On the 162nd anniversary of the founding of AAAS, radio icon Garrison Keillor paid tribute to the organization’s roots on his popular radio program, “The Writer’s Almanac.”
“It was on this day in 1848 that the American Association for the Advancement of Science was formed in Philadelphia, at the Academy of Natural Sciences,” Keillor reported 20 September. “Its stated purpose was to ‘procure for the labors of scientific men, increased facilities and a wider usefulness.’”
AAAS historical records state that “eighty-seven of the most distinguished members of the nascent American scientific community took part in the first AAAS meeting. William Redfield of New York, meteorologist, geologist, and promoter of railway and steamship development, was elected president.”
At the time, Keillor explained, “Europe tended to be the center for the great theorists of science.” In the United States, meanwhile, “there was an interest in invention and science that supported industry.” Major technological developments of the era included a rapid increase in railroad infrastructure, the mechanical sewing machine, and more.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s 1804-1806 expeditions of the American West had sparked keen interest in geography, topography, and weather, Keillor noted, and soon the world of science had expanded to botany, natural history and anthropology.
AAAS was established with 400 members in 1848. Two years later, astronomer Maria Mitchell of Nantucket, Massachusetts, was the first woman selected to be a member. As the association grew to include more than 2000 members by 1860, “it kept an emphasis on being inclusive, reaching out to anyone interested in science,” said Keillor.
In 1883, AAAS began publishing the journal Science under the editorship of Samuel H. Scudder, taking over for the publication’s earliest supporters, journalist John Michels and inventors Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.
More AAAS history can be found within the association’s online archive.