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29 October 2014
Science & Nature: TV & Radio Follow-upScience & Nature
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actor playing Robert Klark Graham
The Genius Sperm Bank

The curious tale of an American millionaire optometrist and his dream to save humanity.

The Genius Sperm Bank was created in the late 1970s by Robert Klark Graham, an American millionaire optometrist. Officially named the Repository for Germinal Choice, its aim was to breed highly intelligent kids in order to save the world from genetic decline. Graham believed he could achieve this by getting clever men to donate sperm.

Robert Graham had made his name by inventing the shatterproof spectacle lens. He was 'the man who made it safe to wear eye glasses'. But by the 1960s, aged nearly 60, he had lost interest in correcting mankind's eyesight. Instead he turned his attention to correcting mankind itself.

'Retrograde humans' were, he felt, breeding unchecked, causing the evolutionary regression of mankind. He wanted to reverse this trend and bring thousands of geniuses into the world, geniuses fathered by the most brilliant minds. Single-handedly he dreamed of saving humanity, and he would do so using the sperm of clever men.

In the late 1970s, with the help of expert sperm banker Steve Broder, Graham secretly set up his Repository for Germinal Choice. To be safe from prying eyes, he used an underground bunker in the backyard of his ranch in San Diego, California.

He then set about sourcing the cleverest sperm and managed to convince three Nobel prize winners to donate. Booking rooms at a hotel, Graham would ask his elderly donors to provide an anonymous sample for his bank.

It wasn't long before LA Times journalist Edwin Chen found out about the clandestine sperm bank. On 2 March 1980, he exposed the 73-year-old tycoon's controversial project to the world. Chen also discovered that Nobel Prize winner and notorious racist William Shockley was a donor to the bank. Accused of being a Nazi, Graham got slammed in the press. His other donors left him and his dream was all but destroyed. Yet still the women came flocking.

Graham now needed a helping hand to keep his controversial experiment alive. He enlisted avid dog breeder Paul Smith to source new donors. Local artist Julianna McKillop was taken on to man the phones and help match-make recipients to the genius donors.

All the donors were promised anonymity. They were always referred to by a colour code-name. Graham and Paul also came up with the unique concept of a donor catalogue, where donors' hobbies, skills and interests were listed alongside their detailed bodily attributes. Sperm banking had never seen the like, recipients could now actually choose a donor with characteristics they liked.

Adrienne and David Ramm from New York, Lisa Zerr from Colorado and Andrea and Tom Gronwall from California were three families that went to Graham's Genius Sperm Bank. Each was desperate to have a child, yet each unable due to male fertility issues. But having found their way to Graham's bank, they each chose a donor and took home the genius sperm. Even with the aid of a speculum and a torch, home insemination was never an easy process.

In April 1982, the bank's first birth was announced, a girl called Victoria Kowalski. Although Graham was delighted, his delight soon soured when it was reported that the baby's parents had been previously convicted of child abuse. His bank got slammed again.

But then in August 1982, Californian psychologist Dr Afton Blake gave birth to child called Doron. Graham finally had his poster boy.

Despite this, over its 20 years of operation, Graham's Repository was beset by problems, not least that there was never enough sperm. Graham contacted high achievers personally, asking for donations.

It was on a donor recruitment expedition in February 1997 that Graham, now 90 years old, died. While attending a science conference in Seattle, he slipped in his hotel bathtub, was knocked unconscious and drowned. Unfunded, his Repository closed two years later.

Yet Graham left behind him a unique legacy, the Repository was ultimately responsible for the birth of 217 children. His poster child, Doron Blake, is now aged 23, and with an IQ 'off the scale', wants to be an elementary school teacher.

Courtney Ramm, aged 17, has always found school work easy and is determined to be in a ballet company. Jesse Gronwall is reading a degree in politics at the University of California and has plans to 'make a difference in the world'. Teenagers Paisley and Stirling Zerr are not sure what they want to do.

This bunch are all clearly intelligent, but as most of the sperm bank children still remain anonymous, no one will ever be able to test to see whether Graham's experiment to breed intelligent kids using clever sperm really worked or not.

Graham's other legacy was that he truly changed the face of modern sperm banking, not just with the innovation of the donor catalogue, but also the previously unheard of concept where clients could actively choose donors.

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Wikipedia: Sperm banks

Wikipedia: Robert Klark Graham


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