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The Historian as Gamesman: Otto Eisenschiml, 1880-1963 William Hanchett Otto Eisenschiml lived the classic American success story. He arrived in the United States from his native Austria in 1901 at the age of twentyone , penniless and barely able to speak English. When he died in 1963 he was rich and famous and was listed as author or editor of thirteen books and pamphlets in Who's Who in America. One of the books, Why Was Lincoln Murdered? (1937), had profoundly influenced how the American people thought about one of the most important periods in their history. With the equivalent of an American undergraduate degree in chemistry from the Vienna Polytechnic School, Eisenschiml first worked in America in a boiler factory in Pittsburgh and then in a linseed oil plant in Chicago. Because he was ambitious and had a quick and eager mind, he found the routine work unsatisfying, and he soon began to act as a consultant for businessmen with chemical problems—how to keep the transparent address windows in envelopes from cracking and clouding over, for example, and what kind of oil was most effective in keeping leather gloves soft and pliable. Solving such problems was both challenging and remunerative, and Eisenschiml soon recognized that a career in business offered more opportunities for advancement than one in chemistry. Shortly after World War I, he left the laboratory and, as president of the Scientific Oil Compounding Company, became the distributor of raw materials used in the manufacture of paints, varnishes, and fungicides. He patented some discoveries in the infant plastics industry, invented the formula for one of the first deodorants, invested shrewdly, and within a few years had made a fortune. As a boy in Vienna, Eisenschiml's interest in American history had been aroused by the stories of his father, who had served as an officer in an Illinois regiment during the Civil War and become an American citizen before returning to Austria to marry. As a man in the United Civil War History, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, ° 1990 by the Kent State University Press 6 CIVIL WAR HISTORY States, his interest was stimulated by his own travels. With time, money, and almost superhuman energy, Eisenschiml embraced the study of the Civil War, especially Lincoln's death, not merely as a hobby but as another career. Trained in scientific method as a student of chemistry, he resolved to apply it in his historical investigations, though he recognized that historians and scientists faced different problems. "In chemistry," he noted, "one dealt with elements and compounds that could be depended on; whether neutral or corrosive, harmless or poisonous, they always were honest. In history one dealt with human beings and their testimony. Neither was ever quite dependable or quite honest." As human beings themselves, furthermore, historians were often unable to divest themselves of their prejudices, a problem seldom encountered in the laboratory. Still, historians, like scientists, could investigate problems and propose hypotheses which further research might either establish as historical truths or demolish forever. Solving problems in history was, after all, "not unlike the solving of chemical problems."' As a chemist and consultant, Eisenschiml had discovered that each of the tasks he undertook consisted of three distinct and obvious steps: the first was to find a good problem, the second was to solve it, and the third was to sell the solution.2 In Lincoln's murder, which he began to study in the 1920s, Eisenschiml found a good problem, for the books and articles on the subject were superficial and amateurish, and there was no convincing interpretation of the motivations of John Wilkes Booth. Eisenschiml did not believe that a desire to avenge the South and be hailed as the last champion of the Lost Cause—the most commonly accepted explanation of Booth's action—was sufficient. As he saw it, "a great political crime was committed without an adequate motive."3 So, he asked, why had Lincoln been murdered? In attempting to solve this problem, step number two, Eisenschiml engaged in the most thorough and systematic search for assassinationrelated material yet undertaken. He prided himself upon having discovered the documentary evidence, now known as "Investigation and Trial Papers...


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