The Crypt of Civilization, a multimillennial time capsule, is a chamber that was sealed behind a stainless steel door in 1940 at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.
The crypt is the “first successful attempt to bury a record of this culture for any future inhabitants or visitors to the planet Earth,” according to the Guinness Book of World Records (1990).
Thornwell Jacobs became the president of Oglethorpe University in 1915. Jacobs is depicted in academic regalia in a painting by the portraitist Charles Naegle.Thornwell Jacobs
Jacobs claimed to be the first to conceive the idea of consciously preserving artifacts for posterity by placing them in a sealed repository.
While engaged in research and inspired by the openings of the Egyptian pyramids in the 1920s, Jacobs was struck by the relative lack of information on ancient civilizations.
He later wrote of a unique plan to preserve a “running story” of life and customs, to show the ways of life in 1936 as well as the accumulated knowledge of humankind up until that time.
Jacobs proposed the distant date of A.D. 8113 for the opening of the crypt. He calculated this date from the first fixed date in history, 4241 B.C., when the Egyptian calendar was established.
Exactly 6,177 years had passed between 4241 B.C. and A.D. 1936. Jacobs projected the same period of time forward, arriving at 8113 for the crypt’s opening, so that historians and archaeologists of the distant future could obtain a clear picture of the midpoint of history.
The Crypt of Civilization idea fascinated the American public and soon was imitated.
The Westinghouse Company, which was planning a promotional event for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, began a project to bury a sealed seven-foot-long torpedo-shaped vessel made of alloyed metal, which was not to be opened for 5,000 years.
George Pendray of Westinghouse called the project a time capsule, and the English language gained a new term almost overnight.