By Lawrence Barton, Professor of Chemistry, University of Missouri-St Louis
Based on original material by Dr. Jane A Miller, Associate Professor Emeritus
October, 2000 — In six years, the St. Louis Section of the American Chemical Society will celebrate its centenary.
The first organizational meeting was held Monday, Dec. 9, 1907, at the Academy of Sciences Building. Of the first Section officers, president Lancelot W. Andrews was a chemist at Mallinckrodt, vice-president E. H. Keiser and secretary Leroy McMasters were professors at Washington University, treasurer S.D. Baer was a chemist with Laclede Gas, and councilor Herman Schlundt was professor at the University of Missouri, and the person for whom the chemistry building in Columbia is named.
During its first decade, the Section grew continuously, meeting at the Missouri Athletic Club and hotels for dinner and scientific sessions. The growth of chemical industry in the area and the addition of a department of biochemistry at Washington University increased Section membership. Monsanto and Edgar Zinc Co. became corporate members. The predominantly industrial orientation of the group is evident in program topics: artificial fertilizers, the character of Mississippi River water, coal testing colorimeters, and the effect of the European war on the American chemical industry. Brewing chemists were acknowledged by a symposium on fermentation in 1912. Several sessions concerned the oil fields in Illinois.
During the period 1917-19, the membership of the Section almost doubled to 210 members. In the spring of 1920, the St. Louis and University of Missouri Sections hosted the 59th National Meeting with 946 registrants. The Leather and Sugar Sections held their first meeting and the Dye Section became a Division. A symposium on atomic structure and valence and Dr. Wm. Mayo’s address on the relationship between chemistry and medicine were highlights. Trips to oil refineries, the helium purification plant at Scott Aviation Field, the Illinois Glass Co., and Anheuser-Busch were popular.
The public image of chemistry was addressed by providing speakers for high schools and the Post-Dispatch radio station and by visiting Missouri congressmen to “notify them of the achievements of chemistry.” St. Louis chemists sponsored the ACS Prize Essay Contest for high school students, discussed the best ways to instruct students in chemistry, and recruited high school teachers to join the Society.
The membership of 300 primarily industrial chemists at the end of the 1930s was drawn from a 75-mile radius in Missouri and 25 in Illinois. In addition to bulk chemicals, petroleum and beer companies, members were employed by drug manufacturers, the government Insecticide Testing Laboratory, the shoe industry, paint and soap manufacturers, rubber reclaimers, and metal plating companies.
In spite of the Depression, great interest in the St. Louis section continued. Attendance at monthly meetings was usually over fifty percent of the membership. There was an official employment bureau for the Section. However, as evidence of the stability of chemistry in St. Louis, there were often unfilled openings. The 11th Midwest Regional meeting was held in St. Louis in 1932 with many plant tours and good attendance in spite of the economic climate.
At the Spring 1941 National meeting, hosted by the Section, 4,000 chemists convened at the Jefferson Hotel. The St. Louis Section then had a membership of 494. The extraordinary growth of the Section was the impetus for much activity during the 1940s. In the first year of the decade, special group meetings were held following the monthly general meeting, the first topics being “The Commercial Production of Vitamins” and “Problems in Chemical Engineering.” There were many cooperative meetings with other groups in the city: the Engineer’s Club, the St. Louis Post of Army Ordinance, the Society of Metals, etc.
Naturally, the advent of World War II had a great effect on the Society. Program topics included “Military Explosives in National Defense”, “The Chemist’s Part in Civil Defense”, “Chemistry in Warfare,” and “Research:a Means of Avoiding Post-war Unemployment.” A committee was appointed to cooperate with the Department of Civil Defense and provide instruction in protection against poison gas.
To supplement national financial support, dues were instituted in 1942, first at 50c, then $1.00. By 1943, the Section had 615 members. Many years of planning resulted in the establishment of the Midwest Award, first presented on March 5, 1945 to L. P. Kyrides, Organic Chemicals Division Research Director of Monsanto, at a dinner at the Missouri Athletic Club. The following year, 406 guests attended the award dinner to honor Carl and Gerti Cori, the local recipients of the Nobel Prize. Arthur Holly Compton spoke on the development of St. Louis as a scientific center.
In 1948, Charles Allen Thomas of Monsanto served as President of the Society. The theme for the national meeting was “St. Louis-Gateway to the West” and the mixer was held in a reproduction of a German Beer Garden.
In December 1949, the first year of publication of the Chemical Bond, the Section membership reached 1,013, and among the activities of this industrious group was the sponsoring of a weekly radio program. In 1952 Dr. Desiree le Beau, Research Director of the Midwest Rubber Reclaiming Co., was “first of her sex to serve as chairman.” Under her “vivacious” leadership, plans to stimulate interest in the Section’s affairs progressed rapidly. The Section served as host to sixty foreign chemists involved in the Younger Chemists International Project, an event climaxed by a fish fry with free beer from Falstaff Brewery and a concert by the Monsanto Research Band.
A major achievement of the fifties was the establishment of topical groups, the Organic, the Physical and a short-lived Industrial and Engineering group and exploration of the possibility of building a Science Center for meetings of scientific groups in the area. A monthly publication, the Bulletin, was started and members participated in a much-used Speakers’ Bureau. In 1959 two additional interest groups became part of the Section. The Council of Chemistry Teachers of Greater St. Louis, representing 82 institutions and 5,000 chemistry students became the Education Topical group and the active St. Louis Society of Analysts became the Analytical Group. This year a vigorous effort was successful in convincing the Missouri legislature not to require licensing of chemists.
The programs during the fifties were outstanding. Gladys Emerson, Harold Urey and R.B. Woodward were among the speakers. The 50th anniversary of the Section was celebrated with a special Midwest Award Symposium in inorganic and organic chemistry.
During the 1960s steady progress was made by the Section. The newly established Monsanto Research Center and faculty from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and SIU-Edwardsville provided additional interested members. The Section received national recognition for its Topical groups, which included Marketing and Economics and Petrochemicals, although the Analytical and Education groups had the best attendance. The first Recognition Night Dinner was held in 1966 and Jack Marcus was honored with the first outstanding service award. Scholarships for high school contest winners were presented on a television program. The national meeting was held again in St. Louis in March 1961. Although the Washington Office now had major responsibility for arrangements, the Section provided many plant tours and the ladies program.
Mallinckrodt and Monsanto provided funds for the Midwest Award, the Mallinckrodt Fund assuming full sponsorship in 1967. When the Section became a part of the Midwest Region, the award was presented at the annual regional meeting. By the end of 1969, ACS membership in the St. Louis area had reached 1591. The establishment of the St. Louis Award was the high point of 1970; the first recipient was David Lipkin of Washington University. Members served as consultants to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, volunteered to teach a Laboratory Aide training course, and established a community affairs subcommittee.
In 1970 the Section was involved, with the national office, in establishing a Chemical Technicians associates degree program at the Florissant Valley campus of the St. Louis Community college. In 1971 the first Marcus award was presented to an outstanding St. Louis University chemistry student, and the 27th Midwest Regional Meeting was held at the Sheraton -Jefferson In October.
In 1972 the Section held open board meetings to discuss areas of professional concern and there was an increase in interest in the general meeting. Monsanto provided permanent funding for the St. Louis Award in 1973. After several years of declining membership the Section was growing once again.
In 1975, Operation Interface between university faculty and representatives of chemical industry was an acknowledged success. The major activity of 1976 was the celebration of the ACS Centennial during the first annual Chemical Progress Week in cooperation with the AIChE and the Chemical Council of Greater St. Louis. The combined Career Day and Awards Program was so successful that it has been continued annually ever since.
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch supplement emphasized the importance of chemistry to St. Louis. The Mayor, the County Supervisor, and the Governor set aside March 28-April 2 as Chemistry Week. Symposia on “The Future of Chemistry” and chemical education were held with many honored guests. During 1977, cash awards for outstanding students and high school teachers were provided by the Chemical Council. In 1978, for the second successive year, the president of the ACS was a St. Louis chemist.
The outstanding achievements of the St. Louis Section were recognized with Outstanding Performance Awards (large section) in both 1979 and 1980. The Section was cited for its committee structure, its Topical Groups including a newly organized Chromatography Group, Chemical Progress Week, continuing education programs, the high school chemistry contest and for hosting the Midwest Regional meeting in November, 1979. A new topical group, the General Topics Group, was formed for chemists interested in broadening and updating their knowledge of modern chemistry. Commendation was given for the recruitment of new members, especially bachelors level members.
During the 1980s and 90s, the strong leadership in the 1970s began to show excellent results. More Outstanding Performance awards came in 1983 and 1984, these in the medium-large section category because membership had dropped below 2000. In 1984, too, the Section hosted the 187th National Meeting, which was a major success. An operating surplus of about $8,000 was applied to funding for the Midwest Award.
Activities of the Section during the 1980s included sponsoring a Chemical Demonstration workshop and Saturday workshops for teachers, and the purchase of Men and Molecules tapes for high schools. The Section celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1982 in grand style. The celebration was held in the visitors’ center of the Gateway Arch and included a panel discussion followed by a reception with entertainment. The moderator was Dr. Clayton Callis, Monsanto, who was Chair of the National Board of Directors and later became President of the Society. The Section hosted the Midwest Regional Meeting in 1989.
Section successes continued during the decades of the 1990s: four national awards for outstanding performance and numerous citations for outstanding activities. Some of the more successful activities of the past decade have included panel discussion on Science and Society and on Science-Based Entrepreneurial Activities. Section outreach activities have excelled, as evidenced by awards for activities during National Chemistry Week, for Younger Chemists Committee and for internationally focused activities. The Section’s awards programs continue to be major strengths. Annual highlights include the St. Louis Award Symposium and banquet, the Midwest Award presentation, and the annual Awards Night when high school and college students, teachers, and technicians are honored. The newest Section award, the Outstanding Service Award was first given in 1993 to the late Henry Godt.
The Section has a proud history, including hosting the 35th Midwest Regional Meeting.