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Franz Joseph Gall, a leading 18th century physiologist, was the founder of the "science" of phrenology which gained a legion of adherents beginning in the 1790s. According to Gall, the brain consisted of twenty-seven specific organs, each associated with a particular intellectual, moral or behavioral faculty.By examining the cranium of an individual, an expert could discern the quality or deficiencies of their character. Gall's disciple, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, revised the system and identified thirty-five organs, as depicted in his diagram, above.

In 1832, Spurzheim came to the United States to lecture on phrenology. Though he died within a few months of his arrival, his ideas set off a spark. Long after phrenology was rejected by most trained scientists, it thrived as a fascination of American popular culture into the early decades of the twentieth century. The Phrenological Cabinet, a public museum and examination facility in New York City, was even more popular than shoman P. T. Barnam's American Museum which was located nearby.