History

Thornwell Jacobs: The Father of the Modern Time Capsule

In 1935, while engaged in research on ancient historical materials in connection with the writing of one of his books, Dr. Thornwell. Jacobs, then President of Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia, was struck by the lack of accurate information regarding ancient civilizations. Determined to make an effort to preserve in a scientific manner every salient feature of present day civilization for the people of the future, Dr. Jacobs devised the plans for the Crypt of Civilization.

Dr. Thornwell Jacobs

Because the first known date in recorded history, 4241 B.C., was 6177 years previous, Jacobs suggested that the Crypt be sealed until 6177 years have passed. The Crypt of Civilization was sealed on the 28th day of May, 1940, with instructions that it is not to be opened until the 28th day of May, 8113 A.D.

Oglethorpe Hearst Hall The Crypt, located under Phoebe Hearst Hall, is a room 20 feet long, 10 feet high and 10 feet wide (60 palms long, 30 palms wide and 30 palms high). The Crypt, resting on a bed rock with 2 feet of stone above it, is lined with porcelain enamel plates embedded in pitch. It is sealed with a great stainless steel door, welded in place.

Watch a short video about the history of the Crypt

In 1936, Dr. Thornwell Jacobs described his plan to create a permanent record – a time capsule – of what life was like on Earth for any future inhabitants, an article featured in the the November 1936 issue of Scientific American magazine. To assist him in this tremendous task, Dr. Jacobs sought the help of Thomas K. Peters, a scientist of versatile experience. Work on the Crypt commenced in August, 1937, and continued until June, 1940. During this period of thirty-three months, an astounding amount of knowledge was condensed: the accumulated knowledge acquired during the 72,000 months of the last 6000 years.

Jacob’s idea in 1936 created tremendous interest. Soon afterward the Westinghouse Company, which was building a pavilion for the 1938-39 New York World’s Fair, buried a project, which was not to be opened until 6938 A.D. It was called a “Time Capsule” and our language gained a new term almost overnight.

The encyclopedic inventory of items in the Crypt includes, in a swimming pool size chamber, over 640,000 pages of micro-filmed material, hundreds of newsreels and recordings, a set of Lincoln logs, a Donald Duck doll and thousands of other items, many from ordinary daily life. There also is a device designed to teach the English language to the Crypt’s finders. No gold, silver, or jewels are included to tempt vandals.

Inside view of the Crypt

The Crypt of Civilization has been featured in stories by the Associated Press, NBC, ABC, CNN, National Public Radio, the New York Times, and other publications. If you are a member of the press and would like further information about the Crypt or are interested in scheduling an interview, please contact Oglethorpe University Communications.