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Early Years of the Physical Review

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.

Early Years of the Physical Review

The founding of the Physical Review predates that of the American Physical Society, although both arose out of the same ferment. In the 1890s, American physicists had no real niche for publishing their research. Editors of the American Journal of Science and Journal of the Franklin Institute cared little for physics. To rectify the problem, three Cornell University scientists established the Physical Review in 1893.

For the first few years, a disproportionate number of papers came from Cornell faculty. Authorship broadened with the journal's takeover by APS in late 1912. Improving standards for research in U.S. laboratories led to a surge in quality. By the 1930s, the Physical Review was unarguably the most important physics journal in the world. Citations to its articles exceeded those to Zeitschrift fur Physik.


Edward L. Nichols, Ernest Merritt, and Frederick Bedell
Edward L. Nichols, Ernest Merritt, and Frederick Bedell

Founding Editors:

Three Cornell physicists worked as a team to manage the Physical Review for two decades. Nichols was chief among them. As first secretary of APS, Merritt was instrumental in merging the activities of Phys. Rev. and APS.

First Funds


First Funds: Cornell University appropriated $500 to start Phys. Rev. in 1893. The first budget is shown here
Cornell University appropriated $500 to start Phys. Rev. in 1893. The first budget is shown here.


Rockefeller Hall

Rockefeller Hall: Home to the Phys. Rev. editorial offices on the campus of Cornell until 1926.
Home to the Phys. Rev. editorial offices on the campus of Cornell until 1926.

First Issue

A copy of the first issue of Physical Review: July - August 1893.
A copy of the first issue of the Physical Review

From the Early Physical Review: Determination of h in 1916

To verify Einstein's photoelectric effect and determine Planck's constant h, Robert Millikan required very pure materials. He devised a "machine shop in a vacuum" that enabled him to prepare a fresh, uncontaminated surface for every run. [See "Centennial Focus: Millikan's Measurement of Planck's Constant"]

Millikan with Michelson, Kinsley, and Gale, circa 1910 (at right)
Millikan with Michelson, Kinsley, and Gale,
circa 1910 (at right).


Announcement of the Transfer of the Review to the American Physical Society
Announcement of the Transfer of the Review to the American Physical Society, PhysRev, January 1913, Vol. 1, No. 1.

The Merger

Money brought people together: In 1902, Phys. Rev. editors convinced APS councillors to let the journal publish meeting abstracts in exchange for $3 per member. These abstracts often represented better physics than that found in the articles. In 1912, when APS considered establishing its own research journal, the editors averted the plan by ceding Phys. Rev. to APS.


What Did We Publish?

Applied science dominated early issues of Phys. Rev., but theoretical discussions were not shunned.

Letter from a 'typical' contributor: Harry W. Fisher complained to Merritt of the pounding steam hammers close by his lab in 1895.
Letter from a 'typical' contributor: Harry W. Fisher complained to Merritt of the pounding steam hammers close by his lab in 1895.
 

 


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