Article ID: CBB001510455

Bred for the Race: Thoroughbred Breeding and Racial Science in the United States, 1900--1940 (2015)


In the first four decades of the twentieth century, horse racing was one of America's most popular spectator sports. Members of America's elite took to breeding and racing horses as one of their preferred pastimes. Coinciding with an increase in immigration and the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics, the idea that careful breeding of thoroughbreds would result in improved horses resonated with Americans worried about racial degeneration. Scientists committed to racial ideologies looked to thoroughbreds---whose owners and breeders maintained extensive pedigree records---to understand the science of genetic inheritance. Harry H. Laughlin, superintendent of research at the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, pored over breeding charts and race results to develop a mathematical model of inheritance that he called the “inheritance coefficient.” He believed his careful study of horses would yield findings that he and his fellow eugenicists could apply to humans. Thoroughbred breeders followed trends in genetics while contributing to the production of scientific knowledge. Pedigree charts available to bettors at race tracks helped normalize concepts of biological inheritance for race track attendees of all classes. Horse racing's popularity in the United States contributed to the diffusion of the concept of biological race that originated as an ideological project of the ruling class. This paper analyzes the role of thoroughbred breeding and racing in the formation and popularization of racial ideology by situating breeding farms as sites of knowledge production and racecourses as places that exhibited performances of racial science for large audiences.

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Authors & Contributors
Müller-Wille, Staffan
Kevles, Daniel J.
Rader, Karen A.
Heim, Susanne
Elina, Olga Y.
Roll-Hansen, Nils
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Archives of Natural History
Current Anthropology
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Science as Culture
Princeton University Press
University of Chicago Press
Yale University
The University of North Carolina Press
University of Minneapolis Press
Animal genetics
Laughlin, Harry Hamilton
Johannsen, Wilhelm Ludvig
Beijerinck, Martinus Willem
Pearson, Karl
White, Walter
Morton, Samuel George
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
21st century
20th century, late
18th century
20th century
United States
Great Britain
Soviet Union
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
United States. Patent Office
American Museum of Natural History, New York
Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (United States)
United States. Dept. of Agriculture

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