Bronx History Podcasts

Abandoned Pantheon: The Hall of Fame for Great Americans

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, founded in 1900, was a precursor to the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a vaunted tribute to those who have contributed greatly to the development the United States of America.

Located on the campus of Bronx Community College in the University Heights neighborhood of the Bronx, the Hall of Fame features the sculpted bronze busts of 96 individuals* considered worthy of renown in their day, arranged along a columned arcade designed by Stanford White.

It was so important in the early 20th century that the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame derive from its example. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans even pops up in The Wizard of Oz!

But today it is virtually forgotten. And no person has been elected to the Hall of Fame since the 1970s.

This is the story of a university with lofty intentions, a snapshot of early 20th century optimism, and a look at a few questionable considerations of ‘greatness’.

*There were once 98 busts but two were removed in 2017.


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Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York
The Hall of Fame in 1908, its niches empty and awaiting busts. Museum of the City of New York
The Hall of Fame in 1945, courtesy World Wide Photos/MCNY
New York Public Library


We spoke about these subjects in this week’s episode. For more information, dive back into these older episodes:

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6 replies on “Abandoned Pantheon: The Hall of Fame for Great Americans”

Hello Tom and Greg:
I loved this podcast and would like to play along and nominate my own three selections:
1.) Harriet Tubman
2.) Dwight Eisenhower
3.) Jonas Salk
Keep up the great work in these difficult times.
Tom Montague

Hey Guys, thanks for the podcast. To paraphrase you, and the always quotable Mark Twain (who is still a bust in the Hall of Fame): “The report that the Hall of Fame is virtually forgotten” is exaggerated.
Weekly, before the Corona, we have hosted Public School groups, various socities (recently, the New York Athletic Club), and visitors from all over America, and other countries (Australia). So we are not forgotten. Should you like to visit, after this pestilence subsides, email me: for apersonal tour.

I have lead many rides there for the Five Boro Bike Club. Nobody knew about this amazing place. Here are my new three

Dwight Eisenhower
Bill Gates
Jackie Robinson

Hi Guys!
Another great episode! Although at home I am just now getting to this one.

And I’d like to share my nominations:
1. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Tom I’d absolutely 2nd this)
2. Langston Hughes
3. John Dewey

And…ugh… thanks for giving me another reason to not like Robert Moses.

Thanks guys for another great episode!

I wanted to share my nominations for the Hall if ever it were to come about again:

1. Martin Luther King, Jr (I know Tom said this one too, so I 2nd this nomination)
2. John Dewey
3. Langston Hughes

PS I live not far from University Heights. Did not know the Hall existed. Excited to get to visit once it is a possibility again.

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