The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Frank Thone and a "Square Deal" on Earth Day
In addition to earning a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Chicago in 1922 and building a successful career as a journalist at Science Service, Frank Thone (1891-1949) routinely enriched the lives of friends, colleagues, and readers with his irreverent (but relevant) sense of humor.
When the Science Service staff posed for new publicity shots in the 1940s, Thone and photographer Fremont Davis (who was also the brother of Thone's boss) could not help constructing this special "perspective" on the relationship between species.
Frank Ernest Aloysius Thone was born in Davenport, Iowa, on April 12, 1891. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Grinnell College, Thone tried university teaching for a few years after finishing his doctoral studies but soon found his true calling as a writer, joining the Science Service staff in 1924. He became one of a small but growing cadre of well-educated men and women establishing a new profession: journalists who write exclusively about the world of science.
Wry comments punctuate Thone's correspondence preserved throughout the Smithsonian Institution Archives collections. One of my favorites, in Record Unit 7091 - Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, involved a response to a reader who complained that a news story had described the Mississippi River as "muddy." Thone’s two-page letter to Alice L. Braunwarth Halstead (August 9, 1932) presented hydrology data on comparative particle rates in other American rivers and concluded with this comic crescendo: "It's my river just as it is yours, and I love it and am proud of it. I recognize its muddiness in a purely factual way, just as I make no bones about having a big nose or red hair. It's something that calls for neither bragging nor apologies."
Thone’s syndicated "Nature Ramblings" column offered lively observations about life on earth and drew on his experiences during the early 1920s as a seasonal naturalist in Yellowstone National Park, as well as his scientific expertise, but he could never hide his passion for conservation. He said that one of the first organizations he joined in Washington was the Wild Flower Preservation Society because he advocated a "square deal" for "our native species."
Happy Earth Day to all species—flora, fauna, and flies!
- Record Unit 7091 - Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 90-105, Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives