Section History

Section History

Some of the “history” features on the web site were adapted from articles presented in several 1994 issues of The Midland Chemist dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Midland Section. Contributors to the articles included Robert Kohrman, Wendell Dilling, Fran Voci, A.L. Smith, V.A. Stenger, and E.L. Warrick.

The years of World War I saw severe shortages of chemicals previously imported from Germany. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, many chemists enlisted or were drafted into the service. After Armistice Day (1918), many of these men returned as students or faculty members, or to industrial positions. The Dow Chemical Company had been growing, but the end of the war saw the cancellation of most existing orders for war materials. During the war, Dow had reached an employment level of 3000, but overnight that had to be reduced to 500. Despite (or perhaps because of) the concern to find new markets, the Dow leaders felt it was time to bring in the latest chemical knowledge. Wartime had severely curtailed travel, and scientific discussions were limited to conversations with one’s coworkers. A local section of the ACS seemed to be the solution.

The year 1919 saw the beginnings of the Midland Section of the ACS in the form of an undated petition to the national ACS Council for a section charter. The names of the original petitioners for the Midland Section of the American Chemical Society are given below in the order of their signatures, along with the text of the petition. In addition to the names of the twenty-five individual petitioners, the document includes, in script, the name of The Dow Chemical Company. The Midland Section reported 30 paid members for 1919.

We, the undersigned, members of the American Chemical Society, resident in the county of Midland, state of Michigan, request the Council to grant a charter for a local section with headquarters at Midland, Michigan, and comprising the territory of Midland County, Michigan.

The Dow Chemical Co. William H. Williams
William J. Hale C.G. Smith
Max Y. Seaton E.C. Burdick
John A. Gann Carl W. Blenkhorn
Chester C. Kennedy Mark E. Putnam
I. Kenega William Lloyd Mitchell
Harold F. Shattuck Alonzo W. Beshgetoor
Willard H. Dow M.O. Keller
W.A. Moor Edward A. DeWindt
Ralph M. Hunter W.R. Collings
Louis E. Ward Rex E. Ward
Robert R. Dreisbach Earl L. Pelton
Ivan F. Harlow J.C. Gindlesperger

On December 8, 1919, the president of the American Chemical Society granted, in writing, a charter to the Midland Section. The local members obviously anticipated this approval because the first formal meeting of the section was held on December 2, 1919. The official minutes of this meeting follow.

The initial meeting of the Midland section of the American Chemical Society was held at the Educational Building of the Dow Chemical Co., Tuesday afternoon, December 2nd, Dr. W.J. Hale acting as temporary chairman. Organization of the chapter was completed with the following election of officers:

Chairman H.H. Dow
Vice Chairman M.E. Putnam
Secretary/Treasurer C.C. Kennedy
Councilor W.J. Hale
Executive Committee I.F. Harlow
M.Y. Seaton
M.Y. Seaton

It was moved and seconded that the councilor be instructed to communicate with the councilors of the other chapters concerning the presidential election so that he might cast his ballot for the candidate having the greatest promise of election. Carried, meeting adjourned.

C.C. Kennedy, Secretary

Herbert H. Dow served as chairman of the section until June 1921, when Edwin O. Barstow was elected as the second chairman of the section. During the first year and a half of its existence, the Midland Section held a total of six meetings with as many as 42 persons attending an individual program.

These early programs relied primarily on local scientists. M.Y. Seaton spoke on the corrosiveness of bromine from Pomeroy, Ohio; W.J. Hale gave a paper on “Industrial Fellowships, A Plan for Incentive in Applied and Pure Science;” Hon. Gilbert Currie spoke on the Longworth Bill; Thomas Griswold presented a paper entitled “Reminiscences;” Paul Cottringer discussed “The Manufacture of Synthetic Phenol;” N.W. Haynes, president of Drug and Chemical Markets, spoke on “The Tariff Situation;” and J.A. Gann gave a talk on magnesium piston alloys.

While the early section meetings provided a forum for technical talks and discussion of the business of The Dow Chemical Company, these functions were also an opportunity for relaxation at dinner, entertainment, and even some levity among the company’s leading scientists. The minutes of the ninth section meeting held on February 1, 1922, are representative:

Prof. Harry N. Holmes was the guest and the speaker at the February meeting, held February first. Prof. Holmes spoke on the subject of gels, illustrating the talk with many demonstrations and some sensational exhibit material.

The evening program began at 6:30 with a banquet in the Dow Cafeteria. This was followed by the monthly review of plant news as given below:

R.T. Sanford: Treating Concrete with CaCl2.

E.R. Stein: Production in Calcium Chloride Plant is 120 tons per day. Epsom Salts Plant capacity greater than before and product is of better quality.

O.C. Diehl: Sodium Sulfide and its uses.

E.O. Barstow: Dowmetal piston sales in January greater than in any preceding month. Displayed Foos piston, largest piston cast up to date.

W.J. Hale: Oberlin defeated Ohio State in football.

Prof. Holms: Reply to Dr. Hale.

Frank O’Brien then put on a short musical comedy.

The evening’s program was then concluded by the lecture of Prof. Holmes, which was given in the Educational Building.

55 men out for supper

75 (approximately) attended the lecture.

9th Meeting

February 1, 1922


Meetings usually consisted of a preliminary technical or semi-technical film, followed by the main speaker. Refreshments were served afterwards. Sometimes for special occasions, there was entertainment such as a singing group, a skit, or magic show. Thus the section meetings filled social, cultural, and technical needs in the scientifically isolated Midland community.

This pattern continued throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Top people such as Herman Mark, George Brown, C.C. Furnas, F.C. Whitmore, N.H. Furnan, L.O. Brockway, John H. Yoe, Peter Debye, Donald Keyes, and H. Fieser were brought in as speakers. One cannot help but be amazed at the intense activity of the section. Meetings were held every two weeks, and sometimes weekly, with attendance ranging from 100 to 400. On one memorable occasion, when John Grebe described his visit to Bikini Atoll to witness a nuclear bomb test, the audience exceeded 800 persons.

The tradition of outside speakers for regular meetings continued, but as time went on, more and more Dow personnel were the main speakers. Also, meetings were held monthly, with a Local Section Seminar held two weeks after the regular meeting. By 1947, attendance started to drop off, although selected meetings drew as many as 200 to 300 people. By 1957, average attendance was only 30 to 50, or about 3 to 5% of the membership. Although meeting attendance was down, many members of the Section were involved in alternative activities such as the Fall Scientific Meeting. Notable events in the 1950s included Dr. E.C. Britton’s election to the presidency of the national ACS in 1952, the awarding of the Perkin medal to Dr. Britton in 1956, initiation of the Science Quiz and Science Fair, and ladies’ night.

In 1968 the Midland Section reached its largest membership, more than 1100 members. Examination of the activities in the sixties decade shows an energetic and dynamic organization. The 1960 annual report showed about 200 active committee participants. Early years featured eight visiting speakers, in addition to eight local speaker seminars. Meeting attendance was about 100 for visiting speakers and averaged 45 for local speakers. A spectrum of activities for members, including short courses, some from the National ACS and some organized locally, were given throughout the sixties.

In 1961 the Midland Section began recognizing outstanding senior chemistry students at each of the local colleges. These awards continue to be given each year. Science Quiz was a contest for high school science student teams. This program began locally in 1956 on the radio. By the sixties it had grown to a regional program running on local television. Communication with membership was substantially enhanced in 1964 with the founding of The Midland Chemist. Joe Dunbar was the first editor. He used The Midland Chemist to raise controversial issues and spark discussions. In the late sixties an innovative program called Science Seminars was offered by local chemists for interested high school students. Although this program lasted only a few years, another program for high school students was more enduring. The Midland Section founded the nation’s first chemistry Boy Scout Explorer Post in 1967. The Explorer Post continues as a co-ed activity today for high schoolers with membership drawn from around the five-county area. An exhibit on Air and Water Pollution Control was shown at the Fall Scientific Meeting in 1967, to which the public was invited. Nine hundred people attended.

The speaker list for 1969 gives a glimpse of the outstanding programs the Midland Section offered its membership:

H.N. Alyea, Princeton U., “Lucky Accidents, Great Discoveries and the Prepared Mind”

E.L. Eliel, U. of Notre Dame, “Conformational Analysis in Heterocyclic Systems”

Frank Mayo, Stanford U., “The Physical Organic Chemistry of Aging of Polymers”

L.E. Danielson, U. of Michigan, “Technical Manpower Management”

Charles G. Overberger, U. of Michigan, “The Chemist in Public Affairs”

In addition, a 3-day short course on molecular orbital theory and a 3-day polymer symposium celebrating the founding of MMI in Midland were offered. Paul Flory, Stanford U., and Eric Baer, Case Western Reserve, were featured speakers.

Although many strong Midland Section programs continued into the 1970s, some new themes were emerging. The Midland Chemist carried articles on professionalism written by Midland Section members. In addition, Alan C. Nixon, an outspoken proponent of professionalism among chemists, contributed a regular column. Themes of chemist employment levels, environmental and legislative issues, and public relations appeared regularly. In response to the Midland controversy over nuclear power in the early 1970s, the Midland Section sponsored a symposium, “Energy and the Environment,” October 1-2, 1971. There was both a local and a national ACS push for ACS members to be aware of and involved with government and legislative affairs. Section chairman Gary LeGrow (1974) observed that meetings for technical exchange must continue, but the section must also address professional relations, public relations, public affairs, educational activities, and direct member services. In 1974, Jack Mills and Don Petersen were appointed legislative councilors to Senator Hart and Congressman Cederburg.

The Toxic Substances Control Act became law in the 1970s. The keynote speaker at the 1978 Fall Scientific Meeting was Steven D. Jellinek, assistant administrator for toxic substances at the EPA. At the 1979 Fall Scientific Meeting, Robert E. Olson spoke on “Science and Public Policy in the Promotion of Health.” The meeting theme was “Scientists and Society.” Increased participation in the Fall Scientific Meeting by personnel from area colleges, universities, and industries was noted.

The trend towards a diversity of activities that started some years before continued during the 1980s. In June of 1982, the section hosted the 14th Central Regional Meeting of the ACS. A simultaneous organosilicon symposium attracted many participants and was notable in that all 18 winners of the prestigious Kipping Award for achievement in organosilicon chemistry were together for the first (and last) time. Planning and carrying out the regional meeting involved over 100 section members, and over 1000 persons registered. A short course, “Safety in the Laboratory,” was organized for high school and college faculties.

Other activities carried out by section members included the annual E.C. Britton Symposium for university teachers; funding promising high school students in Project SEED; participation in the Mid-Michigan Minority Pre-Engineering Program; Olympics of the Mind for high school students; formation of a teacher’s affiliate group; initiation of Author’s night; organization of the Younger Chemists Committee; establishment of an educational fund for disadvantaged students; sponsorship of meetings of public interest by the Public Policy Committee; and science demonstrations at the county fairs of Midland and Saginaw. Awards were presented for Outstanding High School Chemistry Teacher, Outstanding College Chemistry Teacher, Outstanding Achievement and Promotion of the Chemical Sciences, Outstanding High School Chemistry Student, Outstanding College Chemistry Student, Outstanding ACS Service, and Science Education Volunteer.

The section hosted the 1990 Central Regional ACS Meeting with an attendance of over 700. Two teacher workshops and four short courses were given. Simultaneously, the 23rd Organosilicon Symposium was held with an attendance of 300. A Technicians Affiliate Group was formed in 1992. In 1994, the Midland Section won, for the fourth consecutive time, the Outstanding Section Award (medium large sections) from the national ACS!

Thus we have seen that the Midland Section of the ACS has grown from a small group of Dow Chemical employees, concerned mainly with Dow technical problems, to a large group of scientific personnel from five adjoining counties, concerned not only with the broad exchange of technical information, but also with professionalism, public education, and the betterment of society in general. The early emphasis on technical lectures has broadened to include more opportunities for individuals to present their work to their colleagues and has expanded to provide more services to the individual and to the community. Team effort is commonly used to focus on specific goals such as community education.

Clearly, the accelerating rate of change in local section objectives and programs will continue, providing new challenges. Fortunately, the Midland Section has many competent and dedicated members who are well equipped to meet those challenges.