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To Advance and Diffuse the Knowledge of Physics

100 Years of the American Physical Society

To Advance and Diffuse the Knowledge of Physics will be on exhibit in its entirety at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) headquarters in Gaithersburg, MD through the end of 1999. Visitors are welcome.

The American Physical Society was established over one hundred years ago; the Physical Review six years before that. Together they have shaped and promoted physics research in the 20th century.


This exhibit, commissioned for the APS Centennial, looks at the evolution of the American Physical Society and its research journals, their responsiveness to the needs of science, and their dynamic relationship with American culture.
This exhibit, commissioned for the APS Centennial, looks at the evolution of the American Physical Society and its research journals, their responsiveness to the needs of science, and their dynamic relationship with American culture.

APS News will serialize excerpts from this exhibit throughout the Centennial year. Next month: Early Years of the Physical Review.



Origins of APS

Moving Forces
In 1899, thirty-six scientists met in New York to form a physics society. What was the context? What needs impelled them?

Physics in America was a meager profession by European standards of the late 19th century. Its first professors were not appointed until the 1870s, and they often paid for apparatus out of their own pockets. University administrators respected teaching more than research. The public applauded technological achievements over abstract ones.

In spite of these deterrents, the aspirations of American physicists were on the rise. So too were their numbers.

During the 19th century, physical sciences became increasingly specialized. In one discipline after another, scientists formed their own professional societies. Section B of the AAAS had been the primary meeting ground for physicists, but it met only once a year.

Physicists were inspired by the formation of the American Chemical Society and the American Mathematical Society.

In the 1890s, Americans were startled by news that European scientists had discovered x-rays, radioactivity, and the electron. New friendships were forged at international electrical meetings in Chicago.

U.S. physicists wanted to be part of the international community. To do this, they needed to meet more often and raise research standards in America.

Thus, self-definition, professionalization, and aspiration were the bedrock on which the American Physical Society was built.

COST OF DOING BUSINESS

APS Budget (1899) - $285
APS Budget (1999) - $37,253,325




Henry A. Rowland
  Henry A. Rowland

Henry A. Rowland:

First president of APS, and physics professor at Johns Hopkins. His presidential address set the tone for the Society:

"To encourage the growth of any science, the best thing we can do is to meet together in its interest, to discuss its problems, to criticise each other's work and, best of all, to provide means by which the better portion of it may be made known to the world."


Marcia Keith

Marcia Keith
Marcia Keith of Mount Holyoke, in her lab, and Isabelle Stone of Vassar were among the 36 founding members. (Photo courtesy: Mount Holyoke College Archives)

Albert A. Michelson

Albert A. Michelson
First vice-president and second president. (Photo courtesy: Nimitz Library, USNA/AIP Niels Bohr Library)

Mission:

"To promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics." Adopted 1899. (Photo courtesy: AIP Niels Bohr Library)

'To promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics.' Adopted 1899. (Photo courtesy: AIP Niels Bohr Library)

Arthur Gordon Webster

"Father of the American Physical Society"
Arthur Gordon Webster
Professor of physics at Clark University, Webster organized the first APS meeting at Fayerweather Hall, Columbia University on 20 May 1899. (Photo courtesy: Clark University Archives)

Fayerweather Hall

Fayerweather Hall: Columbia University was the site of the first meeting and remained the home of APS for 60 years. (Photo courtesy: Columbia University Archives)
Columbia University was the site of the first meeting and remained the home of APS for 60 years. (Photo courtesy: Columbia University Archives)
 

Curator: Sara Schechner Genuth
Gnomon Research
Exhibit Director: Barrett Ripin
APS History: Harry Lustig
Journals History: R. Mark Wilson
Researchers: George Trigg
Ruth Kastner
Steven Norton
Amy Halsted
Exhibit Design: Puches Design Inc.
Fabrication: Malone Displays

©1995 - 2016, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette