ACS History Society Reaches 125th Birthday in Chemical & Engineering News

DIAMOND JUBILEE - ACS celebrated its 75th anniversary in grand style in New York City in September 1951.

March 26, 2001 - Washington, DC

By K. M. Reese

Anniversary serves as a milestone to commemorate ACS's contributions to the advancement of chemistry and society

The quarter century following 1976, the centennial year of the American Chemical Society, has brought many developments to the field of chemistry - economic, political, scientific, and technological - that were, of course, largely unpredictable. In fact, the first chapter of the history of the society's first 100 years, "A Century of Chemistry" (by Herman Skolnik and K. M. Reese), ends with this statement: "No one can predict the future. But the American Chemical Society approached its centennial, on April 6, 1976, in a position of strength to serve chemists and chemistry worldwide and thereby to continue to advance the uses of chemical science and technology in filling the needs of mankind."

Oddly enough, even with the unexpected potholes of life, ACS seems to have taken good advantage of its position of strength and now has reached another milestone anniversary--its 125th--perhaps in an even better position to serve chemists and chemistry throughout the worldwide chemical enterprise. This article explores the highlights of the history of the American Chemical Society, with an emphasis on the accomplishments of the past quarter century...

PRESERVING CHEMISTRY. A striking development of the past 25 years has been the move to establish a concrete, publicly accessible record of the achievements of chemists and chemical engineers. Two notable results have been the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), Philadelphia, and the ACS National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program.

CHF had its roots in the society's centennial activities of 1976. A prime mover was John H. Wotiz of the Division of the History of Chemistry, who organized a symposium on the topic. Interest persisted, and in December 1981 the ACS Board approved the establishment of the Center for the History of Chemistry, in Philadelphia, as a joint effort with the University of Pennsylvania. ACS was to provide $50,000 per year for five years, and the university was to supply the equivalent in goods and services.

Operations started in 1982; science historian Arnold Thackray has been president from the beginning. Funds since have come from more than 50 major corporations and hundreds of other organizations and individuals.

In 1984, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers became a cofounder of the center. In 1992, the center became the Chemical Heritage Foundation, with two major elements: the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry and the Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History.

In June 2000, CHF dedicated its renovated new facility in Independence National Historical Park, two blocks from Independence Hall. The building houses all of the foundation's research, publishing, educational, and other activities; close to 40 employees; and resources, assets, and properties worth more than $100 million...

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