaper, and his private writings attest to the importance of these events heralding Smith’s commitment to a life of prophetic ministry.

These concerns and angles of vision contributed to Smith’s emphasis of the role of appointment by revelation through the previous president as a significant determinant of succession in the Reorganized Church. Although this method of succession had been advanced by others, indeed Joseph Smith Jr. had designated several different people to succeed him at various stages of his career, in the case of Joseph III this revolved around blessings on him by his father. There does not seem to be much question that Joseph Jr. did bless his son to succeed him; too many references to the incident are extant. But numerous factors came into play to prohibit his succession in 1844, not the least of which was the fact that he was a boy not yet in his teens and could never have provided the church the strong leadership it required in that troubled period.

As the Reorganized Church encountered the Utah church’s religious system beginning in the latter 1860s, it searched for irrefutable means of proving its legitimacy. The direct link to Joseph Smith, Jr., first by having his son as president of the Reorganization, and then by having that son actually be called to the presidential office by his father, was a persuasive argument. Although there were no formal documents extant verifying Joseph Smith III’s setting apart, the oral tradition from a wide range of sources pointed to at least one such blessing by the father to the son. That the blessing had been well known was attested to by the fact that in a history of Illinois published in 1844, the non‑Mormon writer had commented that Joseph Smith Jr. had “left a will or revelation, appointing a successor; and among other things, it is stated that his son, a lad of twelve years, is named therein as his successor.”

Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) late in life.

Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) late in life.

Over the years the case for Joseph III’s succession through appointment—by revelation was always assumed as part of this act—from his father had developed. Smith presented on several occasions his own recollections of the event, as did other old church members. The case was impressive for those with sympathies for the Reorganized Church. It was probably not overly convincing to members of the Utah Latter‑day Saints, some of whom pointed out that no hard evidence confirmed these oral arguments and recollections written years after doing so. It was the same rationale used by Joseph Smith III to reject the recollections of Utahns that his father had been a polygamist.

The oral tradition of Joseph Smith III having been blessed by his father to be his successor continued to grow throughout his career. The lineage and the designation, both of which were manifested to Smith through spiritual intervention, combined to create a strong sense of legitimacy for his presidential leadership. Smith commented on how these ingredients affected him during his testimony on behalf of the church at the Temple Lot Suit in the 1890s. He told the court:

 I claim to be his successor by lineal right, and by his blessing, and lastly by the right of selection and appointment. It is not necessarily a birthright to be the President of the Church. It comes by virtue of fitness and qualification, I may say, good behavior and the choice of the people, recognizing a call or a right….I do not regard my lineal successorship as one of the claims [to legitimacy for the Reorganization], not necessarily. The existence of the Reorganized Church does not depend on my lineal successorship as I understand it.

The succession question, particularly as it related to the appointment of Joseph Smith III by his father, took a different and ultimately a tragic course beginning in 1981. Mark W. Hofmann, a Utah documents dealer, claimed to have found a written record of the blessing of Joseph Smith III by his father. Dated January 17, 1844, it said all the appropriate words legitimizing the succession claims of the Reorganized Church: “For he shall be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood; a Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right.” The Reorganized Church acquired the document after a convoluted set of dealings with Hofmann and the Mormon church, and the church’s “World Conference” canonized it in the historical appendix of the Doctrine and Covenants during the 1982 sessions, thereby essentially assigning it the force of revelation. Church leaders, the scholarly historical community, and the media were caught up in the euphoria of this document, granting the Reorganized Church a measure of respect it had not usually enjoyed before.

Unfortunately, the document was a forgery. Instead of a vindication of the Reorganization’s succession process, the church ended up with a Hofmann original. This became clear in 1986 as a result of an investigation into two grisly murders in Salt Lake City in October 1985. Hofmann had committed them in cold blood to prevent the exposure of his forged documents scam. While I do not think it necessary to go into this episode in detail, I would comment that the result was as embarrassing to the Reorganized Church as any event in its history.

This was true for two major reasons. First, the forged blessing document was not a particularly convincing product. Supposedly in the handwriting of Thomas Bullock, one of Joseph Smith Jr.’s scribes, the blessing’s handwriting was not consistent with the numerous handwriting examples of Bullock. A forensic examiner should have raised red flags about its authenticity on the basis of these inconsistencies. Perhaps they did not do so because they were comparing handwriting on high‑quality photocopies rather than in original documents.

The forged Joseph Smith III blessing document from the Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.

The forged Joseph Smith III blessing document from the Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.

Although some tests were conducted on the paper and ink used in the blessing, the only thing they verified was that both were of the type used in the period it was presumably written. From these paper and ink tests, which indicated that there was no evidence of forgery, and the handwriting analysis, which was at best of questionable veracity, many church officials as well as the membership made the leap of faith that the blessing was inviolate. The Reorganized Church wanted to believe in the blessing too much, and was willing to ignore countervailing evidence. The impression that it carried the force of revelation to the church further clouded the succession question. It required additional action in 1986 to remove the blessing from the Doctrine and Covenants, in what could only be termed a giant “oops” on the part of the Reorganization.

As important as Joseph Smith III considered his blessing/designation under his father’s hand, he recognized that it was only one aspect of the succession question. Lineage and the revelatory process—manifested in ways other than in a specific blessing—also figured significantly into the succession equation. As Joseph grew older he became increasingly concerned about providing for the church’s continuation beyond his death. He desperately wanted to ensure that the controversy surrounding his succession were not repeated at his death. In his last years Joseph Smith III took blatant action to ensure that his oldest son followed him as president of the church.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Cowboy Hero”

The Cowboy HeroThe Cowboy Hero: His Image in American History and Culture.
By William W. Savage Jr. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.

The cowboy became a staple of popular American culture in the nineteenth century and has remained so until the present, with some morphing of perceptions about him over time. In this broad overview, historian William Savage explores several aspects of these perceptions in the twentieth century. He finds that seldom are cowboys viewed as what they really were, young laborers having basic skills, very much like day laborers in more recent times. Someone might do this job for a short time, but usually moved on to other work.

But that is ancillary to the image of this group of people. Cowboys are routinely depicted in every aspect of popular culture as gun-fighting, self-reliant, often heroic, ever-free men that live both exciting and envious lives. Of course, that is so much nonsense. This characterization of the cowboy has been celebrated in song and emulated by singers, has been depicted in Wild West shows and cinematic recreations, and has been glorified as a symbol of masculinity as companies have used the image to sell everything from clothing to trucks to cigarettes and liquor.

In a tightly packed, compellingly written, and easy to understand 164 pages of text Savage analyzes the impact of the cowboy on modern America. Much of that impact, of course, has little to do with the actual experience of those who worked on trail drives in the period after the Civil War until the completion of railroads close to cattle ranches in Texas, Wyoming, and Montana, the heyday of the American cowboy. That image was created by dime novelists, the predecessors of Owen Wister, Zane Grey, and other writers of westerns. It was honed to a fine point by the Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill Cody and others. And it was locked in the memory of the American public through an unending series of movies that featured cowboy heroes catering to children (Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry) and to adults (John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and many others).

Cowboy music has become both an exemplar of this life and a product to be consumed by others. From Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers to the outlaw country musicians of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and David Allan Coe. After all, “My Heroes have always been Cowboys,” bespeaks this sentiment. And so have the clothes to support the image.

At sum, everyone may be a cowboy. Everyone has played at it as a child. Many continue to do so in various ways as adults. It suggests a sense of honor, a respect for and defense of those less able to protect themselves. It signifies a path unique from others, an ability to deal with adversity, an individual who walks (or more likely) rides alone.

This is an entertaining and enlightening reading experience.

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My Top Ten Teams at the Start of Spring Training in 2015

The opening ceremonies of the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins in 2013.

The opening ceremonies of the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins in 2013.

We are now at the point where the 2015 Spring Training is underway. I love this time of year, the majority of the off-season moves have been made, the endless speculation is about to be met by actual performance, and we fans get to see how well our respective team’s General Managers did in putting together the 2015 version of their rosters. Accordingly, I feel the need to offer my rankings for the ten best teams as everyone prepares for the season. Some of my favorite teams remain on the list, including the Washington Nationals and my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. I have included the Kansas City Royals largely on the strength of their showing last fall, but I’m not confident that they will be able to come anywhere close to performing as well as they did last year in 2015. I also have the Oakland Athletics on this list because of both sentimentality and my belief that Billy Beane will be able to pull rabbits out of his hat once again. I also added the Seattle Mariners because they are definitely a team of the future and a window of success may be opening for them. Finally, the Baltimore Orioles look to remain in contention in the AL East and if that is the case I can still wish for a Baltimore/Washington World Series. Wouldn’t that be fun!

I have also left off a lot of teams with promise. The Cleveland Indians are strong and will challenge in the AL Central, I am sure; that division seems to be one of the strongest in Major League Baseball. I am also not giving the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays the love that many others are. They will both be respectable throughout the season, but I doubt they are playoff bound. Finally, while there is a lot of activity in Chicago and both the Cubs and the White Sox appear to be building toward major relevance, I think this is still a couple of years away, at best. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, just for fun here are my top ten teams in Major League Baseball for the beginning of spring training.

1 Nationals / 96-66 +131 The Nationals look like they are poised for a repeat in the NL East in 2015. With a starting five that includes Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister they look unstoppable. Moving Ryan Zimmerman to 1st base solves several problems in the infield, and the acquisition of Yunel Escobar should help at 2nd base. I would like to see them in the World Series, and I might well get my wish.
2 Angels / 98-64 +143 Could this be the year that the Angels take another World Series? I loved the team that won it all in 2002. I think they have a shot again. With the return of Garrett Richards the Halos have a solid starting pitching staff and a good everyday lineup. If the defense holds and the boppers—especially Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols—return to form they will be formidable in the AL West.
3 Cardinals / 90-72 +16 The Cardinals are the classiest franchise in the National League; perhaps in all of MLB. They have played in four World Series since 2004, and won two of them, and they have made the playoffs 11 times since 2000. They have also shored up several weaknesses exhibited by the team in 2014, even though they went deep into the playoffs, by acquiring Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle, and Mark Reynolds. Adam Wainwright remains their ace, but Michael Wacha, John Lackey, and Lance Lynn offer excellence across the board. I expect them to win the NL Central again in 2015.
4 Dodgers / 90-72 +101 The free-spending Dodgers have stacked their team with great talent for the last two years but have yet to play far into the postseason. Perhaps 2015 will be their year. They have a one/two punch of starters is Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke that is as good any in baseball. The major question is will the rest of the rotation hold up; I’m thinking probably not. Getting rid of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez was addition by subtraction, and acquiring Jimmy Rollins will help middle infield defense as well as enhance the offense. Don’t measure fingers for World Series rings yet, but the Dodgers should once again be a force in the NL West.
5 Pirates / 88-74 +51 As I said concerning the Angels, could this be the year that the Pirates return to the World Series? I loved the team that won it all in 1979. I regretted the losses of those great teams in the latter 1980s-early 1990s. I think the Pirates have a shot although I doubt they will take the Division championship. The Bucs have a solid starting pitching staff and a good everyday lineup. It will be anchored once again by Andrew McCutcheon, and he will be ably assisted.
6 Orioles / 96-66 +112 This is another sentimental favorite for me. I would really like to recover the excitement in Camden Yards during the latter 1990s when the O’s repeatedly made the playoffs. They are not probably going to win the division, but I sure hope they take a wild card slot. But then, I would root for anyone in the AL East other than the Yankees and the Red Sox.
7 Royals / 89-73 +27 The Royals took us on quite a ride in last season’s playoffs. I was really rooting for them in the World Series, and they came so close! Although they lost James Shields, the Royals starters still look pretty good. The question is whether or not Yordano Ventura will become the true ace that he showed in flashes in the World Series. I would like to think so. The addition of Edinson Volquez will also help the rotation, but he is not James Shields and cannot be relied upon in quite the same way. The everyday line-up seems intact; it has a year more of experience and perhaps the players ready to enhance their postseason excellence. Let’s hope so. I’d like to see another Royals championship; just watching George Brett cheer the team’s success will be a true joy, as it was last year in the World Series.
8 Mariners / 87-75 +80 I’m delighted to see the Mariners back in the hunt for a playoff berth in 2015. I would like to think they could make it. With the addition of Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ they look to be capable of wins in the upper 80s. But, the AL West is pretty well stacked with other excellent teams and this might mean the Mariners will not make the postseason.
9 Athletics / 88-74 +157 Regardless of whether or not he has stars on his team and lots of money to pay them, Billy Beane seems to find a way to put a competitive team on the field every year, and usually to make the playoffs. Go figure. How come the A’s do this most years and other teams, also claiming small market status, have no success whatsoever? Over the winter Beane has remade the A’s, once again. He obtained Billy Butler, Ike Davis, and Ben Zobrist. Those guys should help, but with the departures of some others this team will be problematic in terms of making the postseason this year. I still like them, and live by the motto, “never underestimate Beane’s machinations.”
10 Tigers / 90-72 +52 I know the Tigers are all-in for the championship this year. They allowed Max Sherzer to walk, probably a mistake, but still have a rotation consisting of David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. The everyday line-up will be as ever, still productive but getting older. The window for a championship in Detroit may be closing. We’ll see what happens in 2015.


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Joseph Smith III and Lineal Succession Claims to the Mormon Presidency

Joseph Smith III, president of the RLDS church between 1860 and 1914.

Joseph Smith III, president of the RLDS church between 1860 and 1914.

Perhaps no issue has been more controversial than presidential succession in the Latter-day Saint movement. Joseph Smith III, son of the Mormon founder, buttressed his ascension to the presidency of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1860 through several methodologies. One of those, and a powerful one for many Mormons of the nineteenth century, was Smith’s legitimacy based on lineal priesthood succession.

But lineal succession was never really sufficient; historians have found that the issue was far from “cut and dried” at the time of Joseph Smith Jr.’s death. Succession might be legitimately based upon prophetic declaration, organizational evolution, priesthood authority, and scriptural precedents. These suggested at least eight ways in which an individual within Mormonism could legitimately claim leadership.

From the perspective of the Reorganized Church, there can be little doubt that Joseph Smith Jr. believed in the right of lineage, as “Old Testament” an idea as ever there was, and numerous statements abound about this particular aspect of his belief system. An 1835 revelation to Joseph Smith Jr. proclaimed lineal priesthood: “The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen see, to whom the promises were made.” In 1841 he announced another revelation making a direct statement about the favored position of his own descendants: “In thee and in thy seed shall the kindred of the earth be blessed.” In this environment it would be difficult to argue that Joseph Smith Jr. did anticipate his sons entering the church’s leadership.

Accordingly, the justness of lineal succession, essentially a royal family approach to church leadership, was present almost with the founding of Mormon church. It evolved during Joseph Smith Jr.’s lifetime, and William B. Smith, the sole surviving Smith brother, became its most vocal advocate after Smith’s death in 1844. Even so William Smith was inconsistent about who this would allow to be president, himself or another member of the family. In spite of this, at least by October 1845 William Smith had suggested that lineal succession was the key to church leadership and that it pointed to Joseph Smith III, then a 12-year-old boy.

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

The strictly lineal succession position gained advocates among those who associated with the Reorganized Church in the 1850s. For example, Zenos H. Gurley Sr., a founding father of the Reorganized Church, emphasized primogeniture in picking a president. He told Alpheus Cutler, a would‑be” successor to the prophetic mantle: “This brother Cutler (tho plainly taught in the revelations of God in the order of the Priesthood) was unknown to us until revealed through the gift of the ghost to several who were tired and sick of the doctrine of men and of Devils and had by fasting and prayer sought the Lord to know from him the true and right way.”

The lineal succession doctrine was so well accepted by the Reorganization that in 1863, when some members of the Reorganized Church were demanding the replacement of Joseph Smith III with David H. Smith, his youngest brother, David responded with one of his most eloquent poems arguing that this was not appropriate. Lineal succession, he advocated, extended by order of birth. In “A Word of Advice to Those Who Look for Me to Be the Prophet” he wrote:

Joseph is the Chosen Prophet, Well ordained in God’s Clear sight;

Should he lose it by transgression, Alexander has the right.

Joseph, Alexander, David, Three remaining pillars still;

Like the three remaining columns, Of the Temple on the hill!

Joseph’s star is full and shining, Alexander’s more than mine;

Mine is just below the mountain, Bide its time and it will shine.

Alexander, the middle brother between Joseph and David, was, according to the doctrine of lineal succession, the next in line for the presidential office, not David.

Joseph Smith III did not come to accept lineal succession easily. In 1856 when representatives of the Reorganized Church approached Smith officially for the first time, they presented him with a letter urging that it was Smith’s birthright to lead the church. It stated:

we have shown the right of successorship to rest in the literal descendant of the chosen seed, to whom the promise was made,…We can not forbear reminding you that the commandments, as well as the promises given to Joseph, your father, were given to him, and to his seed. And in the name of our master, even Jesus Christ, as moved upon by the Holy Ghost we say, Arise in the strength of the Lord and realize those promises by executing those commandments.

Joseph Smith III responded that he was willing to do what God required of him, but that he had to receive the calling through divine intervention not through bloodline. Until he received a confirming testimony about his calling, Smith would not accept succession to the prophetic office as a requirement of parentage.

Smith offered a similar statement about lineal succession not being the primary means for following him. When presenting himself to the 1860 Amboy conference, he told the Reorganized Church members gathered there matter of factly that “I have come [here] in obedience to a power not my own.”

Joseph Smith III never faltered in his emphasis on personal, as well as corporate, spiritual confirmation of calling in the prophetic office. I suspect that Smith’s aversion to lineage as the sole determinant of presidential succession was related to secular monarchies that were oftentimes oppressive to their subjects. Smith’s naturally democratic tendencies, his acceptance of the pluralistic American society, his perception of the Reorganization as a dissenting tradition within Mormonism, as well as a whole truckload of other baggage all combined to make Smith wary of claiming presidential prerogatives by birthright alone.

Smith’s denunciation of the absolute right of lineage was expressed in several ways. In his memoirs he wrote unappreciatively of “the cruelties and inequalities of the law of primogeniture, the oldest son became head of the family and was alone entitled to its estates, greatly to the handicap and impoverishment of his brothers.” On other occasions he commented on the need to rid the earth of tyrants, hereditary or otherwise. When the war with Spain began in 1898, for instance, Smith let his beliefs be known that he supported the overthrow of Spanish control of Cuba because of the king’s harsh domination based on his perceived “rights” as ruler.

Joseph Smith III, therefore, emphasized the divine aspects of his call to preside over the Reorganized Church. He spoke and wrote about his development between 1844 and 1860, especially about his spiritual experiences confirming the rightness of his place at the head of the church. His memoirs, his editorials in the church newspaper, and his private writings attest to the importance of these events heralding Smith’s commitment to a life of prophetic ministry.

Nonetheless, as the Reorganized Church encountered the Utah Mormon Church’s religious system beginning in the latter 1860s, the issue of primogeniture arose as a powerful argument in favor of the church’s legitimacy. If the Mormon kingdom had largely migrated to Utah in the 1840s, its line of kings had remained in the American Midwest and had taken leadership in the Reorganized Church.  In such a situation, the direct link to Joseph Smith Jr. by having his son as president of the Reorganization lent considerable credence to the church.

Smith-Wallace B

Wallace B. Smith (born 1929) served as president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints between 1978 and 1996.

It became a significant part of the Reorganization’s identity in the nineteenth century. A succession of Smiths, moreover, led the Reorganized Church until 1996, when Wallace B. Smith retired from the presidency. He was the grandson of Joseph Smith III. Primogeniture played a powerful role in shaping the Reorganized Church, renamed the Community of Christ in 2000.

Posted in Community of Christ, History, Mormonism, Religion, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “Overpotential”

OverpotentialOverpotential: Fuel Cells, Futurism, and the Making of a Power Panacea. By Matthew N. Eisler. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012. Acknowledgments, notes, index. Pp. ix – 260. ISBN: 978-0-8135-5177-7. Hardcover with dustjacket. $49.95 USD.

I have been interested in fuel cells since NASA began using them for electrical power in the Gemini program of the 1960s. They seemed so simple, yet so elegant, as a solution to generating electricity to power spacecraft. Using oxygen and hydrogen, combined with an electrochemical reaction, and the result is electricity with water as a byproduct. It’s clean, efficient, and long-lasting. Perfect for spaceflight; only it’s not and historian Matthew N. Eisler makes clear why.

There are arguably only four methods of providing the electrical power needed for a spacecraft, all of them with positives and negatives. The first method, and the one used on the first spacecraft launched into orbit, was batteries. Their wattage was limited, but even more limited was their longevity. Within a few days they always ran down and the spacecraft’s systems no longer operated. Photovoltaic solar cells emerged in the 1960s as a useful alternative to batteries; they have a long life measured in years rather than weeks, and with additional refinement they have become the critical power generation technology for most spacecraft. Solar power has one important drawback; it requires the Sun’s powerful light source to be effective. For spacecraft traveling into deep space beyond Mars, where the Sun becomes much less intense, NASA has developed to a high art the use of radioisotope power systems which have enabled deep space missions but are controversial because of the dangers of nuclear power.

The subject of this book, fuel cells, has helped to resolve power system problem for NASA. They have been used on all human spacecraft built by the United States since the space race of 50 years ago. Matthew N. Eisler tells the story of NASA’s role in developing this technology in this very fine book, but that is not his primary purpose. Instead he seeks to unpack in Overpotential: Fuel Cells, Futurism, and the Making of a Power Panacea the more complex, and infinitely more interesting, story of the intertwining of technological developments concerning electrical power and the search for new sources of cheap, safe, efficient electricity.

Eisler’s study begins in the 1940s when scientific investigation found that an electrochemical process could create power. The Bacon fuel cell set the standard, and its evolution led to the systems that flew on the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle vehicles. At some level, however, the fuel cell as always was a technology in search of a mission. It has always seemed so inviting and so simple as well as so cost effective and so nonpolluting. But the costs never came down, the power was never as quite as great as promised, and success in its use has always seemed just beyond our grasp.

The author points to two great periods in which public enthusiasm outstripped any deficiencies in the technology’s capabilities. The first was during the 1960s when NASA adopted fuel cells to power human spacecraft and used its considerable resources and cache to emphasize its positives. The second period was in the latter 1990s and the early part of the 2000s when analysis and championing of the hydrogen economy emerged to press use of the technology. Advocates argued that hydrogen fuel cells could provide a substitute for greenhouse gas-producing fuels.  They asserted that the next one hundred years may become the hydrogen century.  Since hydrogen is abundant on Earth, being one of the principal elements in water, it could be used to power fuel cells. Fuel cells and hydrogen/oxygen engines, envisioned as logical spin-offs from the space program, could rapidly become cost-competitive with fossil fuels. In the same way that carbon fuels fired the industrial engines of the twentieth century, hydrogen would power the twenty-first century.

Despite this enthusiasm for fuel cells as THE next power source useful for humanity, one that was viewed as both abundant and inexpensive, it has failed to catch on. That is because, as Eisler makes clear, creating an affordable, efficient, and powerful electrical source has proven an extraordinarily difficult task. Production of electricity was not the principal problem, it was storage and distribution. There are those who still believe that this will change in the future and fuel cells will become the method of choice for powering electrical automobiles, providing electricity in homes, and offering a range of options for powering other items.

The military may be the organization that will yet make fuel cells a useful technology. The desire to reduce the logistics pipeline is a very real driver for research, and anything that can be done to make the supply chain less vulnerable deserves exploration. Without truckloads of diesel traveling through areas where they might be attacked the situation will be improved. Investment to make fuel cell technology is appropriate in such settings. If proven out, fuel cells might their way as spin-offs into commercial settings.

Matthew Eisler’s study is fundamentally one about why some technologies work out and others do not. It traces fuel cells and their ups and downs over more than 75 years of research, development, and modestly successful applications. The book is very strong on the story of NASA’s efforts to apply fuel cells to spacecraft. This is a story well worth telling and Overpotential is a strong explanation of this important theme.

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Announcing “The NACA Centenary: A Symposium on 100 Years of Aerospace Research and Development”

NACA LogoOn March 3, 1915, Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or N-A-C-A, “to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked, and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions.” In 1958, the NACA’s staff, research facilities, and know-how were transitioned to the new NASA.

From March 3-4, 2015, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and the NASA History Program Office will host a special symposium open to the public that commemorates a century of aerospace research and development. The symposium will take place in the “Moving Beyond Earth” Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington D.C. The NASA mirror site for this symposium is here. The National Air and Space Museum site for the symposium is here.

Dr. William P. Barry, NASA Chief Historian
Dr. Roger D. Launius, National Air and Space Museum
Dr. Richard Hallion, Florida Polytechnic University

Attendence is free but we ask participants to register by contacting Please provide your name, email address, and affiliation.

Tuesday – March 3, 2015

8:45 – 9:15  Registration
9:15  Welcoming Remarks
9:30 Keynote Address:
What is the NACA Model of Research and Development? Reflections on a Century of Flight – Roger D. Launius, National Air and Space Museum
10:15 – 11:45 Setting the Stage
Moderator: William P. Barry, NASA HeadquartersFlight Not Improbable: Octave Chanute tackles aeronautics as a civil engineer — Simine Short, National Soaring MuseumFalse Start: The Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory, 1911-1915 — Tom D. Crouch, National Air and Space MuseumThe US Military and the Creation of the NACA — Laurence Burke, Carnegie Mellon University
11:45 – 1:00 Lunch Break
1:00 – 2:30 Early History of NACA
Moderator: Stephen Garber, NASA HeadquartersBringing aerodynamics and aeronautical engineering to the American University —Deborah G. Douglas, MIT MuseumNACA, Naval Aviation and MIT: Establishing the Practice of Aeronautical Engineering — John Tylko, MITTransplanting Göttingen to the Tidewater: The NACA and German Aerodynamics, 1919-1926 — Richard P. Hallion, Florida Polytechnic UniversityThe War, the NACA and the Convention: Laying the Ideological Foundation for Federal Regulation during the Wilson Administration — Sean Seyer, University of Kansas
2:30 – 3:00 Break
3:00 – 4:30 Flight Test and Research
Moderator: Richard P. Hallion, Florida Polytechnic UniversityConducting Research in Flight: A Unique NACA Contribution to Aerospace — Robert E. Curry, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, RetiredThe NACA, the Airplane Propeller, and World War II — Jeremy R. Kinney, National Air and Space Museum“The Real Right Stuff”: An Historical Examination of the Culture and Accomplishments of the NACA Research Pilot, 1917-1958 — James R. Hansen, Auburn UniversityFlight Test to Moon Shot: The NACA, the Astronauts, and the Culture of Experiment, 1959–1969 — Matthew H. Hersch, University of Pennsylvania

Wednesday – March 4, 2015

9:10 Houskeeping/Keynote Introduction
9:15 – 10:00 Keynote Address:
The NACA in the 1930’s – Trailblazing the Technical World of Aerodynamics — John D. Anderson, National Air and Space Museum
10:00 – 11:45 Key Aspects of NACA Research
Moderator: Michael J. Neufeld, National Air and Space MuseumThe NACA and Research Policy at the Hands of History — Robert Ferguson, Independent ResearcherEpochs of Space Technology at NASA: NACA to OART and Beyond — John C. Mankins, Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, LLCWomen of NACA: STEM Stories to Inspire Future Generations — Adrienne Provenzano, STEAM EducatorThe NACA at Lewis Laboratory, a Legacy of Ohioans Solving the Problem of Flight — Shannon Bohle, Archivopedia, LLC
11:45 – 1:00 Lunch Break
1:00 – 3:00 Transformations
Moderator: F. Robert van der Linden, National Air and Space MuseumThe NACA Transition to Space: Validating the Blunt Body — Glenn Bugos, NASA Ames Research CenterReaction Control Systems and the NACA — Christian Gelzer, NASA Armstrong Research CenterTin Soldiers and Glass Slippers: How Postwar Competition Sailplane Development Shifted from America to Europe — Russell Lee, National Air and Space MuseumTowards Victory: NACA Public Relations on the Coattails of the Cold War, 1946-1958 —Kristen Starr, Auburn University
3:00 – 3:30 Break
3:30 – 5:00 The Next Assignment: A Panel Discussion 
Chair: Peter Jakab, National Air and Space MuseumMark Lewis, IDA Science and Technology Policy InstituteMichael Gorn, Research Associate, National Air and Space MuseumJanet Bednarek, University of DaytonPeter Westwick, University of Southern California
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Something Fun for a Friday the Thirteenth: Ray Charles and Jimmy Lewis singing “If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck”

Since it is Friday the thirteenth I thought I would offer a great song by Ray Charles and Jimmy Lewis. We have all thought it; some of us have said it out loud. Ray and Jimmy sing it like it was meant to be sang. Enjoy!

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “A Single Sky”

A Single SkyDavid P. D. Munns. A Single Sky: How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013. x + 247 pp., illus., acknowledgments, list of abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 978-0-262-01833-3. $34.00, £23.95 (hardcover).

In A Single Sky: How an International Community Forged the Science of Radio Astronomy David P.D. Munns focuses on the international group of often warring scientists and engineers that created a critically important astronomical capability in the aftermath of World War II. While astronomy is centuries old—some would argue that it is the oldest scientific discipline—venturing into the non-visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum is a twentieth century phenomenon.

Radio astronomy is the application of a wartime technology to a nonviolent pursuit, even though the first such postwar application was the related technology of radar astronomy. Creating a new perspective on the universe, radio astronomy came about because of the efforts of astronomers and engineers around the world who over time established observatories to view the cosmos.

Taking something of a cultural anthropological approach, Munns offers disparate stories about Australian, British, Dutch, and American efforts to develop and use this technology. Through their efforts they created a community of scientists, aided and sometimes opposed by engineers and others. This is fundamentally a study of discipline formation, international integration, and cooperative push/pull. It is not the first work to explore discipline formation in the history of astronomy, but it is a useful investigation of an important subgroup in the field.

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The International Space Station and the Clash of Civilizations

The international Space Station from STS-130  in December 2010.

The international Space Station from STS-130 in December 2010.

As the operations on the International Space Station now move toward a score of years, it may be that this cooperative venture provides one of the clearest opportunities present for tying nation-states together. One is reminded of the quote from Wernher von Braun, “we can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.” Perhaps the hardest part of spaceflight is not the scientific and technological challenges of operating in an exceptionally foreign and hostile environment but in the down-to-Earth environment of rough-and-tumble international and domestic politics. But even so, cooperative space endeavors have been richly rewarding and overwhelmingly useful, from all manner of scientific, technical, social, and political perspectives.

This is especially true of the International Space Station (ISS). Virtually everyone would agree that astronauts standing on the Moon alongside the United States flag were just as important to the winning of the cold war as reconnaissance satellites and strategic weapons. Just as surely as the Apollo program helped the United States, the ISS serves a critical international role in the post-cold war world.

In the aftermath of international tensions, the International Space Station may prove just as important in the quest to maintain U.S. hegemony—political, technological, and economic—in the world as Apollo had been at the height of the cold war. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union a different set of priorities has replaced the powerful secular ideologies of democracy, communism, nationalism, fascism, and socialism that dominated international politics since the Enlightenment. These were not so much new priorities as ancient traditions based on ethnic, religious, kinship, or tribal loyalties that reemerged full-blown in the 1990s as all the great ideologies, save democracy, collapsed worldwide: and even democracy was none too stable outside the West.

Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington developed a powerful thesis to explain what has happened in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of a bipolar world. The thrust of Huntington’s argument rejects the notion that the world will inevitably succumb to Western values. On the contrary, Huntington contends that the West’s influence in the world is waning because of growing resistance to its values and the reassertion by non-Westerners of their own cultures. He argues that the world will see in the twenty-first century an increasing threat of violence arising from renewed conflicts among countries and cultures basing their identities on long-held traditions.

Astronaut Jerry L. Ross, STS-88 mission specialist, is pictured during one of three space walks that were conducted on the twelve-day mission between December 4-15, 1998. Perched on the end of Endeavour's remote manipulator system (RMS) arm, astronaut James H. Newman, mission specialist, recorded this image. Newman can be seen reflected in Ross' helmet visor. The solar array panel for the Russian-built Zarya module can be seen along right edge. This was just the first of about 160 spacewalks totaling 1,920 work-hours required to complete the International Space Station.

Astronaut Jerry L. Ross, STS-88 mission specialist, is pictured during one of three space walks that were conducted on the twelve-day mission between December 4-15, 1998. Perched on the end of Endeavour’s remote manipulator system (RMS) arm, astronaut James H. Newman, mission specialist, recorded this image. Newman can be seen reflected in Ross’ helmet visor. The solar array panel for the Russian-built Zarya module can be seen along right edge. This was just the first of about 160 spacewalks totaling 1,920 work-hours required to complete the International Space Station.

This argument moves past the notion of ethnicity to examine the growing influence of a handful of major cultures—Western, Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and African—in current struggles across the globe. In so doing, Huntington successfully shifts the discussion of the post-cold war world from ideology, ethnicity, politics, and economics to culture—especially to the religious basis of culture. Huntington rightly warns against facile generalizations about the world becoming one, so common in the early 1990s, and points out the resilience of civilizations to foreign secular influences.

Huntington asserts that there are nine major civilizations in the post-1990 era. The dominant civilization at present is the “West,” characterized by the United States, Canada, and the nations of western Europe. There are also Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic (Chinese), Hindu, Orthodox (Russia and other Slavic nations), Buddhist, and Japanese civilizations. Each has different traditions, priorities, and institutions. Each also misunderstands the other civilizations of the world. In the post-cold war era, no matter how seemingly desperate confrontations within these civilizations may seem—such as the trials over northern Ireland—they have little potential for escalation beyond the civilization in which they occur. Confrontations among civilizations, however, have a great potential to escalate into large conflagrations, even world wars. The civilizations capable of forming meaningful ties to other civilizations, creating alliances not just for defensive purposes but also as a means of broadening engagement, have the greatest possibility for thriving in this new international arena. The West, Huntington believes, should give up the idea of exporting its values and expand the possibility of its survival through stronger alliances with other civilizations.

In the clash of civilizations of the twenty-first century, the International Space Station offers a testbed for civilizational alliances. At some level this has already begun. From the beginning the West adopted the project and brought in a second great civilization in Japan. In 1993 the Orthodox civilization, using Huntington’s terminology for Russia and other Slavic peoples, joined the program. Perhaps the difficulty of working with the Russians has been largely the result of these strikingly different civilizations. Brazil and other nations of the Latin American civilization also want to join the program, as does India. China has also made overtures about the desire to become a part of the ISS effort.

Despite the very real challenges that would result from incorporating these new partners into the program, their inclusion would advance the cause of creating alliances with other civilizations. This could serve ultimately as a means of closing the gap between nations rather than widening it. At a fundamental level, the International Space Station would serve the larger objectives of American foreign policy better than many other initiatives that offer fewer prospects for success.

All the promise held out for the ISS in gaining scientific knowledge, technological development, and a hopeful future exploring the solar system may well pale in comparison to the very real possibility of enhancing cross-civilizational relations through this one act of working together to tackle an enormous challenge. The same may be true of the very real costs involved; it is a small price to pay for better international relations, and spending a larger share of the public treasury for the ISS is eminently better than spending it for weapons of destruction. For all the difficulties involved in working with a large group of international partners, the knowledge gained in large-scale cooperative programs will serve the United States and the West well in what looks all the world to be a rise of inter-civilizational rivalries in the twenty-first century.

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An Account of the Evacuation of Nauvoo by the Mormons in 1846

Photograph of Nauvoo in the middle 1840s with the Mormon Temple in the background

Photograph of Nauvoo in the middle 1840s with the Mormon Temple in the background

After a lengthy period of conflict between the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois, and their non-Mormon neighbors, they negotiated a treaty, dated September 16, 1846, which gave the remaining Mormons five days to leave the city. A few days after this, on September 19, a correspondent for the Burlington Hawkeye, published in Iowa Territory about 30 miles north of Nauvoo on the Mississippi River, witnessed this evacuation scene and wrote a brief account. He signed the article “CHE MO KO MON,” a Sauk term meaning “White Man,” so his identity is unknown.  His letter to the editor, entitled, “Nauvoo. The Day After It was Evacuated,” appeared in the September 24, 1846, issue of the Burlington Hawkeye.

This article is a very effective piece of writing, largely because of the immediacy that it conveys. The author apparently wrote his account in the sanctuary of the Nauvoo Temple, after witnessing the results of the conflict and the still-ongoing evacuation. He caught the eerie quiet of the deserted streets and the incongruity of soldiers and armaments in a sacred building that proclaimed on its wall, “The Lord is our Sacrifice.” Also, he captured the suffering of hundreds of people by depicting a few cases of distress that came to his attention.

Another notable aspect of this remarkable piece of writing is that the author does not condemn the non-Mormons for their inhumanity or criticize the Mormons for their fanaticism, but rather, he suggests that both were responsible for the human tragedy that he witnessed. A poor widow from Yorkshire, whom he encountered on the street, was in distress not only because she and her family must leave, but also because her husband “gave all his money to the church.” She clearly felt abandoned, if not exploited, by the church and the circumstances of the exodus.

While the author roamed through the defeated and occupied town, he recalled the Mormon prophet, whom he noted had reveled in “military glory.” Also, by referring to Nauvoo as a “doomed city,” he invited the reader to reflect on the reasons for its evacuation. Whoever he was, CHE MO KO MON wrote perhaps the finest newspaper item related to the Mormon conflict in Illinois in the 1840s.


DEAR HAWK—My powers of description are totally inadequate to give your readers any just conception of the “scenes” that now present themselves on every hand in this vicinity.  On either shore of the Mississippi may be seen a long line of tents, wagons, cattle, &c., with numberless wretched specimens of humanity. Since the armistice or “treaty” the Mormons are crossing in almost breathless haste. Three or four “flats” are running constantly, both day and night. This morning, Saturday, 19th, at the solicitation of Capt. Vrooman, of the Fort Madison Guards, I crossed the river from Montrose, to take a peek at this City of Desolation. We proceeded to the Mansion House, where we met with a small detachment of soldiers and a number of strangers. From thence we went to the Temple. On entering the vestibule of this renowned edifice, a singular spectacle presented itself.  The seats of the High Priests of the “Twelve” and of the “seventy” were occupied by a grim visaged soldiery. Some lay sleeping on their “arms,” and others lay rolled up in their blankets.  On every hand lay scattered about in beautiful confusion, muskets, swords, cannon balls and terrible missiles of death. Verily, thought I, how are the holy places desecrated! I thought of old Oliver Cromwell, when he drove the horses of his army through the “cloisters” of the Worcester Cathedral, and appropriated the Baptismal fount as a manger.

I am penning this scrawl to you in the upper seat of the Sanctuary. Over my head there is an inscription in large gold letters, “The Lord is our Sacrifice”; on my right lie three soldiers asleep, resting on their arms—my feet are resting on a pile of chain shot—and a keg of powder, just discovered, lies at my elbow.

I left the Temple “solitary and alone,” to perambulate the desolate city. All was still and hushed as the charnel house.—Not a human being was seen. Houses appeared suddenly deserted, as though the inmates had precipitately fled from a pestilence or the burning of a volcano. Some had windows open and the flowers blooming the casements, but no fair hand was there, and no breath was heard, save the rustling zephyrs of heaven. It appeared as if the vengeance of the Almighty rested upon this doomed city.

Nauvoo, Illinois, as seen across the Mississippi River from Iowa in the 1840s.

Nauvoo, Illinois, as seen across the Mississippi River from Iowa in the 1840s.

I roamed over the vast Parade Ground where, four years ago, I beheld the soi distant “Prophet” review his Legion of 3000 strong, in all the “pride and circumstance” of military glory. Where now is the Prophet?  Let the Plains of Carthage answer! And where the multitudes that shouted hosannas to his name?  Verily, thought I, “truth is stranger than fiction.” I returned again through the desolate streets to the Mansion House. One solitary being, with a child in her arms, stood at the corner of a street, and saluted me with an imploring and almost frantic look.

“Pray, sir, are you one of the committee,” said she.

When I replied that I was a stranger, her eyes filled with tears.  She related her history. Tis soon told, and is the history of hundreds.

We came from Yorkshire, England, my husband died eighteen months after our arrival. He gave all his money to the church.”

“Where are your friends,” said I.

“I have none—not one. The soldiers say I must leave in two hours. This child is sick, and my other is a cripple.” She had flour enough for but one dinner!

On the Montrose side of the Mississippi, many of the scenes were heartbreaking. I stopped at the door of one tent, arrested by the subdued sobs of a young mother, whose heart was broken with grief. By her side lay her infant, a corpse. She had neither friend or relative to bury her child, nor a mouthful of food to eat.

I was convinced that Gen. Brockman, to his honor be it spoken, conducted [the evacuation] with marked distinction and humanity; and the night the army took possession of the city, not a rail was disturbed or a particle of property molested. Although they encamped adjoining an extensive orchard of choice fruit, not a hand was laid upon it. The boat is leaving for Montrose and I must drop my pen. Perhaps more anon from your faithful chronicler.


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