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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

The IAS - Early Years (1932 to 1945)

The Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences could trace it roots back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when English engineers began to define themselves through membership in distinct societies.  The American counterparts of these societies came later in the 19th century, with such venerable groups as the mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, mining and metallurgical engineers, electrical engineers, and civil engineers. Flying clubs were established, such as the Boston Aeronautical Society (1895) and the Aeronautical Society of America (1907), but they were more devoted to the aviator than to the engineer.

In 1910, the Harvard-Boston Air Meet inspired two MIT graduates to pursue their interest in aeronautics.  Jerome Hunsaker (1886-1984) received the first Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from an American university and headed the Aircraft Division of the Bureau of Construction and Repair.  Lester Gardner (1876-1956) produced the journal Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering in 1916, which was later sold to McGraw Hill and became Aviation Week and Space Technology. Both men did tours of Europe and returned to the U.S. determined to promote aeronautical engineering; they were particularly impressed by the work of the Royal Aeronautical Society and wanted to duplicate it.

The first official meeting of the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences (IAS) was at the Yale Club in New York on October 17, 1932 with Jerome Hunsaker as President. It would be a cross between a sort of club for gentlemen engineers and a professional society that would enable elite specialists to interact with colleagues in other disciplines.  From the start there would be several different classes of membership depending on the degree of technical experience of the members, from Junior Members to Honorary Fellows (the first Honorary Fellow of the IAS was Orville Wright).  The elite status of the society was very important, and no women were allowed – even Amelia Earhart was turned down for membership. This decision stood until 1939.

Having determined the need for a quarterly journal, the IAS’ first technical publication was the proceedings of its Founders’ Meeting in 1933, titled the Journal of the Aeronautical Sciences, and became a monthly publication in 1935.  From the beginning, the journal included a section called “News form the Institute, which included meeting notices, news from headquarters, obituaries, and publications of interest.  By 1944, however, this information was published in a separate publication, the Aeronautical Engineering Review.

At first, the IAS headquarters were in Gardner’s home or borrowed offices.  In 1933, however, the IAS took up residence in the most prestigious skyscraper in the world – Rockefeller Center.  The space was secured partly on the recommendation of Edwin Aldrin, the manager of aviation activities for Standard Oil of New Jersey. Rockefeller Center allowed the IASD free space for a year in order to attract other aeronautical companies.  The IAS remained there for the next 12 years.  During this time, the IAS hired its first full-time staff members. The IAS also created their official seal, which remained the logo of the Institute until it merged with the ARS in 1963.

Although the IAS was headquartered in New York, there was a concern that much of the development of aviation was shifting to the West Coast, far from headquarters.  This led to the creation of the Pacific Coast Section of the IAS in December 1934. It included Donald Douglas, John Northrop, Gerard Vultee, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, and many other notable names in aviation.

In addition to classes of membership, the IAS from the start also established awards, including endowed awards, and those named for aeronautical pioneers. The IAS also cooperated with other societies in honoring aeronautical pioneers, including the Guggenheim Medal, the Musick Memorial Trophy, and the Robert J. Collier Trophy.

After the creation of the Pacific Coast section, others soon followed and by 1944 there were nine active sections:  Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Texas, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle, made up of more than 10,000 members.  In addition, 862 student members were enrolled in 34 active Student Branches.  Other administrative developments included the establishment of nine standing committees for administering the institute, and nine Technical Committees on specialized technical areas. Specialist meetings focused on specific segments of the industry and specific technical problems were starting to be scheduled at this time.

In addition to the presentation of information, it was quite important to the IAS to archive information – this sprang from the original ideas of Lester Gardner, who felt that meeting the informational needs of the members was one of the most important services the Institute could provide. Gardner devoted several hundred personal items to establish an IAS library, and encouraged others to do the same. He had reciprocal arrangements with international organizations to trade aeronautical journals, and by 1935 the library received 44 journals from around the world each month. In 1941 the IAS established the Pacific Aeronautical Library in Los Angeles.

With the growth of the library, however, came another challenge – that of knowing what was available.  Gardner felt it was vital to prepare a bibliography of some kind, and he approached the New York City Department of Plants and Structures for Aviation, suggesting that such a project could be done by unemployed engineers and aeronautical professionals.  The Emergency Relief Bureau of New York agreed to fund the effort, which was taken over by the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935.  The complete Aeronautical Index was issued in 1938.  It consisted of 28 volumes made up of 50 separate bibliographies covering the entire range of aviation topics.  The project produced some two million entries, employed more than 100 people, and cost $150,000.

In addition to books, the IAS began to get donations of other items, including prints, aeronautical ephemera, badges, buttons, models, trophies, paintings, and other aviation-related items.  The Aeronautical Archive of the IAS Collection, as it was known, grew to include over 23,000 items, including a copy or photocopy of every book or pamphlet on aeronautics published before 1900. Today, the collection resides at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Information taken from Rocketeers and Gentlemen Engineers: A History of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics…and What Came Before, by Tom Crouch.


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