A boy who witness his sister drown in a Massachusetts river and comes to the conclusion that gravity is to blame for everything: she was unable to fight gravity, which came up and grabbed her like a dragon and carried her off, he wrote. As an adult, he studies at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), creates a foundation for the development of gravitational shielding, and founds universities, among other amazing things. It seems like the plot of some science fiction movie.
But quite the opposite, the boy in question was named Roger Ward Babson and would become a successful financial investor thanks to Isaac Newton (we will see why later) and would run for president in 1940, losing to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He was born on July 6th, 1875 in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He studied engineering, as we said, at MIT (where he convinced the dean to include a course in market engineering, which still exists) and began working as an advisor to investment firms. He was first married in 1900 at the age of 25, and in 1904 he founded his own company, The Office of Roger Babson. Over the years it would change its name several times, but it is still run by his family, under the brand name Babson-United Inc.
His success as an investor was due to his unorthodox ideas about market cycles. He believed that gravity, and Newton’s laws of action and reaction, could be used to explain fluctuations in stock prices. It seems absurd and pseudo-scientific, but it worked for him. He was a director of several companies and wrote more than 40 books on economics and hundreds of articles in trade magazines and newspapers, detailing his theories and providing advice, including his 10 Commandments for the Investor:
- Keep speculation and investments separate.
- Don’t be fooled by a name.
- Be wary of new promotions.
- Give due consideration to market ability.
- Don’t buy without proper facts.
- Safeguard purchases through diversification.
- Don’t try to diversify by buying different securities of the same company.
- Small companies should be carefully scrutinized.
- Buy adequate security, not super abundance.
- Choose your dealer and buy outright (don’t buy on margin)
Coincidence or clairvoyance, on September 5th 1929, as John Kenneth Galbraith tells in The Great Crash 1929, Babson announced that sooner or later a crisis will come, and it will be terrible, factories will close, people will lose their jobs and the result will be a serious financial depression. Just one month later, on October the 24th of that year, the New York Stock Exchange suffered the biggest drop in its history, starting the Great Depression.
During the crisis, Babson, who was already a millionaire, took part in another unique initiative. Near his hometown of Gloucester there was (still is) an old abandoned settlement called Dogtown, which his grandfather had included in a county history book.
Babson made a map of the place, numbering the remains of the village in correspondence with the names assigned in his grandfather’s book. At the same time he hired several stonemasons, apparently about 35, all or almost all of them unemployed Finnish immigrants, to carve inscriptions of inspiring words and phrases on rocks in the forest, thus helping them to cope with the crisis.
Today the area is a tourist place of trails, where the main attraction is the search for the 26 inscriptions of Babson, some in sight but others semi-concealed in places.
By 1940 Roger even got into politics, running for president as the candidate of the Prohibition Party. Indeed, it is the party (because it still exists) that had managed to sneak in the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1919, banning the production, sale, transport, import and export of alcohol. This was called Prohibition, which lasted until 1933 and was used by individuals like Al Capone to do their business.
Unfortunately for him, not only did he lose the election, which that year was won by the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, but he came in fourth place and was also beaten by the Republican and Socialist candidates.
Disillusioned with politics, he focused on science, as he said, following the traumatic experience of his childhood that we discussed at the beginning. Thus, in 1948 he created the Gravity Research Foundation. According to Thomas Valone in his book Electrogravitics Systems, Babson was a good friend of Thomas Edison and it was he who suggested the creation of the foundation.
The aim was to develop ways of implementing gravitational shielding, i.e. isolating an object from the influence of gravity by making it virtually weightless. Something that the scientific community believes is not possible and that goes against Newton’s theories and against general relativity. Nevertheless, several experiments have been carried out, one of the latest in 1999, all of them without success.
The concept of gravitational shielding or protection against gravity is indeed common in science fiction, and in fact one of the first to use it was H.G. Wells in his 1901 novel The First Men in the Moon, where a substance called Cavorite is used to produce precisely that effect.
Babson established the foundation’s facility in the small town of New Boston, New Hampshire, a place he chose because it was far enough away from any major city to survive a nuclear attack. He soon gave up on his quest for anti-gravity and turned to sponsoring research by scientists to try to understand gravity instead of blocking it.
He established a $4,000 annual prize for these trials, which went on to win up to five researchers who would later win the Nobel Prize in Physics: George Smoot (Nobel Prize in 2006), Julian Shwinger (Nobel Prize in 1965), Martin Perl (Nobel Prize in 1995), Gerard ‘t Hooft (Nobel Prize in 1999) and Frank Wilczek (Nobel Prize in 2004). Moreover, Stephen Hawking won the prize in 1971, and Roger Penrose in 1975.
The foundation also organized seminars and conferences, but everything came to a standstill after Babson’s death in 1967. However, the essay prize is still awarded every year.
In the 1960s Babson funded scholarships at several universities, which were accompanied by the installation of foundation memorials on campuses. Each carries an inspiring phrase for students, obviously in relation to gravity. For example, the one at Emory University says: to remind students of the blessings forthcoming when science determines what gravity is, how it works, and how it may be controlled.
Roger Babson died on March 5th 1967 at the age of 91, leaving an inheritance equivalent to $60 million today. He is buried at Babson College, Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.
Sources: Gravity Research Foundation (Web Oficial) / Babson Historical Association / The Great Crash 1929 (John Kenneth Galbraith) / Gravity’s Shadow (Harry Collins) / Electrogravitics Systems (Thomas Valone) / The Dacrons – Dogtown / Wikipedia.