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AAAS Celebrates Its 168th Anniversary

AAAS 1848 proceedings


Proceedings from the first day of the new society, 20 September, 1848. The meeting was called to order at noon by William B. Rogers, a geologist and physicist who later went on to found the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. | Andrea Korte/AAAS

AAAS marked its 168th anniversary on 20 September with a look back to its founding in 1848—and reflection on how its legacy informs the association’s work today.

AAAS was officially formed at 20 September 1848 at noon by members of the former Association of American Geologists and Naturalists at the library Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, according to the AAAS Archives, which displayed seldom-seen documents and artifacts in honor of the anniversary. AAAS was the first permanent organization formed in the United States to promote the development of science and engineering at the national level and to represent the interests of all its disciplines.

AAAS Objects and Rules


A facsimile of AAAS’ Objects and Rules. The document, which had been prepared by a committee the year before in Boston, was approved in Philadelphia on 20 September, 1848. | Andrea Korte/AAAS

The new group’s aims were recorded in its original “Objects and Rules” document: “By periodical and migratory meetings, to promote intercourse between those who are cultivating science in different parts of the United States, to give a stronger and more general impulse, and a more systematic direction to scientific research in our country; and to procure for the labours of scientific men, increased facilities and a wider usefulness.”

The story of AAAS’ founding garnered coverage in the 20 September issue of The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.

“While Europeans were focusing on more theoretical scientific pursuits, Americans were engaged in a very practical side of science: technology. The word scientist did not even exist until the 1830s, and the line between scientist and inventor was a blurry one,” Keillor said.

“Americans were also focused on geology and botany, which went hand in hand with America's westward expansion — there was plenty of uncharted territory to explore and catalog. One well-known paleontologist and geologist was Edward Hitchcock, the man who came up with the idea for the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists, the parent organization of AAAS,” he said.

AAAS Medallion from 1940s


A medallion depicts the logo used by AAAS in the 1940s and 1950s, which features the year of AAAS’ founding. | Andrea Korte/AAAS

“Interdisciplinary collaboration is integral to AAAS’ history, from our founding 168 years ago to our diverse range of activities today to advance science at large,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of AAAS and publisher of the Science family of journals.

“Our distinguished legacy demonstrates our continuity, integrity, and leading role in the global science community.  We’re all part of this history and the future,” said Norma Rosado-Blake, who manages the AAAS Archives, which are open to all researchers interested in the history of AAAS and its role in the development of science. 

1848 Ledger of AAAS Members


An 1848 ledger of the new society’s members. The left side of the book lists their names and designations; the right side shows the members’ permanent and temporary residences. The signers span the scientific disciplines, from civil engineer Solomon W. Roberts to naval surgeon William Swift to naturalist and philologist S.S. Haldeman. | Andrea Korte/AAAS