Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thousands Interested in Esperanto

Good news for Esperanto
A 1911 article by Frederic J. Haskin gives an estimate for the number of people in the United States interested in Esperanto. I’ve already hinted that it’s big, but it’s bigger than you might think. The years 1906 to 1914 seem to have been the glory days for Esperanto in the United States. When Haskin wrote his article, the 1910 Universala Kongreso was only a few months in the past.

While the Kongreso might have been small (while the organizers said that it might be the biggest ever, it was the smallest up to that time, and only the one held during WWI was smaller), it did spark some additional interest in Esperanto in the United States (which is one of the purposes of the Kongreso). In the months surrounding the event, newspapers had had a steady stream of articles about Esperanto.[1] And, as Haskin points out, there were some positive developments in the United States movement.

The article is too long to include in full, but can be read at the site Chronicling America. It appeared in the Daily Missoulian and the El Paso Herald on January 28, 1911 (the Missoulian piece is all on one page). Haskin’s article was probably syndicated in some way, but these are the only newspapers in which I’ve found it.[2]

The piece begins with the Esperanto Association of North America establishing its offices in Washington, D.C.
The growing interest of the American public in the promotion of the use of Esperanto will receive a new impetus form the establishment this month of a national center which will be located in Washington. This center is now being organized and the January issue of the “Amerika Esperantisto,” the official organ of the Esperanto Association of North America, which was formerly published in Chicago, has been sent out from the new headquarters in the national capital.
Mr. Haskin knew where the real hopes for Esperanto lay: there had to be an economic purpose.
The commercial value is beginning to appeal strong to American firms. During the past year two typewriter manufacturers have found it advantageous to issue advertising matter throughout Europe printed in Esperanto. The economy is obvious for a catalogue issued in Esperanto may be used equally well in Russia, France or any other European country. The number of sales placed to Esperanto advertising during the past six months has demonstrated its value to both of these manufacturers.

The Portland Commercial club recently issued a booklet in Esperanto describing the agricultural advantages of Oregon. The responses have been tremendous. Inquiries have poured in from every part of the world asking for information upon every possible subject. This booklet has accomplished much more in the way of acquainting the world with Oregon conditions than any other advertisement issued from the state.

A Boston importer’s attention was called to the commercial value of Esperanto by a French salesman, who was showing him a special line of goods which he also sold in Russia, Germany and other European countries. He spoke only French and indifferent English, so the Boston man asked him how he managed to make sales in so many countries. “It is easy to do business in Europe,” was the answer, “for every large firm keeps at least one Esperantist in its employ. It is harder for a foreigner in America, because Esperanto is not so much used.” This incident was related in the Boston Commercial club and has resulted in a large number of firms advertising of the services of Esperantists.

Several large New York houses have found it necessary to have salesmen speaking Esperanto, while each week increases the number of wholesale exporters who utilize Esperanto in foreign correspondence. Scientists in the employ of various departments of the United States government in Washington are also utilizing Esperanto in their correspondence with foreign countries.
Looking at this, more than a century later, it’s almost hard to believe that all of this was true, yet I stumbled upon an extensive list of firms that were doing business in Esperanto. And then there was science:
From a scientific and educational standpoint the utility of Esperanto is indisputable. Scientists desire to know the latest experiments made in other countries, which requires a knowledge of various languages. When all scientific news is issued in Esperanto it becomes available with comparatively little difficulty. Two medical periodicals are now published in Esperanto, which place the latest discoveries in therapeutics within the reach of the physicians of the world, while La Science Revuo[3] gives the latest news in general science from every country upon earth.
I question his accuracy in the next bit:
Owing to the fact that there have been no textbooks published suitable for college use, American universities have not given Esperanto a place upon their schedule. The textbooks in general use have been designed for private or individual study, and are not suitable for college work. The publication of a college textbook, issued last August, written by Dr. Ivy Kellerman, A.M. Ph.D., formerly of Chicago university and now chairman of the international Esperanto examination committee, has obviated this difficultly. The first institution to recognize this is the University of Pittsburgh, which has just added Esperanto to its January semester.
He is referring to A Complete Grammar of Esperanto, by Ivy Kellerman-Reed. There were certainly plenty of universities touting a professor’s connection to Esperanto. In 1906, George Wise, a professor at the University of Utah taught a public course in Esperanto. There was an attempt to get a course at Harvard. As early as 1907, James Main Dixon, a professor at USC was holding Esperanto classes. The Throop Institute announced in 1908 that their new instructor of languages was an “eminent authority” on Esperanto. Did it really take until 1911 for a university to offer a course for credit?

Although it’s not clear that Haskin was an Esperantist himself, he seems to have a good deal of familiarity with Esperantists.
When Dr. Yemans was in Madrid he had difficultly in making a Spanish police official understand his questions, until that official noticed the green star. Then he stopped a gentleman wearing a duplicate, and conversation was thus made easy.
H. W. Yemans was the vice-president of the Esperanto Association of North America, and a founder of the Philippines Esperanto Association.

Haskin makes one claim that would make the membership chair of Esperanto-USA (if there is such a position) green with envy (and not Esperanto green):
There are in the United States about 150,000 persons actively interested in Esperanto. Most of these are in some way affiliated with the national association or some of its branches. The national organization, in addition to “Amerika Esperantisto” publishes a small month for propaganda purposes called the Esperanto Herald.[4] Most of the states have active Esperanto associations, while some of the larger cities have several Esperanto clubs. One of the oldest of these is the Barcho club of Philadelphia, composed of some of the best-known men in that city. An interesting feature of this club is its weekly dinner, at which only Esperanto is spoken.
All we can say is, “what the hell happened?”

Update: This piece was reprinted in the Albuquerque Morning Journal on February 12, 1911, but attributed to the San Diego Union.

Update 2: A year later (January 28, 2016), Esperanto on Duolingo is up to 274,000 users. Not clear how many of those are Americans, of course.

  1. It is no accident that this blog is so heavy with articles from 1910.  ↩
  2. He had done an earlier long piece on Esperanto in 1907 (which I will no doubt have to cover at some point), and in his columns (variously titled “The Information Bureau,” “Answers to Questions,” among other names). This must have appeared elsewhere, since he certainly wasn’t maintaining his business by selling stuff to only a couple of newspapers. My guess is that it was more typically picked up by regional papers.  ↩
  3. Scienca Revuo, (Science Review), given as “La Scienco Revou” in the text.  ↩
  4. Not to be confused with Heroldo de Esperanto. I have seen references to this, but I have not been able to track down any online copies. I did find a library that listed it among its holdings.  ↩

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