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The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, is the original "Hall of Fame" in the United States. "Fame" here means "renown" (rather than today's more common meaning of "celebrity"). Its originator, Chancellor Henry Mitchell MacCracken, acknowledged inspiration from the Ruhmeshalle (Hall of Fame) in Munich.

It is a "national shrine" on the grounds of the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Though the Hall's renown has itself faded, its glorious architecture remains, and the hall stands as a shrine not just to great men, but to Roman ideals of fame favored at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Completed in 1900, as part of the original New York Universitymarker campus at the site,the building was donated by Helen Gould and was formally dedicated on May 30, 1901.

The Hall of Fame stands on the heights occupied by the British army in its successful attack upon Fort Washingtonmarker in the autumn of 1776. Dr. Henry Mitchell MacCracken, originator of The Hall of Fame and Chancellor of New York University once said:
Lost to the invaders of 1776, this summit is now retaken by the goodly troop of 'Great Americans', General Washington their leader. They enter into possession of these Heights and are destined to hold them, we trust, forever.

Origin and inspiration

Other monuments of a similar nature had been built earlier. King Ludwig I of Bavaria actually built two: a Walhalla Ruhmes- und Ehrenhallemarker near Regensburg, Germanymarker, completed in 1842, and a Ruhmeshalle auf der Anhöhe (Bavarian Hall of Fame), in Munichmarker, completed in 1853.Chancellor Henry Mitchell McCracken described the evolution of the idea for the Hall of Fame:
The Hall of Fame... owes its inception in large part to hard facts of physical geography. After the three buildings which were to form the west side of the quadrangle of the New York University College of Arts and Science at University Heights had been planned, it was decided, in order to enlarge the quadrangle, to push them as near as possible to the avenue above the Harlem River. But since the campus level is 170 feet above high tide, and from 40 to 60 feet above the avenue, it was seen at once that the basement stories would stand out towards the avenue bare and unsightly. In order to conceal their walls, a terrace was suggested by the architect, to be bounded at its outer edge by a parapet or colonnade.

But while aesthetics compelled the architect to invent the terrace with its parapet of colonnade, the university's necessity compelled the discovery of an educational use for the architect's structure. Like most persons who have visited Germany, the chairman was acquainted with the "Ruhmes Halle," built near Munich by the King of Bavaria. Like all Americans, he admired the use made of Westminster Abbey, and of the Pantheon in Paris. But the American claims liberty to adopt new and broad rules to govern him, even when following on the track of his Old-World ancestors. Hence it was agreed that admission to this Hall of Fame should be controlled by a national body of electors, who might, as nearly as possible, represent the wisdom of the American people.


The memorial structure is an open-air colonnade, 630 feet in length with space for 102 bronze sculptures, designed in the neoclassical style by architect Stanford White. The library is comparable to Low Librarymarker at Columbia, designed by White's partner Charles McKim.

Carved in stone on pediments of The Hall of Fame are the words "By wealth of thought, or else by mighty deed, They served mankind in noble character. In worldwide good they live forever more."

The base to each sculpture holds a bronze tablet bearing the name of the person commemorated, significant dates, achievements and quotations. Each bronze bust must have been made specifically for The Hall of Fame and must not be duplicated within 50 years of its execution.


To be eligible for nomination, a person must have been a native born or naturalized (since 1914) citizen of the United States, must have been dead for 25 years (since 1922; from 1900 through 1920, a nominee had to be dead only 10 years) and must have made a major contribution to the economic, political, or cultural life of the nation. Nominees were elected by a simple majority vote, except from 1925 through 1940, when a 3/5 majority was required, and in 1976 when a point system replaced the majority vote. Two nominees, Constance Woolson (nominated in 1900) and Orville Wright (elected in 1965), were considered, being dead only 6 and 17 years respectively.

MacCracken wanted to make sure that the people enshrined in his Hall of Fame were truly famous, not just memorable. So he established a board of electors, composed of men and women who were themselves possessed of some measure of renown, ostensibly people of great character and sound judgment. Over the years that body would include the most respected writers, historians, and educators of their day, along with scores of congressmen, a dozen Supreme Court justices, and six Presidents; seven former electors have themselves been elected to the Hall of Fame. To ensure that nominees would be evaluated with adequate sobriety and perspective, it was decided that no one could be elected who had not been dead for at least twenty-five years. Everyone thought that was just fine; after all, as the old maxim holds, "Fame is a food that dead men eat".

The Hall of Fame soon became a focal point for US national pride:
It was a truly democratic institution — anyone could nominate a candidate, admission would be free, and although NYU served as a steward, raising funds and running the elections, the whole thing was technically the property of the American people.
...and people took it very, very seriously. Newspaper publishers used their editorial pages to lobby for or against nominees, and groups like the American Bar Association and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (helped elect "Stonewall" Jackson in 1955 and, without success, Jefferson Davis) waged extensive, expensive campaigns to get "their" candidates elected. Installation ceremonies were elaborate events. For a while the term "Hall of Famer" carried greater cachet than "Nobel laureate", and a hilltop in the Bronx seemed, to many, the highest spot in the country, if not the world.

Classification of honorees

A floor tile at the Hall of Fame denoting the section set aside for busts of Teachers
The first 50 names were required to include representatives of a majority of 15 classes:
  • authors and editors
  • business men
  • inventors
  • missionaries and explorers
  • philanthropists and reformers
  • clergymen and theologians;
  • scientists
  • engineers and architects
  • lawyers and judges
  • musicians, painters, and sculptors
  • physicians and surgeons
  • rulers and statesmen
  • soldiers and sailors
  • teachers
  • distinguished men and women outside of these classes

First group

The first 29 people to be elected in the year 1900 were:

Later groups

Added in 1905:

Added in 1910:

Added in 1915:

Added in 1920:

Added in 1925:

Added in 1930:

Added in 1935:

Added in 1940:

Added in 1945:

Added in 1950:
Added in 1955:

Added in 1960:

Added in 1965:

Added in 1970:

Added in 1973:

Added in 1976:

The inductees voted on in 1976 (and Brandeis) do not have busts at the Hall.

South entrance

Nominees not elected

In addition to Constance Woolson and Jefferson Davis, the following people were nominated at least once but not elected:

John C. Calhoun,Horace Greeley,Ephraim McDowell,Richard M. Hoe,Adoniram Judson,Henry Wheaton,Hiram Powers,Louisa May Alcott,Dorothea Dix,Alice Cary,Lydia Huntley Sigourney,Theodore Dwight Woolsey,Martha Washington,Francis Wayland,Frederick Edwin Church,Sarah Franklin Bache,Horace Bushnell,Mary Washington,Matthew Simpson,William Austin Burt,Ottmar Mergenthaler,John Eliot ,Helen Hunt Jackson,Robert L. Stevens,John Jay,Samuel Adams,Sacagawea,Benjamin Thompson,James A. Garfield,William McKinley,Cyrus McCormick,Henry George,George Rogers Clark,Charles Follen McKim,Henry Barnard,Borden Parker Bowne,Lucretia Mott,Elena Petrovna Blavatsky,Sarah Josepha Buell Hale,William Lloyd Garrison,Wendell Phillips,John Singleton Copley,Andrew Johnson,William Henry Harrison,Chester A. Arthur,Benjamin Harrison,S. Weir Mitchell,William Brewster ,William James,Warren G. Harding,William Beaumont,Elizabeth Blackwell,Benjamin Peirce,Robert McCormick,Elizabeth Seton,Calvin Coolidge,Paul Dunbar,John Ireland ,Judah Touro,William Henry Welch,Joyce Kilmer,George Caleb Bingham,Paul M. Warburg,John Stevens ,Karl Landsteiner,Jacob Schiff,Nikola Tesla,Noah Webster,Henry Ford,Charles Evans Hughes,Fiorello La Guardia,Babe Ruth,John Shaw Billings,Gilbert N. Lewis,Crawford Long,George M. Cohan,Al Jolson,Lou Gehrig,Johnny Appleseed,Amelia Earhart,Chief Joseph,Wyatt Earp,Huey Long,Will Rogers.


Today the Hall of Fame for Great Americans is forgotten. For twenty years [viz., prior to 1997], in fact, it has been too broke to hold new elections, too broke even to commission busts of the people it elected two decades ago, including Louis Brandeis, Clara Barton, Luther Burbank, and Andrew Carnegie. It took nineteen years to raise the $25,000 needed to commission the bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1973 NYU abruptly abandoned its Bronx campus and the Hall of Fame. Eventually the state bought the whole thing, and it is now in the hands of Bronx Community College. In the late 1970s the state spent $3 million restoring the colonnade's crumbling foundation; a few years ago it spent another $200,000 restoring the ninety-eight bronze busts, many of which had deteriorated badly. But private gifts, which were always the Hall of Fame's primary source of support, stopped coming many years ago.

In 2001, Bronx Community College organized a US$ 1 Million fund-raising effort to re-build and expand the Hall of Fame.

Along with the library dome at the Bronx Community College, the Hall of Fame was featured in the 2006 film The Good Shepherd as a backdrop for scenes taking place at Yale Universitymarker. The dome of the Gould Memorial Library at the Hall of Fame served as a stand-in for MIT's Great Dome in the movie A Beautiful Mind.


Articles Cited

  • Rubin, R., "The Mall of Fame", The Atlantic Monthly, Vol.280, No.1, (July 1997), pp.14-18.
  • Wallechinsky, David, and Irving Wallace, "The Hall of Fame for Great Americans," in The People's Almanac #2. New York: Bantam, 1978, pp. 1050-1056.

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