The Iron Skeptic - Home The Iron Skeptic - Articles The Iron Skeptic - Feedback The Iron Skeptic - Contact The Iron Skeptic - Miscellany The Iron Skeptic - FAQ

A Media History of Gray Aliens

One of the things that has always bugged me as I write these articles is how to explain the similarities. How could a rural farmer know that aliens are supposed to look like little gray men with lightbulb shaped heads and enormous eyes? How could someone in some far removed country know what they’re supposed to look like when the X-Files hasn’t even aired yet over there?

My friends take comfort, for this question has been answered. My problem is that I believed that the descriptions of little gray space people was something recent, something that had entered pop culture during the era of Betty and Barney Hill (roughly the 1960s-ish.) In truth, the descriptions of little gray men go farther back: a LOT farther back. So sit back, relax, and we’ll take a look at the evolution of these little monsters in popular culture. At the end, I think we’ll all be able to agree: descriptions of tiny gray aliens as nighttime kidnappers or flying saucer pilots are purely the product of a combination of pop culture and being crazy.

So, when I said that the image of the little gray alien, with his lightbulb shaped head, big, black, almond-shaped eyes, no mouth or nose, and dimninuitive, almost fragile body, went way back, how far back did you think I meant? The 1940s? Not even close. The 1920s? Keep going. 1900? You’re almost there.

The first appearance of little gray aliens, though at the time they were not known as such, was in 1891. That’s right. The UFO enthusiast would have you believe that this image is a recent phenomenon, from when spaceships began sneaking down and snatching people, but this is simply not correct. More than 110 years ago a book was published called Meda: A Tale of the Future by a Mr. Kenneth Folingsby. The book described tiny gray men with heads shaped like hot air balloons, some of who needed sandbags strapped to their small bodies to keep them from floating away. It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to see that his book contains the descriptions of the little beasties that much more recently took an interest in cruising our darkened country lanes. And I am well aware that there was a supposed UFO flap in the late 1890s, where people spotted lots of blimp-like things in the sky. However, none of these people reported little gray aliens. The only ones that reported these ships as having crews or passengers reported seeing regular-looking people.

Around 1892, apparently, people took an interest in what human beings would look like after another million or so years of evolution. They concluded that the “Human of the Year 10 Million” would have no hair, mouth, or nose, an enormous lightbulb shaped head, and a small body. Since we’d develop machinery to do all our heavy labor, we’d become more intelligent organisms, thus making out bodies get smaller and our brains get larger. I don’t think there’s an evolutionary reason for it, but in drawings of that era the “people of the future” usually don’t have ears, lips, or noses, and have large or oddly shaped eyes.

If you think that these writings are just some obscure references, think again: in 1892 H.G. Wells, the famous sci-fi author, wrote a story called “Of a Book Unwritten, The Man of the Year Million." A month later, similar stories (copyright law was not very well enforced in those days) appeared in most every newspaper on the face of the earth. Newspapers were then, as they are now, afraid of not covering a story the public was interested in, so when one paper did something that sold a lot of copies, everyone else mimicked them. Almost all included pictures, and thus was the concept of the big headed space alien born.

I know that right now many people who have an interest in space aliens are reading this. I know that they will accuse me of trying to tie together relatively ancient history with the modern times. But I have a silver bullet of an argument with which to counter such claims: the little gray men have not left pop culture since their introduction in the 1890s. In the 1890s the theme seemed to be what humankind would evolve to on a long enough timeline; in the early 1900s a book called The Invasion of Mars (which seems to have been a sequel to War of the Worlds, written without Well’s knowledge) featured the little gray men. So did such fantastic early science-fiction books as The First Men in the Moon and The Hampdenshire Wonder. The simple fact of the matter is that in the early days the little gray men were a staple of the original science-fiction books by Verne, Welles, and the other founders of the genre.

The general trend seems to have gone something like this: people asked themselves what highly evolved humans would look like; they came up with the answers that a more advanced species would have huge heads and small bodies; then books and movies were made about alien invaders, such as War of the Worlds, and the more highly evolved invaders had this peculiar physiology. Then, the books, movies, magazines, comic books, and so on became so popular that everyone in the world would recognize the form; then people began saying that these fictional entities kidnapped them and stuck things up their butts.

In the 30s and 40s the little gray men were the solid foundation of such comic books as Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and Science Wonder Stories. Unless you were living in a cave, you couldn’t turn around without bumping into a representation of big-headed little gray men. The simple fact is that they’ve been a part of popular culture, an especially well-recognized part of popular culture, since the 1890s.

The crux of the UFO enthusiast’s argument to prove that space aliens are real is this: so many people encounter them, and they all give similar descriptions, so it must be a real phenomenon. They will claim that such creatures have never been seen in pop culture, therefore the ‘abductees’ have no way of fabricating their experiences.

Yet as we’ve just seen, this is not true. The little gray space alien is something anyone would recognize. History contradicts the outrageous, exotic claims of the UFO enthusiast, and it torpedoes what few logical arguments could be made in favor of their position. The ‘alien abduction’ phenomenon is the product of bad hypnosis, diseased minds, and general confusion; the sighting of little gray space aliens is the product of more than a hundred years of seeing their form in culture. End of story.

Be seeing you.

First Published in The Triangle, 20 May 2005

For your further convincing, feast your eyes on the below illustrations from and covers of books and magazines mentioned in the above article. All of these photos were provided through the incredible generosity of Martin S. Kottmeyer.


Most of an article titled "The Humans of the Future: What Our Descendents Will Be in the Year 1,000,000." 23 December 1893, printed in the Ottawa Journal.

Taken from a parody of H.G. Wells' article in Pall Mall from 1893. Note the large, oblong heads.

Left: A December, 1930 cover illustration ofEd Earl Rupp’s The Second Missile, in which a meteorite containing the mumified remains of alien space people lands on the earth. Cue the action!

Right: A cover illustration of Francis Flagg’s The Machine Man of Ardathia. It was “the first to deal with the visit of a man from the far future to the present time – and a strange man it is. The ‘machine man’ is a human evolved to the point where he is little more than a big head blending into a spindly body. He lives within a large cylinder and could not survive outside it.” From 1927.

The cover of what must have been the most awesome book of all time. David H. Keller's The Conquerors was, like The Human Termites and The Evening Star, a fascinating tale of short, huge-headed dwarves from the center of the earth. Somewhat popular in its time. 1929.

From If Tomorrow Comes by Louis Aaron Reitmeister. If that's not the same thing that Betty and Barney Hill said they saw, I'll eat my hat. 1934.


Reader Comments:

Jim Oberg Says:
Aaron, I'm sure the "Gray" ETs have a little cure of their own for what you erronously refer to as "diseased minds," which to their way of thinking, would most certainly necessarily have to include kooky wannabe debunkers such as yourself:
You REALLY can't handle the truth, can you, Aaron?
Why do you persist in making such a complete fool of yourself writing about what you know absolutely nothing about each week?
You must be a compulsive masochist because that's what it looks like to those who actually do know what they're talking about. You obviously don't, and prove it with virtually every smirking, sophomoric scribbling of yours. I think I'll probably just have to stop reading them because they are such a complete and utter waste of my time because you are clearly beyond hope.

Do yourself a favor and get some professional counseling or something.

Be seeing you...

Mahone Says:

Your rebuttal of Aaron consist of nothing but juvenile name-calling. Where is YOUR reasoned polemic. You are in college? Perhaps a course on logic and debate will help you. I have studied the phenomena and concur with Aaron in most respects. You are grist for the mill when it comes to being a sucker for media-generated myth. I don't subscribe Aaron's 'diseased minds' comment either. A phenomena is occurring and it is worthy of scientific study. That said, the idea that the "gray" is the prototype of an alien culture interacting with us is a myth. The phenomena is not so simple as friendly little gray aliens using a technology similar to ours to visit us. If you have put so little effort into the study of the UFO experience that you buy the Gray theory, then you are either extremely simple or in a delusional state. Not knowing more about you, I can't say which.

Mike Says:

I am sorry to disappoint you Aaron. There is no comfort in your debunking column again. Mainly because it is all based on Science Fiction and YOUR OWN imagination. Your missed your calling, you should have been a SiFi Writer. The images you describe in this column are pretty good. Some of the images were obviously from the book you mentioned the rest seem to grow from your own mind. Maybe Hollywood could use your talents. I see Jim couldn’t accept your ideas ether and even a 50% pro comment failed to see where your ideas came from, Science Fiction books…lol Come on there is no comparison. It is like trying to compare TV wrist bands like the comic character Dick Tracy displayed many years ago. Back then the idea of such a thing was too wild for most people to conceive. What you are saying and the way your saying it only shows your own narrow minded opinion. Something’s need to be challenged, something’s need to be supported, nothing I know needs to be destroyed. Whatever the truth is, it will stand unchallenged because it will unfold in due time.

Don Maor Says:

If what writes this guy can be considered true i would expenting the aliens to be green instead of gray.
or be like clingons instead of grays.
also i would be expecting their ships be like stars wars or star trek.regarind the picture of the alien of 1890, is it the best picture from an alien aaaron has? all i see is a fat boy with a rope a big ears. Please post the other grey pictures of the 1930 comics.

garbage logic,
thats what is found in aarons article.

My response - You've got a point. Get some grammar.