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Harvard. Economics Ph.D. Alumnus, John Christopher Ise, 1914


The Ph.D. alumni of a department typically provide their alma mater with talent-spotting services for future graduate students. The University of Kansas professor (and Harvard economics Ph.D., 1914) John C. Ise spotted Edward S. Mason, Lloyd A. Metzler (cf. the ERVM post of the Metzler memorial service) and  John Lintner and sent them to Harvard for graduate school in economics. Quite the rate of return!


John Christopher Ise
1996 Inductee of the Osborne County Hall of Fame

One of the foremost Kansas educators of the twentieth century was born June 5, 1885, in western Ross Township of Osborne County. Named after his maternal grandfather, John Christopher Ise was the seventh of twelve children born to Henry and Rosena (Haag) Ise on the homestead Henry had claimed in June 1871. As an infant John was stricken with polio, which caused his right leg to become withered and nearly useless. His parents decided early that his best chance at success in life was for him to become a scholar.

John attended the nearby one-room Ise School and learned to play the guitar and the violin. With the latter he occasionally gave recitals in the area. In 1902 he taught a term at the Prairie Bell School in Bethany Township, receiving thirty dollars a month in pay. Later he also taught at the Rose Valley School in Ross Township. In 1903 his damaged leg was amputated and he was fitted with an artificial one, after which he could walk almost normally.

Ise entered the University of Kansas (KU) and graduated with a degree in music in 1908. He followed this with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law degrees. In 1911 he was admitted to the Kansas bar. The next year he received his master’s degree from Harvard University, where in 1914 John also became a Doctor of Philosophy. He was an assistant professor of economics at Harvard and Iowa State College before joining the faculty at the University of Kansas in 1916. He became a full professor there in 1920.

Dr. Ise’s interest in natural resources economics made him internationally known and internationally debated. “As crusty as the Kansas sod, Ise had the self-imposed mission of shocking both students and the public from their intellectual lethargy,” wrote Clifford Griffin in his The University of Kansas: A History (1983). Then-radical ideas such as conserving national oil reserves against future shortages and restricting drilling and mining in national parks and other federal lands caused Ise to be branded a Communist by some. But as time went on his ideas and writings earned him lasting respect both as a resource conservationist and a prophet of the energy crisis of the 1970s.

On August 4, 1921, John married Lillie Bernhard in Lawrence, Kansas. They had two sons, John Jr. and Charles. John was an independent in politics and a charter member of the League for Independent Political Action. He also served as president of the American Economics Association, the Mid-West Economic Association and on the editorial board of the American Economic Review. He was given life membership in the Kansas Illustriana Society in 1933 and later was named to Who’s Who in America.

John was a member of several local organizations in the Lawrence area. He and his wife gave $25,000 in 1955 to the Lawrence Humane Society for an animal shelter in memory of their son Charles, who had died in a plane crash, and spent much more time with this cause. Dr. Ise’s efforts in this area were recognized in 1968 by the American Humane Association.

John’s eight books ranged in subject matter from a comprehensive test on economics to a collection of humorous comments on current condition, interspersed with the classic story of his pioneer family in Osborne County. The United States Forest Policy (1920), The United States Oil Policy (1926), and Our National Park Policy: A Critical History (1961) all reflected his economic views on the nation’s natural resources. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, better known as OPEC, was formed in 1961 based on Ise’s conclusions in his Oil Policy book. Economics (1940) was a classroom textbook by Ise that was used at KU and several other colleges and universities from 1940 to 1965. Sod and Stubble (1936), a look at his parents’ life on the Kansas prairie in nineteenth century Osborne County, is still in print over 75 years after its initial publication. Ise also edited Howard Ruede’s critically-acclaimed Sod-House Days: Letters from a Kansas Homesteader (1937). These latter two books are considered to be the finest literature ever written about homesteading life on the Great Plains of North America, and have made Osborne County a focal point for scholarly study of the region. Ise’s final book, The American Way, was actually a present to him by his colleagues at KU upon his retirement in 1955 and is a collection of his finest speeches and letters.

Ise kept in touch with his boyhood home in Downs, whether giving the commencement address at the high school graduation or just visiting old friends. It was also customary for him to hold in Lawrence a yearly dinner for all Osborne County students attending KU.

John retired in 1955 with more earned degrees than any other KU faculty member. Up to fifteen thousand students had passed through his classes in thirty-nine years of teaching. He retired a world-renowned economist and is considered one of the three greatest professors in University of Kansas history. Currently the John Ise Award is given annually to recognize the student with the most outstanding achievement by the University of Kansas Department of Economics. John continued in the post of professor emeritus and also taught as a visiting professor of economics at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Groucher University in Baltimore, Maryland, Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and at Harvard University.

John Ise passed away March 26, 1969, at Lawrence and was buried there in the Oak Hill Cemetery. His legacy of teaching and his writings will continue to shape and inspire the world we live in for many years to come.


“I was asked to write a brief summary of my father’s life as it pertained to Osborne County. Of his early life I know little beyond his own story of his parents’ life as set forth in his book Sod and Stubble. This book, which I understand is being reissued in 1996, delineates the hardships, sorrows, and joys experienced by Rosa and Henry Ise (nee Eisenmanger) as early settlers near Downs. It ends with the selling of the Ise farm and the move of the family to Lawrence following Henry’s death.

It became abundantly clear to me how much my father’s early farm life had affected him, since for as far back as I can remember (I was born in 1923, in Lawrence, Kansas) he always owned a couple of farms. These were both quarter-sections, one near Richland and the other near Doniphan. He let neighbors farm these in exchange for half the wheat crop, which I remember as yielding (at least during the 1930s) a modest negative return. And just after my brother was born, in March 1926, he moved our family from the rented house on Louisiana Street to a farmhouse a few miles west of Lawrence on Highway 40. His nostalgia for the farm had apparently overweighed my mother’s misgivings, but after about a year she prevailed and they moved back to 1208 Mississippi Street, where he spent the rest of his life.

He had extremely broad interests in life. Thus at KU he earned bachelor’s degrees from three schools – the School of Fine Arts in 1908 (in music), the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1910, and the School of Law in 1911. He subsequently earned Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard in economics, which became his consuming interest from then on, particularly the study of conservation and farm economics. He wrote several books on these subjects, U.S. Oil Policy, U.S. Forest Policy, and U.S. National Park Policy, in addition to Sod and Stubble.

His early life on a Kansas farm had imbued him with several traits that I always found very admirable. He was scrupulously honest – I can remember once when he found that a sales clerk at the old Woolworth’s store on Massachusetts had given him a nickel too much change, whereupon he walked a block and a half in a light snowfall to return the nickel. This was not an easy task for a man who had to drag along a heavy artificial leg (prosthetics have come a long way since he had his withered leg cut off in 1903).

He loved animals with an unqualified love. He had worked his way through college by serving as a mounted officer for the Lawrence SPCA. His stories of how he had rescued dogs and horses from what seemed to my brother and me as incredible brutality and cruelty made a deep impression on both of us. After losing the use of his leg at the age of two to polio he had to get to school (half a mile) in a little wagon pulled by his faithful dog, Coalie. When my brother was killed in a light plane crash in 1955 my father donated money for the Charles Ise Animal Shelter in Lawrence.

And he seemed to have an uncanny way with animals. During the months that we spent on the farm west of Lawrence a neighboring farmer gave him a large and savage Airedale that had so badly bitten several of the farmer’s hired hands that he had to get rid of the dog. I can still remember Dad taking me and the dog by the scruff of the neck and saying, ‘Pal, this is Johnboy – you two are going to be friends.’ Not a growl from the fierce-looking dog, who did indeed become my fast friend, twice saving my life (as I still believe), once from a huge sow who had broken down her pen – this pig had actually eaten two of her own piglets – and once when I got stuck in quicksand in a wash near the farmhouse. These incidents may have hastened our move back to Lawrence!

My father was also a firm believer in the Biblical injunction ‘By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy daily bread’ and he worked harder than anyone I knew. He would teach all morning ‘up on the Hill,’ come home for lunch and then immure himself in his office, or ‘Library,’ as we called it. This was the downstairs room in our three story house, which contained many hundreds of books, mostly in his own field. All the rooms of the house, except for the kitchen, had bookcases, all full and almost all read. Dad worked, grading papers, preparing lectures, or writing some book or other, all afternoon and for three or four hours after dinner. This was a daily routine, except on Saturday afternoon when the Metropolitan Opera was playing, or when my parents either went out to dinner at friend’s homes or entertained friends themselves. My mother was an excellent cook; once being written up in Clementine Paddleford’s Sunday column for her Black Walnut Cake, but no wine or liquor was ever served in her house. Her father had been a Methodist minister and she and her nine brothers and sisters had been raised quite strictly. Dad’s parents had actually drunk beer and wine on rare occasions, to the considerable embarrassment of all their eleven children, most of whom remained strict teetotalers.

There were many things Dad could not teach me and my brother, because of his artificial leg. Thus there was no ball throwing or family bicycling trips. But he showed us things that to me were more important. As a child in Kansas he had had to be very inventive in the matter of playtime activities. He had learned to whittle with his jackknife–I still have a little box in which he carried his flute, carefully crafted from about a dozen types of wood native to Kansas. He showed Charlie and me how to crack a long bullwhip, and how to make shingle darts, launched with a stick with a knotted piece of string which fit into a notch in the body of the dart. He was incredibly precise with those things, and could hit targets at fifty yards as well as my brother and I could with our BB guns. Because of his missing leg he had had to compensate by using his arms more and had such strength in his arms and hands that he could chin himself with one hand, holding onto the exposed ceiling joists, a feat that his athletic older brothers could not duplicate. But the most important things he could and did teach us were attitudes and beliefs. We learned to love the outdoors, what is now called ‘the environment.’ Summer vacations were always spent camping in the western national parks. We picked up a love of great art, good music and great literature. His favorite author was always Mark Twain. He was fiercely loyal to Kansas and to the United States, which belies his frequently controversial views about many things. He was widely considered to be a Communist sympathizer for many years and the chancellor and even the governor received occasional letters from Kansas businessmen complaining about “that radical John Ise, infecting the young minds in our University.” This amused Dad greatly, but infuriated me and my brother. And thanks to a tolerant administration he remained at KU for thirty-nine years and I believe he taught at least a few thousand students how to think for themselves.

During my postdoctoral Fulbright fellowship to France in 1950 I was working with Jean Daudin, then a leading physicist in the field of cosmic rays. He also happened to be one of the leaders of the Communist Party in southern France and we worked together at the Pic du Midi, on the Spanish border, where he frequently entertained Spanish Loyalists hostile to Franco. Dad was teaching that summer at a seminar in Salzburg, sponsored by Harvard University, and I can remember the bitter argument he had with Daudin about communism, when the two of them met in Paris, for by 1950 the grim reality of Stalin’s dictatorship was obvious to all. I had to translate for the two of them for Dad spoke no French and Daudin no English and it was difficult for me to translate Dad’s cusswords into the kind of French I had learned from Mademoiselle Crumrine at KU!

He was a very good economist, serving as president of the American Economic Association, and an excellent teacher. His textbook on economics was for a time used by the majority of state universities, and I am glad that I was able to take his course in Economics 90, although I was too shy to ever open my mouth in class. When he retired from the KU faculty in 1955 his colleagues expressed their admiration by publishing a collection of his essays in a book, The American Way. In 1963 he was very proud to receive KU’s highest honor, the Citation for Distinguished Service, awarded at Commencement exercises. He remained a true son of Kansas all his life, which was inexorably shaped by his early upbringing in Downs. In one short essay reproduced in The American Way, entitled ‘No Time To Live’, he recalled one episode of his college days, when the family was still living in Downs, in the following manner:

‘When we went to Lawrence to college we did not expect to make the trip in four hours but rode the unhurried Central Branch, changed trains a time or two, making connections if we were lucky – if not, lounging around the depot for some hours or perhaps all night. I remember well the evening my sister and I missed connections at Beloit and sat out behind the depot most of the night, reciting poetry and talking of our plans and ambitions and theories of the good life. It was full moon, and there was a mist on the field of ripening wheat across the fence, and the frogs were croaking from the creek nearby. Sister has been gone these many years, but I can still close my eyes and see that lovely, peaceful scene as if I had been there only yesterday. An interruption of our long journey which I, no doubt, cursed with vigor, had enriched my life with an unforgettable experience. It was enforced leisure, but how rich and enduring.’

One final remark he made about the early settlers among whom he was raised is still relevant: ‘They had what it took, and it took a lot.’ That about sums it up.” – John Ise, Jr., November 1995.


Source: The Osborne County Hall of Fame, Presenting The Notable Past and Present Citizens of Osborne County, Kansas. 1996 Inductees.


Excerpt from Edward S. Mason’s Autobiography

            John Ise, then an Associate Professor of Economics, was a remarkable man and he came from a remarkable family. His father, Henry Eisenmenger, had come to this country from Wurttemberg, Germany in 1857. As his son later recounted, the father “joined the Union arising at the outbreak of the Civil War, helped guard the Mississippi, fought around Chattanooga, marched with Sherman to the sea, and at the close of the war, returned to Illinois, with a new name, ‘Ise’ – because the captain could not remember his full name.”* He moved west after the war, took up a “free” claim of 160 acres in western Kansas, made it into a thriving farm and, with the help of an indomitable wife, raised 12 children, of whom 11 lived. All of them attended college and a few became significant figures in the life of their communities. John was one of the younger ones. He was stricken with infantile paralysis in his youth but, although crippled, he was a powerful man and full of energy. He was also a most engaging teacher.

John Ise had taken his, doctor’s degree at Harvard in 1914 with a dissertation on the History of the Forestry Policy of the United States which foreshadowed later interest in natural resources and land policy**. Ise was much impressed by the Harvard Economics Department – a little too much impressed I later thought when studying under some of the same teachers and – it led him to send his good students there for graduate training. Among others, Lloyd Metzler, now Professor at the University of Chicago, and John Lintner, now Professor at Harvard, passed through his hands. Although Ise could not be called an eminent economist he was an eminent teacher and I received a thorough grounding in Alfred Marshall’s Principles that later stood me in good stead. But he was much more than a teacher and economist. He was a liberal influence in the University and throughout the state. Indeed his very effective speeches in public affairs acquired for him the reputation of having somewhat of a “socialist tinge” which was unusual, to say the least, in Republican Kansas. Whether socialist or not he was the only teacher I ever had who significantly influenced the course of my development.

*John Ise, Sod and Stubble: The Story of a Kansas Homestead. New York, Barnes and Noble, Inc. 1940, p. 10

**His dissertation was later published in part by the Ames iowa Forester. Among subsequent publications were: The United States Oil Policy, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1926. Our National Park Policy, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1961. He also published a textbook, Economics, Harper, N.Y., 1946.

Source: Edward S. Mason, A Life in Development: An Autobiography (privately published by his son Edward H. L. Mason, 2004) p. 14. [Available in the Harvard University Archives Box 1 of Papers of Edward Sagendorph Mason


Ise’s account (1922) of the undergraduate principles of economics course

…Most departments of economics, nevertheless, follow the plan of giving an all-inclusive course in Elements or Principles to freshmen or sophomores, and make this course prerequisite to most other work in economics. This arrangement can probably be explained, if not excused, by the power of academic tradition. Not many decades ago, only one or two courses in economics were given in most universities — Principles of Political Economy, and perhaps one or two other courses. New courses were gradually added to the curriculum, but the course in Principles was retained as a fundamental introductory course. As long as there were only a few other courses, there was justification for a broad course in the Principles, even if there was little reason for making it the first course; but when enough advanced courses were added to cover the entire field of economics, the course in Principles represented little but duplication. It was not changed much, in character or in scope, as the other courses were added. This is revealed by examination of some of the textbooks used in the United States during the past half century or more. Wayland, Bowen, Amasa Walker, Perry, Meservey, Newcomb, Macvane, Osborne — all cover somewhat the same general ground. Wayland’s Elements of Political Economy, published in 1837, strikingly resembles many recent texts.

John Stuart Mill’s Principles is not very different from many texts now in use, except that it is somewhat superior to most of them.…

There has been a widespread appreciation of the fact that underclassmen do not have the basis of information necessary to a thorough grasp of the course in Principles ; and at least twenty institutions have provided one or two, or even as many as three courses, to precede the Principles and lay a foundation for it. The courses most commonly prescribed are largely historical or descriptive — Economic History of England, Economic History of the United States, Commercial Geography, Commercial Industries, Economic Resources, American Economy, The Economic Order, Modern Economic Life, Industrial Society, Industries and Commerce, Descriptive Economics, etc…

Source: John Ise. The Course in Elementary Economics. American Economic Review, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Dec. 1922), pp. 614-623.


Kansapedia article
[Yes, there is a Kansapedia]

John C. Ise

Born: June 5, 1885, Ross Township, Osborne County, Kansas. Married Lillie Bernhard, 1921.
Died: March 26, 1969, Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas.

John Ise was born June 5, 1885, in June 5, 1885, in Ross Township, Osborne County, Kansas, to Henry and Rosena (Haag) Ise, where the family had homesteaded in 1871. He was the eighth of 12 children.

Ise attended the University of Kansas and earned bachelor’s degrees in 1908, 1910, and 1911. He earned a master’s degree in 1912 and doctoral degree in 1914 from Harvard University. In 1916 Ise joined the faculty of the University of Kansas in the economics department and reached full professor status in 1920. He married Lillie Bernhard in 1921. They had one child.

Ise retired from the University of Kansas in 1955. He authored eight books that include humorous anecdotes, economics textsbooks, and pioneer family stories. Ise was a philanthropist who supported the animal shelter in Lawrence. He served on numerous boards related to economics and became known around the world for his work as an economist. He was still considered among the three greatest professors in the history of the University of Kansas for many years.

Sod and Stubble is Ise’s most well-known work. The story tells of pioneer life on the Kansas plains in the late 19th century. His mother inspired the character of the pioneer woman who at the age of 17 married a young German farmer and settled in north central Kansas and raised a large family.


Source: “Ise, John, C.” in Kansas Historical Society, Kansapedia. Webpage created June 2014 and modified December 2015.


From: John Ise Papers at the University of Kansas

…Over the course of his career he authored eight books, served as president of the American Economics Association and the Mid-West Economic Association, and served on the editorial board of the American Economic Review. Sod and Stubble is Ise’s best known work, recording his childhood as a child of homesteaders in Osborne County in the late 19th century. Other volumes written by Ise include Economics, Our National Park Policy: A Critical History, The American Way, The United States Forest Policy, and The United States Oil Policy.

Ise was also a generous philanthropist, notably supporting and for a time serving as president of the Lawrence Humane Society in Lawrence, Kansas…

Research Tip: Box 19 “Clippings, letters, published materials, class notes” would almost certainly have course materials from Harvard, but perhaps also from his own student days:

Source: Excerpt from short biography in University of Kansas Libraries, Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Guide to the John Ise Collection.


Image Source: The Osborne County Hall of Fame, Presenting The Notable Past and Present Citizens of Osborne County, Kansas. 1996 Inductees.


Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier