The Genius Factory is the story of the most radical human-breeding experiment in American history: the Nobel Prize sperm bank. It opened to notorious fanfare in 1980, and for two decades, women flocked to the bank from all over the country to choose a sperm donor from its roster of Nobel-laureate scientists, mathematical prodigies, successful businessmen, and star athletes. But the bank quietly closed its doors in 1999--its founder dead, its confidential records sealed, and the fate of its children and donors unknown. While researching Nobelist William Shockley, a donor to the bank, award-winning Slate columnist David Plotz kept coming across references to the Repository. He realized that no one knew how this audacious venture had turned out. So in early 2001, Plotz set out to solve the mystery of the Nobel Prize sperm bank.
Plotz wrote an article for Slate inviting readers to contact him--confidentially--if they knew anything about the bank. The next morning, he received an email response from a Repository donor. Soon he received another from a mother, and another, and another--each person desperate to talk about the secret they had kept hidden for years. Now in The Genius Factory, Plotz unfolds the full and astonishing story of Nobel Sperm Bank and its founder's audacious scheme to change our world.
Believing America faced genetic catastrophe, Robert Graham, an eccentric millionaire, decided he could reverse the decline by artificially inseminating women with the sperm of geniuses. In February, 1980, Graham opened the Repository for Germinal Choice--immediately nicknamed the "Nobel Prize Sperm Bank" --and stocked it with the seed of gifted scientists, inventors, and thinkers. Over the next nineteen years, Graham's "genius factory" produced more than 200 children.
What happened to them? Were they the brilliant children that Graham expected? Did any of the "superman" fathers care about the unknown sons and daughters who bore their genes? What were the mothers like?
Criss-crossing the country and logging countless hours online, Plotz succeeded in tracking down families that never knew they existed--teenage half-brothers who ended up following vastly different paths, mothers who had wondered for years about the identities of the donors they had selected on the basis of code names and brief character profiles, fathers who were proud or ashamed or simply curious about the children who had been created from their sperm samples.
And as these strange family bonds came to light, extraordinary things began to happen. Tom, fifteen and alienated from his Midwestern high school, abruptly changed direction when he learned that he was a Nobel sperm bank child, and perhaps even the son of Jonas Salk. "Donor White," a sweet Southern gentleman, searched desperately for one of the nineteen children he had fathered. Brilliant, successful Samantha was stunned to learn that the donor she had chosen to father her exceptional son was nothing like the magnificent math genius she had been promised.
The children of the "genius factory" are messengers from the future--a future that is bearing down on us fast. What will families be like when parents routinely "shop" for their kids' genes? What will children be like when they're programmed for greatness? In this eye-opening book, David Plotz previews America's coming age of genetic expectations.