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Harvey Nininger II

January 17, 2012

In the early and mid 1900s, a knock at the front door sometimes interrupted the dinnertime of farmers in Kansas, Texas, and other regions of the Great Plains. When they opened up, they found something truly bewildering: a man wanting to buy rocks.

The man was Harvey Nininger, who was born 125 years ago today. In the 1920s, he was teaching biology at a college in Kansas when he saw a bright meteor blazing across the night sky. The sight inspired him to spend the rest of his life hunting for and studying the space rocks known as meteorites.

Nininger drove thousands of miles across the backroads of the plains, stopping at farmhouses, general stores, and newspaper offices along the way. He asked about certain types of rocks, and distributed flyers that described them. And he offered to pay for them: a dollar a pound. During the Depression years, that was a bounty that few farmers could pass up.

The grass-roots effort paid off enough for Nininger to quit his teaching job and devote full time to meteorites. In all, he found fragments of more than 200 individual meteorites — more than anyone else had ever discovered.

Nininger became the world’s leading meteorite hunter, and eventually displayed his treasures at small museums in Arizona. He also published more than 150 papers on the topic. His work led to much greater scientific interest in the subject — an interest that continues today. More about that tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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