In 1954 The Procter & Gamble Company was searching for an item of universal interest to put in the cornerstone of its new building on Fifth Street in Cincinnati and sought the advice of archeologist and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion president Nelson Glueck (1900-1971). Glueck believed that one of civilization’s greatest losses through the ages was the death of languages, and suggested that an inscription translated into all modern and classical languages be engraved on a clay tablet—a modern day Rosetta stone—for permanence. The chosen inscription was the first line of Genesis, and Glueck enlisted scholars at HUC-JIR to complete the translations. The Rookwood Pottery Company, founded in Cincinnati in 1880, and world-renowned for impeccable design and craftsmanship, made the plaque. Rookwood potter Earl Menzel (1882-1971) incised “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” in 43 languages, from Afrikaans and Annamese to Urdu and Welsh.
The tablet was deposited in the Procter & Gamble cornerstone on May 26, 1955. The plaque on view in the Cincinnati Skirball Museum was fired for insurance purposes.
This unique collaboration between American business, scholarship, and the arts is a perfect story to tell in commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month, which each May celebrates Jewish Americans who have helped weave the fabric of American history, culture, and society. Visit www.jahm.us for more information about Jewish American Heritage Month.