The Museum of Hoaxes

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A collection of strange and curious science miscellanea brought to you by the author of Elephants on Acid and Electrified Sheep
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The Man Who Tried to Sell Himself to Science, 1936
Like many people during the great depression, thirty-year-old William Bird of Jacksonville, Vermont had fallen on hard times. He was out of work, heavily in debt, and facing eviction. He feared he would soon be unable to feed and clothe his wife and three children. So Bird came up with a plan. He would sell himself to science.

He announced his offer in November 1936 through the local press:
If some doctor or group of doctors would let me borrow enough to pay my bills and set me on my feet, I would give myself as security. If I failed to pay it back at a time decided, they could have me to experiment on any way they wished. They might discover something worth many times the sum they let me have.

William Bird posing with his family

Later he further elaborated on his offer, noting that it would be all right with him if he didn't survive the experimentation process:

If I could borrow $2500 for three years, I would pay up all my bills and buy, free and clear, a little place for my family to live. Then, if I didn't pay it back and the experimenting killed me, it would be all right by me. No one could kick my children out, if I bought the home for them first.

The media picked up on his unusual offer and broadcast it nationwide. Reporters noted that he was a prime physical specimen — six feet tall, 175 pounds, and a sturdy workman of good habits. In other words, excellent guinea pig material.

An anonymous Texan took sympathy on Bird and sent him $10. However, the scientific community wasn't tempted. No doctors took him up on his offer.

Although Bird didn't end up being dissected in a laboratory, the story nevertheless had a happy ending. Within days of making his appeal, Bird was given a job on a construction project. He said, "I don't know who was responsible for giving me work, but I sure appreciate it." But he also noted that, despite having a job, his offer still stood should some doctor ever want to take him up on it.

Bird at his new construction job
  • "Offers to sell himself for cash." (Nov 15, 1936). Los Angeles Times: 14.
  • "Will sell self to raise $2500." (Nov 12, 1936). Ludington Daily News: 1.
Posted By: alex | Date: Sun Aug 07, 2011
Category: Human Subjects, Medical Research, 1900-1949, United States,
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