From 1889 to 1923, Harvey Harlow Nininger followed the fairly traditional and well worn path of an academic, but then something changed. And very likely if you are reading this, you also have experienced that “change” and from that point on, meteorites were part of your life. In the case of H. H. Nininger, he took the rest of the world with him when his life’s trajectory changed course, and thus forever cemented his place in modern meteoritics.
Author Kenneth J. Zoll chronicles Nininger’s trajectory in his new book H. H. Nininger: Master of Meteorites. Within the 173 paperback pages (or 10111 kilobytes on Kindle) Zoll takes readers through the humble beginnings of this future meteorite giant, through his early meteorite interest, to an arguable obsession, or passion as the author notes, to discover and share meteorites with any audience who would listen and hopefully learn. From detective work on the ground, to a grand public museum, to the impressive collection of books, to his death in 1986.
Describing the book H. H. Nininger: Master of Meteorites the author distilled Nininger’s life into these two paragraphs:
Harvey H. Nininger is considered by many to be the “Father of American Meteoritics” – the study of meteorites. He was a pioneer and innovator in the field. When he began to search for meteorites, he was told by the head curator of geology at the Smithsonian Institution: “Young man, if you live to be 100 and find one meteorite, you will have done well.” Despite this discouragement, by 1941, it was acknowledged that his personal meteorite collection, from 226 meteorite falls, represented one-half of all the meteorites known at the time in the world. He was the Curator of Meteorites at the Denver Museum of Natural History from 1930 to 1943. He established the American Meteorite Laboratory in Denver in 1937.
After moving to Arizona, he established the American Meteorite Museum on the famous Route 66, north of Meteor Crater, from 1946 to 1953, when the museum was moved to Sedona’s Main Street where it operated until 1960. The collection was eventually sold to the British Museum of Natural History and to Arizona State University. During his career he wrote 10 books and over 140 scientific and popular articles. Harvey Nininger passed away in 1986 at the age of 99, shortly after the arrival of Haley’s Comet, that he had been looking forward to see.
While the above documentation of Nininger’s life is accurate, it, in my opinion, is completely devoid of the astonishing magic and futurist awareness Nininger held for meteorites. As if seeing into the future, Nininger held a near-manic drive to update the scientific community to the importance of meteorites across space science and geology. Much like Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Nininger discovered a massive gap in our understanding of the world. Like the microbes that van Leeuwenhoek observed, Nininger too realized the earth-shattering implications of was hiding in plain sight. It might be a stretch, but arguably Nininger was as much driven by the fascinating implications of meteorites as he was by the disappointment of institutionalized meteorite study fueled further by what could even be described as a popular or collective contempt for the importance of meteorites that the scientists and museum curators held at the time.
Today, a so-called “Nininger specimen” is a select class of collectable meteorites that has a documented affiliation with H. H. Nininger. It can be a meteorite with a “Nininger number” painted on it, or it can be listed or described in a catalog or publication by or about Nininger. Finally, in its simplest form, a Nininger specimen can be one the meteorites Nininger was himself responsible for discovering. There are also Nininger artifacts that range from published books, signed documents, collection or storage containers, and even some rare objects like Nininger Stars. Like a massively large record in sports, I doubt anyone will ever be able to make such a singular and personal impact on meteorite collecting across the world like H. H. Nininger. That starship has sailed.
The book, H. H. Nininger: Master of Meteorites is an excellent description of Nininger the man, and Nininger the meteorite legacy. The details bring alive the trials and tribulations of a man on a mission. The chapters include:
1. A comet strikes the earth
2. The star chaser
3. Meteor Crater
4. Showcasing the collection
5. Sedona to retirement
This image-rich book provides visual insights into the inner workings of Nininger’s collecting, displays, promotions, and activities. It also provides a detailed account of how Nininger was able to modernize meteorite collecting through advertising, technology, and endless hours with boots on the ground, so to speak. The fertile meteorite hunting landscape of the Midwest United States provided Nininger a constant stream of new material, as well as funding to chase reported falls.
Specific meteorites are highlighted including Coldwater, Brenham, Huizopa, Holbrook, Odessa, Archie, Moreland, Plainview, and many others including Beardsley. And Beardsley is one near and dear to my heart with my Nininger specimen featured in this book.
To me, H. H. Nininger is an astronaut and should be recognized as such. Although he never left this planet, he was directly responsible for putting extraterrestrial material into literally millions of hands. H. H. Nininger: Master of Meteorites presents Harvey as the singular force in meteorites that he was. While many will follow H. H., none can overshadow this Master of Meteorites.
“Proceeds from the sale of this book go to furthering the mission of the Verde Valley Archaeology Center”
Until next time….