Podcast Episode 225: The Great Stork Derby


When Toronto attorney Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, he left behind a mischievous will that promised a fortune to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the next 10 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the Great Stork Derby and the hope and controversy it brought to Toronto’s largest families during the Great Depression.

We’ll also visit some Portuguese bats and puzzle over a suspicious work crew.


The programming language Shakespeare produces code that reads like a stage play.

In a qualification round for the 1994 Caribbean Cup, Barbados and Grenada seemed to switch sides.

Sources for our feature on the Great Stork Derby:

Mark M. Orkin, The Great Stork Derby, 1982.

In Re Estate of Charles Millar (1937), [1938] 1 D.L.R. 65 (Supreme Court of Canada).

Chris Bateman, “Historicist: The Great Stork Derby,” Torontoist, Oct. 29, 2016.

David Goldenberg, “How a Dead Millionaire Convinced Dozens of Women to Have as Many Babies as Possible,” Five Thirty Eight, Dec. 11, 2015.

Adam Bunch, “The Great Toronto Stork Derby — Why the City Went Baby Crazy During the Great Depression,” Spacing Magazine, July 23, 2013.

Steuart Henderson Britt, “The Significance of the Last Will and Testament,” Journal of Social Psychology 8:3 (August 1937), 347-353.

Peter Edwards, “1926 Will Sparked Toronto’s Great ‘Stork Derby,'” Toronto Star, Sept. 9, 2006.

“Big Family, Big Prize,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan. 17, 2002.

Douglas J. Johnston, “Will Power,” The Beaver 81:4 (August/September 2001), 37-39.

Marty Gervais, “Stork Derby of ’26 Meant to Tweak Beaks of Clergy,” Windsor Star, June 23, 2000.

Craig Zawada, “Dumb Moments in Legal History,” Saskatchewan Business 20:6 (Nov. 1, 1999), 7.

Pat MacAdam, “The Mischievous Will: Toronto the Good Left Shaken by Staid Lawyer’s Quirky Last Wishes,” Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 2, 1999.

John Picton, “Lawyer’s Will Started Baby Boom,” Toronto Star, Feb. 26, 1989.

Kathleen Walker, “Stork Derby Strangest of Lawyer’s Bequests,” Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 14, 1981.

Susan Schwartz, “Prim Toronto Was Site of Baby Race,” Montreal Gazette, Dec. 9, 1981.

“Mrs. Annie Smith,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 1948.

“Toronto Bequest Provides for Second ‘Stork Derby,'” New York Times, March 12, 1946.

“Stork Derby Victors Lonely for Children,” New York Times, July 6, 1938.

“Topics of the Times,” New York Times, June 1, 1938.

“Last of ‘Stork Derby’?”, Ottawa Evening Citizen, May 31, 1938.

“‘Stork Derby’ Winners Paid,” New York Times, May 30, 1938.

“Stork Derby’ Prize Awarded 4 Women,” New York Times, March 20, 1938.

“Justice ‘Troubled’ in Baby Derby Plea,” New York Times, Feb. 27, 1938.

“Four Mothers of Nine Win Shares in $500,000 Stork Derby Cash,” New York Times, Feb. 13, 1938.

“Has Her 12th Baby,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 1938.

“Stork Derby’ Will Upheld on Appeal,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 1937.

“Toronto Baby Race Upheld on Appeal,” New York Times, Feb. 24, 1937.

“Lady Astor Declares Stork Derby ‘Horror,'” New York Times, Nov. 29, 1936.

“Stork Derby Will Upheld by Court,” New York Times, Nov. 21, 1936.

“‘Baby Clause’ Held Valid in Millar Will,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 19, 1936.

“Ruling on Stork Promised in Week,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 1936.

“Dr. Hayne Thinks Toronto Mothers in ‘Piker’ Class,” [Spartanburg, S.C.] Herald-Journal, Nov. 4, 1936.

“Stork Derby ‘Winner’ Offers to Split Prize,” New York Times, Nov. 2, 1936.

“Birth Derby Ends; 6 Mothers in ‘Tie,'” New York Times, Nov. 1, 1936.

“Reaper at Finish Line in Baby Race,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Oct. 30, 1936.

“‘Stork Derby’ Will Is Attacked by Kin,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 1936.

“Foul Is Claimed in Baby Derby,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Oct. 27, 1936.

“Stork Derby Rule Taken by Premier,” New York Times, Oct. 24, 1936.

“To Fight Baby Derby Fund,” New York Times, Oct. 16, 1936.

“Threats in ‘Baby Derby,'” New York Times, Aug. 30, 1936.

“Another Baby Enters $500,000 Stork Derby,” New York Times, Aug. 18, 1936.

“12 in Toronto Stork Race, Parents of 89, Join Party,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 1936.

“Mrs. Kenny Leads in Stork Derby,” Nashua [N.H.] Telegraph, Feb. 6, 1936.

“‘Dark Horse’ in ‘Stork Derby’ Now Believes in Birth Control,” Milwaukee Journal, Nov. 29, 1935.

Phillis Griffiths, “Stork Derby Field Scorns Split Prize,” New York Times, Sept. 15, 1935.

“$500,000 Carried by Toronto Stork,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 1935.

“Toronto ‘Baby’ Will Safe,” New York Times, Sept. 7, 1935.

“12 in Toronto Stork Race, Parents of 89, Join Party,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 1936.

“The Commonwealth: Birth Race,” Time, Dec. 20, 1926.

Listener mail:

“I Met a Celebrity at the London Openhouse!! Lord Palmerston, The Fuzzy,” Reddit London, Sept. 24, 2018.

Rachel Nuwer, “Bats Act As Pest Control at Two Old Portuguese Libraries,” Smithsonian.com, Sept. 19, 2013.

Julie H. Case, “These Portuguese Libraries Are Infested With Bats — and They Like It That Way,” Smithsonian.com, June 7, 2018.

Patricia Kowsmann, “The Bats Help Preserve Old Books But They Drive Librarians, Well, Batty,” Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2018.

Universidade de Coimbra Library.

Christina Caron, “Zanesville Animal Massacre Included 18 Rare Bengal Tigers,” ABC News, Oct. 19, 2011.

Kathy Thompson, “Ohio Exotic Animal Owner Speaks Out 1st Time Since Ordeal,” [Zanesville, Ohio] Times Recorder, Oct. 18, 2012.

“William Walker: Diver Who Saved Winchester Cathedral Remembered,” BBC News, Oct. 6, 2018.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listeners Wil, Cassidy, and Sydney, inspired by an item on 99 Percent Invisible (warning — this link spoils the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!