What else is there to do when there is an imminent invasion that would cause the death of hundreds of thousands of people overseas, and you couldn’t quite do anything to stop it? For a group of Pittsburgh citizens, even when the US had not entered World War II yet, they would do what they could to stop Adolph Hitler from committing all the atrocities. Their idea? A bounty of $1 million (about $18 million today.)

“Reward for Hitler Capture”

The New York Times, April 29, 1940: It was that day when a brief headline was published in the newspaper, along with some other news current to that day. Even so, the headline stood out from the rest, and for reasons.

The United States would not enter World War II until December 1941. Even so, the anti-Hitler sentiment was slowly spreading in the country. If anyone, perhaps the person who developed the most hate for Hitler was Samuel Harden Church. At that time, he was the president of the Carnegie Institute. He led a group of about 50 people who pledged that they would provide the money for anyone who could capture Hitler, not either dead or alive, but “alive, unwounded and unhurt.” He should be delivered to the League of Nations so that they could try him for his “crimes against the peace and dignity of the world.”

Portrait of Samuel Harden Church. (Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute)

This was a limited-time offer that they only made available for a month. As Sam Church wrote in a letter in New York Times,

In order to prevent further bloodshed and outrage in this war of German aggression, I am authorized by competent Americans to offer a reward of the person or person who will deliver Adolph Hitler, alive, unwounded and unhurt, into the custody of the League of Nations for trial before a high court of justice for his crimes against peace and dignity of the world. This proposal will stand good through the month of May, 1940.

Birth of the Pittsburgh Plan

Their idea was born after their discussions over two to three months at Downtown’s Duquesne Club. Church felt that the idea made sense, especially that it was not asking to have Hitler assassinated. Hitler was the chancellor of Germany, and the Nazis had invaded Poland eight months earlier when they announced the Pittsburgh plan. As per Church, he received some reports that Hitler would launch an attack on the Western front, even if it were to cost 500,000 lives. Church and his group wanted to stop Hitler and save many lives, so they were willing to fund their offer. If Hitler were gone, then the bloodshed might be stopped.

The deadline for the offer expired, and no one took the offer. Perhaps more accurately, no one was willing to do the task, nor could they. Their group was correct, though. On May 10, 1940, the Nazis began their France invasion, and they both sent some three million troops to fight in two months of carnage and bloodshed. The French suffered 360,000 deaths while the Germans had 150,000. Only then would France agree to the terms that the Germans asked for a cease-fire.

Reaction to the Offer

It was apparent that Church was not someone who was too concerned about his public image, regardless of his influence as the President of the Carnegie Institute. His group’s offer yielded different reactions. Some took the idea seriously, while others thought it was ridiculous. A group from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, wrote to The New York Times to say that the idea was ridiculous. There were lots of others who also did not like what Church and his group did. One wrote on what seemed like the printed version of a Facebook comment section,

Mr. Samuel Harden Church and his group of Pittsburghers are a great laugh in the world today by offering a reward of one millin dollars for the capture of Adoplh Hitler. This action is an insult to the average American person. As a humble citizen, I would advise Mr. Samuel Harden Church that if his group has so much money to offer for such nonsense, they could to very good advantage use that money for charitable purposes here in the United States.

The Pittsburgh Press – May 4, 1940.

The opinion of the US citizens was divided about whether their country should or should not enter the war. Many other politicians also did not want to get involved in what they deemed a European problem. Regardless of the negative reactions that the offer got, it got all the people talking about the issue. As for Hitler, he would turn out to be one of the most targeted people (they even tried to feed him with estrogen-filled carrots to hopefully turn him into a woman), but he would remain Germany’s leader until the day that they surrendered and he committed suicide.