WWI Snapshot: George Washington Rappleyea 1894-1966

George Washington Rappleyea is famous as the instigator of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. He lived in many locations throughout the country, but his residence at the time of his WWI service was Southport, NC. He also remained in Southport for several years in the 1950s.

NC WWI Service Card
George Washington Rappleyea was born on July 4, 1894, in NYC. He was called into active service for WWI on May 26, 1917. After serving three months, he was honorably discharged at the convenience of the government. Perhaps the government determined that his talents were needed in science and engineering rather than the army.

Mr. Rappleyea was a family friend of Kathryn Kalmanson, daughter of Susie Carson, the late historian and founder of the Southport Historical Society. Kathryn shared the following memories:

“Mr. Rappleyea was a fascinating man. He was a mining engineer working in Tennessee when he became friends with John Scopes, a local science teacher who, like Mr. Rappleyea, deplored efforts to suppress modern science in the classroom. After the two of them cooked up a plan to make a test case, Mr. Rappleyea contacted the ACLU and persuaded them to take the case. Then he swore out a complaint against Scopes to start the famous ‘Monkey Trial.’

“When Mr. Rappleyea came to Southport he was retired from engineering. He and his mother, who lived with them, owned the electric company for the town. I’ve always wondered how they discovered Southport, but he liked it because of its beauty and history.

“Here he developed Plasmofalt, a building material made of molasses and cardboard. His idea was to use it to make inexpensive housing in impoverished areas in Latin America and the Carribean. In his travels he had seen some of the miserable conditions and wanted to help. I have a small sample of the stuff made into the handle of a letter opener. In Southport he made Plasmofalt experimentally in his back yard.

“Eventually he needed room for large-scale production so he reluctantly moved operations to Florida. His dream of building houses with Plasmofalt was later put aside when the US Air Force acquired his patent, thinking that the material might be used to pour instant runways at sea in times of crises.

“He was a man of science and also a man of compassion. I was just a child at the time but I adored him. He used to send me wonderful things, like a jar of live sea horses.

“I don’t believe he has any family left. They had no children, and I never heard of any other relatives.”

Read a brief newspaper clipping on his use of Plasmofalt in Southport, available through the Southport Historical Society here.

Source of photos: findagrave
George Washington Rappleyea passed away in 1966 at age 72, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

To view this or an earlier profile or snapshot at any time, click on the veteran’s name on the WWI Brunswick County Veteran list, which is also accessible by the blue button on the top right of the webpage.

If you would like to help us honor George Washington Rappleyea or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

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How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

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