Froelich Rainey


Fighting pirates in the Formosa Strait. Stealing malaria-fighting bark from Nazi suppliers in South America. Chasing bowhead whales through Arctic waters in a skin boat. The swashbuckling stories from anthropologist Froelich Rainey’s life seem like fiction. 

Born in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, in the first decade of the 20th century, Rainey grew up on an eastern Montana ranch. In 1929, he took a ship to Shanghai, then, needing money after the stock market crash, signed on as a crew member. Pirates attacked the ship on the way to the Philippines, where he took a job teaching English.

Returning to the United States, Rainey earned a doctorate at Yale University. He joined the University of Alaska in 1936 as the school’s first anthropology professor, and built the distinctive cabin that still stands today just west of Moore Hall.

Rainey and fellow archaeologists Helge Larsen and Louis Giddings discovered the world-famous Ipiutak site at Point Hope in 1939. Rainey, with his wife and daughter, moved to the village, where he was allowed to accompany the whaling crew.

After World War II began, the U.S. military in 1942 sent Rainey to Ecuador to intercept German suppliers of cinchona bark, used to make the anti-malaria drug quinine. He then survived both a North Atlantic crossing on a convoy attacked by U-boats and the final invasion of Germany.

After the war, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia hired Rainey to direct its museum, where he remained for three decades and continued his archaeological work.

In 1949, Rainey started “What in the World,” a television show that tested experts’ ability to identify artifacts. CBS carried it nationally for five years. 

“Fro opened the eyes of his audience to the fundamental importance of conducting research into all aspects of mankind’s history and development,” wrote John Bockstoce, a former student, after Rainey died in 1992.

More online about Froelich Rainey:

  • An obituary written by John Bockstoce in the March 1993 edition of Arctic, the journal of the Arctic Institute of North America 
  • An obituary and other information at the UA Journey website
  • A YouTube site with clips from the “What in the World” program, hosted by Rainey
  • An article about the Rainey-Skarland cabin