History of AAPT — Formation of AIP

Meanwhile, the organization of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) was proceeding. The first formal meeting was held May 1, 1931. Four societies participated: the Optical Society of America (OSA), The American Physical Society, the Acoustical Society of America, and the Society of Rheology. (The last two were organized in 1929.) AAPT was not invited; grave doubts by some as to the “eventual stability and success of AAPT” are reflected and refuted in a letter from Paul Klopsteg to K.T. Compton, who was the first chair of the AIP Governing Board. As a result of letters from both Klopsteg and Dodge and some intervention from Richtmyer, as well as a very successful first annual meeting of AAPT in December 1931 and the adoption of a more formal constitution, the AIP Governing Board in February 1932 “expressed themselves unanimously as desiring your association to be included with the other founder societies of the AIP,” and asked that three representatives be appointed to the board. Those chosen were Dodge, Klopsteg, and Frederic Palmer. Klopsteg remained on the board until 1951 with a hiatus of only two years and was chair of the board from 1940 to 1947.

AIP arose largely from the fragmentation of societies of physicists. According to K.T. Compton, writing in the Review of Scientific Instruments in 1933, “In one sense the American Institute of Physics is the child of the five parent national societies which have cooperated in forming it. In another sense, however, it has followed the more usual course of being born of two parents, the one financial distress and the other organizational disintegration.” We have noted the organizational disintegration, so different from the behavior of the chemical profession; among applied physicists there was talk of still further fragmentation. The financial distress was due to rising costs and general economic hard times. In brief, APS could no longer support the Physical Review. Financial help was secured from the Chemical Foundation, a corporation formed by major chemical companies to take over German-owned patents after World War I. Its net free earnings were to be “used and devoted to the development and advancement of chemistry and allied sciences.”

The impetus for the formation of AIP actually came from the Chemical Foundation, whose support was contingent on the existence of a “unified association of American physicists.” The foundation agreed to underwrite the joint Institute expenses for the first year, including those incurred setting up an office. The physicists most active in the formation of AIP included Richtmyer—already influential in APS, OSA, and AAPT—George B. Pegram of Columbia University and P.D. Foote of Gulf Research Institute.