Mental Floss

The Chilling Tale of James Bedford, Cryonics Pioneer

Stacy Conradt

Hundreds of people have been cryonically frozen since the idea became feasible in the 1960s. The most famous is baseball legend Ted Williams, but Larry King, Muhammad Ali, Simon Cowell and Gore Vidal have all said they’re interested in giving cryonics a shot when they pass on.

The first man to go through the process, however, wasn’t anyone of note - until after his death, that is. James Bedford took the newly-formed Life Extension Society up on a public offer they made in 1965. Having developed “primitive facilities for emergency short term freezing,” the company offered free preservation to the first person willing to test the new method.

The University of California psychology professor was fascinated by the new science and left $100,000 to cryonics research in his will. A few hours after his death from cancer in 1967, Bedford’s body was prepared for another lifetime - an existence in a tank of liquid nitrogen. His body was packed in ice until it was frozen; his blood was drained and replaced with an antifreeze solution. He was then stored carefully in a capsule and placed in a liquid nitrogen bath. After that, nothing much changed about Dr. Bedford’s condition until 1991, when his care was moved from LES to a company called Alcor. While the crew was transferring their cryonics pioneer to new digs, they figured it would be an opportune time to check in on his progress. The checkup revealed that Bedford was in relatively good shape and had remained at subzero temps since 1967. The people at Alcor believe he’s still a good candidate for revival if science allows it someday.

Bedford’s decision is so respected within the cryonics community (yep, there’s a cryonics community) that the doctor is celebrated on the anniversary of his death/freezing: January 12, 1967, is known as “Bedford Day.” Revelers presumably enjoy popsicles and alcohol on the rocks.

...Too soon?

Photo credit: Alcor