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Interview of Paul Klopsteg by Donald Shaughnessy on 1963 January 27, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4711
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Educational background, University of Minnesota electrical engineering; Ph.D. in physics, 1916; devoted to the teaching of physics; member of the American Physics Society (APS) Committee on Education, 1919-1921; chronograph; war-related work; joins industry: Leeds and Northrup, 1920-1921, and later Central Scientific Co.; travels, scientific meetings; meetings with physicists on the teaching of physics; formation of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), Arthur Compton's and Floyd Richtmyer's roles; AAPT's role in formation of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in 1931; the American Physics Teacher created in 1933; the Oersted Medal, an award for notable teaching; AAPT and APS relations.
Let’s start with this kind of an approach to the problem: could you give me a little bit of information about your personal background that would shed some light on your attitudes and your values towards this problem of physics teaching?
Well, I think I might begin by saying that as far back as I can remember, I have been very keenly interested in science and specifically in physics. At home, I engaged (I am sure much to the annoyance of my parents, but they were always very tolerant) in all sorts of experimentation which cluttered up the house, which in fact at times might have damaged some of the furniture, such as construction of batteries and having acids around and so on. I read everything I could on the subject. There wasn’t too much in those days. Of course, in the small high school in which I was a student — to show you how small it was, out graduating class was ten people…
What high school was this?
This was in Henderson, Minnesota, a small community about fifty miles from Minneapolis. The principal of the school taught physics, but as I look back on it now, I’m reasonably sure he never had it in college, because he did a miserable job, and from the reading I had done I knew more about physics than he did, which annoyed him greatly. But we got along, and I had opportunity in the high school laboratory of doing experimenting that I couldn’t do at home. At any rate, my interest remained at a high level. So, after I finished high school, I never had any doubt as to what I wanted to do. My attitude is probably a little more pragmatic rather than purely one of interest in knowledge for its own sake, so my inclination was to get into electrical engineering, which seemed reasonably close to physics and an opportunity for utilizing knowledge of physics. I should say also that I came from a very poor family. My father was a minister whose annual salary never exceeded $550, as I remember it. Of course the home was provided. But in those days a dollar had perhaps four or five times the value of a dollar today, and my mother was an excellent home economist and managed quite well. But there was really no money for them to send a son to college, so after my graduation from high school, I became a printer’s devil in a small local newspaper and learned the printing trade, and spent two years trying to earn a little bit of money ahead so I could to college. I don’t remember how much I had when I went, but it was barely enough to pay the registration fee and the dues.
What school did you attend?
The University of Minnesota. I immediately managed to find a job in a local printing and publishing establishment, the H.W. Wilson Company, which later moved to White Plains, New York, and published the Cumulative Book Index and the various review types of publications. I devoted what spare time I could to printing, to following what was then my trade and in that way I earned money. In the meantime, I had enrolled in electrical engineering and was taking the electrical engineering course. Without going through all the details, my interest remained high in physics and engineering, and when the time finally came for graduation, I had a scholarship in the electrical engineering department during my senior year, but it happened that the Dean of Engineering (this was rather a singular thing) was the head of the Physics Department. He was not teaching engineering. He was F.S. Jones, who later became Dean of Yale College. He was head of physics, and I had a talk with him, when I was about to graduate, to see what I might do the following year. Upon his urging, instead of pursuing graduate work in engineering, I switched into physics. Then I carried on in my graduate work there, with the help of a scholarship and an assistantship, to the Master’s degree in 1913, and then continuing with the small earnings I was able to get through an assistantship, I continued with my work for the Doctor’s degree, which I then received in 1916. This is a Doctor’s degree in physics from Minnesota, but with a strong background in electrical engineering. My degree was Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, which was a somewhat unusual degree there because most of them were the straight engineering degrees. Well, this was the educational background. By that time, I had an instructorship in physics and an assistant professorship had been given me, I think to become effective in the autumn of 1918. Let me go back now. During my teaching years, I had been a teaching assistant. Then I was an instructor. I had classes which were classes of premedical students, largely, and home economic students and engineering students. I saw the need for improving the teaching curriculum for students whose interests were in other fields, in other sciences and in medicine. At the same time, I had associations with my colleagues in chemistry, psychology, the biological sciences, in the non-science disciplines. In fact, as I recall it, we established a sort of an informal society without constitution or bylaws and without officers, but we did meet every week or two, and each of the members in turn would give a brief review of something of interest in his own field. Through these associations, I found that more and more my associates who were engaged in research, as I was, as well as teaching, were looking to me for help on the apparatus side, on the instrumentation side, of their research problems, as these problems arose. So I suppose this experience of teaching students whose interests were not specifically in physics, and my association with colleagues from other disciplines, helped me to come to the conviction that physics wasn’t really doing its job if it was concentrating only upon developing a knowledge for its own sake in the field of physics. It needed to do more. It needed to become a science of service to other sciences, to engineering, to medicine. Now, this was not the philosophy of the members of the Council of the American Physical Society.
When did you join the American Physical Society?
1912. I’ve been a member for 50 years, and became a fellow I think in 1916.
You attended the meetings quite regularly?
Oh yes. Oh, yes, I attended the meetings and participated. But it was quite clear that the Council of the Society had relatively little interest in the teaching of physics or the problems of teaching, notwithstanding that the preamble to the Physical Society’s constitution commits the Society to (I think I can quote) “the dissemination of knowledge of physics.”
When you refer to the Council of the Society, are you speaking specifically of any one or two or three individuals?
No, I’m speaking of the Council, practically of all of the members, with very few exceptions.
Is there any one person who, you could say, was the leading spirit?
No. I would have to go back and look up who the members of the Council were. I remember A.D. Cole of Ohio State, who was secretary for many years, but I don’t recall who the presidents were in the succession of presidents during the teens. I now go back to about 1916, and the conviction which had grown upon me that physics, in order to fulfill its obligations in the general field of science, must do more in providing a background of physics for those who were interested in the other sciences. So I wrote a couple of articles. The Physical Society had no place to publish them, because these dealt not with research but with education. So I submitted them to the Science, the weekly journal of the AAAS, which published them. What the impact of that was, I don’t know. I’m not sure that it had much impact. Then came this development, and I still don’t quite understand how it came about. The Council of the Physical Society — I think in 1919, and these dates of course can be checked by reference to the published minutes of the meetings — decided to appoint a committee on education. Well, this was unheard of, and it was most encouraging to those of us who felt that physics wasn’t living up to its obligations on the teaching side. The chairman of the committee was George V. Wendel of Columbia University. He was an energetic chairman with great imagination and vision. As I recall it, the other members of that committee were E.J.A. Bliss, of Johns Hopkins, a join author of a textbook that was widely used in those days — I think by Ames and Bliss. Another member was A. Wilmer Duff, a braugh Scotsman who was professor of physics at Worcester Polytechnic. Another member was H.M. Randall, head of the Department of Physics at the University of Michigan. Another was H.B. Williams, who was professor of physiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons here in New York. Another, I’m quite sure, was E.P. Lewis of the University of California, although I do not recall his having attended any of the meetings which we attended in Wendell’s office at Columbia. I was the junior member of that group by something like fifteen years. Now, whether the articles that were printed in Science had anything to do with my appointment on the committee, I don’t know. I can only conjecture that this might have had something to do with it. At any rate, the committee immediately got busy, and its first project which it assigned to itself was to explore the teaching of physics for premedical students. By, I think, February, 1920, we had a report ready. So a subcommittee of our committee was delegated to carry this report to the Council of the Physics Society, in connection with its February meeting at Columbia University. I remember that Duff was a member of that subcommittee, and I was. I’m not sure who the third member was. But we came to the Council meeting, presented our report, and proposed that it be published to the membership because this was a report of the committee which the Council had appointed. Well, we could soon perceive that the Council looked upon that proposal with a sort of fishy eye. I’m still speaking of the Council as an entity. I can’t give you names of members. Finally, after discussing the matter, they said, “No, we will not publish this report to the membership.” I suppose they thought the Physical Review would be contaminated if this were done. “But boys, we’ll tell you what we’ll do: we will have the report mimeographed, and we will permit any member of the Society who is interested to buy it for a dollar.” Now, whether this was deliberate or not, it was about the best-contrived scheme that one could possibly imagine for suppressing a report which ostensibly was being published. How many copies ever got to members of the Society of course I don’t know. But an interesting sequel to that was this. In the late forties or early fifties, when C.J. Overbeck of Northwestern University was secretary of the American Association of Physics Teachers, and I had left my industrial connections to accept an assignment at Northwestern University in the new Technological Institute, Overbeck called me one day and said, “I have a letter from Karl Darrow, secretary of the Physical Society, enclosing a mimeographed copy of a report on which your name appears.” Karl was moving his office about that time, and there were several cartons which I suppose were dusty and untouched and had become antiques in the meantime, but they explored the contents of one of these and found that here were a great number of mimeographed reports. It turned out that this was the famous mimeographed report which was to have been sold for a dollar a copy. I don’t believe it was ever advertised to the membership. At any rate, I suggested to Overbeck that he have Darrow send one of the cartons and dispose of the remainder in any way he saw fit.
Back in 1919-20, when you were on the committee, you were already giving evidence of interest in the teaching aspect rather than the research aspect of physics. Considering the attitudes not only of the Physical Society but of physicists in general, weren’t you by taking this interest jeopardizing your own career as a physicist?
Yes. Research was a sacred cow always and to some extent still is. Very clearly, those who confined their interests to teaching just had no status. They had no place to discuss problems of common interest. They had no place on the programs of the Physical Society for that sort of thing.
Did this affect your position teaching at Minnesota, in terms of promotion?
Oh, I suppose so. I suppose so. This again is only conjecture. I think rather definitely it did. Of course, the First World War came along, and I had been engaged in research in the field of electricity and specifically electrical measurements. Now, electrical measurements were an important tool for research, but those who were the pure researchers I don’t think ever regarded the development of methods of measurement as research. Oh, yes, I must mention one other thing, I became interested around 1916, either at the urging or stimulation of a colleague of mine in psychology, to develop a method of measuring very short intervals of time that might be applicable in psychology to the measurement of reaction times. I devised a simple chronograph based on electrical measurements. Then when World War I came along, I had been thinking about applying methods of measurement possibly to measuring projectile velocities, i.e., applications to ballistics, and in 1917 I made a suggestion along this line to the commanding officer of Sandy Hook Proving Ground. That was where the Army Ordnance Proving Ground was located. In the fall of ’17, he invited me to come to Sandy Hook Proving Ground to develop these ideas. So I was probably the first individual engaged in research and development for the Ordnance Department. Well, this is a side issue and has nothing to do with the main stream of this development we’re talking about.
What was the next step in this process, after the formation of the committee and the publication of the mimeographed report?
The fact that the Council refused to publish this generally to the membership, aroused the indignation of our committee. We were all very much disturbed over this attitude, which we might have anticipated because we knew that this was the attitude. Duff, who easily blew a fuse, even threatened to form a publishing organization to get the report distributed. Of course he never went through with that. As I said, the other members of the committee were all my senior by at least fifteen years, so I suppose their indignation was eventually dissipated in philosophical contemplations. But at that time I was 30 or 31 years old, and I suppose I was the angry young man of that group. I remained indignant over this cavalier treatment of members of the Society who were trying to make effective, trying to carry out, this commitment in the preamble to the constitution of the Physical Society, to work on the dissemination of knowledge. We felt that teaching was obviously one important way of disseminating knowledge of physics. Then the First World War came along. I got through with my work with the Ordnance Department, and I suppose I sensed that the chances for promotion at Minnesota were relatively less good than were the chances of others who were much more given to following research pursuits than to improvement of teaching. So at that time I was invited by Leeds and Northrup Company in Philadelphia, manufacturers of electrical measuring instruments who had done some work for the Ordnance Department in connection with the work I had been doing. I had known some of the personnel even before the war. They invited me to come with them, and I accepted, and became what one would call a physicist-engineer in their sales department. My principal occupation was to work with people around the country in whatever sciences they might be engaged, to help them to understand the significance of electrical measuring instruments in their work. Also I wrote the technical materials, the technical bulletins, the technical instructions, which went out with their instruments. Of course, this gave me an opportunity of getting around the country, much more than I would have had, had I remained a member of the faculty at the University, because the faculty salary was pitifully small. I don’t really recall what it was, but it was of the order of $1000 a year as instructor, with a possibility of earning another $30 a week for six weeks during the summer session. Of course, on an income of that sort one doesn’t travel, and in those days the university never paid travel expenses. So I did have opportunity through my new connection of getting around the country a good bit, calling on people in various science departments, calling on people in physics departments, and discussing with them this question of the status of the teacher of physics within the professional society . Of course all of those whom I interviewed pretty well realized that the situation was as I saw it, that the teacher of physics had no status in physics. Then in 1921, I had been invited by the Central Scientific Company in Chicago to come with that company to establish a research and development department, and to look after the manufacturing. After a good deal of soul searching, I decided to go there. This gave me even more opportunity to get about, because I was then centrally located geographically and I saw a good deal of the physicists and other scientists. Also this gave me an opportunity of attending most of the scientific meetings, which I did. So through the course of those years, I had opportunity of interviewing people, of stimulating their thinking, of eliciting from them suggestions as to what needed to be done to improve the status of the teacher. All the while, I think, we were quite loyal to the Physical Society and its objectives. We attended all of the meetings. I don’t know how long the committee on education was continued. This would also have to be looked up in the archives. I do know that after I left Philadelphia (this was in 1921) and went to Chicago, either I resigned from the committee or I was replaced, because it was more convenient for this small committee with its limited funds to have members from nearby.
Do you know whether or not the committee did anything else other than the publication of this report?
Yes. While I was on the committee, we began working on a report on the curriculum of physics for students of engineering. This I think was also later mimeographed, but I was off the committee before that was completed, as I recall it. I had hoped at least that the fact that the Council had originally appointed the committee meant that it might not only carry through, but perhaps might become more important as an integral part of the activities of the organization, and that perhaps eventually what might result would be something like the division of chemical education in the American Chemical Society. This was a pious hope, because one could see that there was a very great difference in the view towards chemistry on the part of the Council of the American Chemical Society, and the view towards physics of the Council of the American Physical Society. In the Chemical Society, the Council saw to it that where the interests of groups of chemists began to aggregate — began to flocculate, to use the chemical-physical term — began to trend in a certain directions, they saw to it that if this interest resulted in the establishment of an organization, the organization remained a part of the American Chemical Society, as a division. So it still remained, and remains to this day, the American Chemical Society with a great variety of separate divisions — rubber chemistry, textile chemistry, ceramic chemistry, oil chemistry.
Could you speculate on the reasons why the Chemical Society went in one direction, the Physical Society in another?
Well, let me come to that speculation after I give you an example of what happened as far back as 1918 and 1919. The optical group in the American Physical Society felt the need for a separate division in which to carry on their discussions, their reading of papers, the stimulation of their interests, in the general field of optics. This might have become a division of optics in the Physical Society, but it didn’t. It became the Optical Society of America. It broke away from the Physical Society. Now, I think it broke away with the approval and with the blessing and perhaps with the encouragement of members of the Physical Society Council, because the only explanation I have for that is that they conceived of the Physical Society as the custodian, the producer, the creator of knowledge of physics for the sake of knowledge and for no other purpose. They wanted to keep research in physics “Pure” with a capital P, and they must have felt, that the development of practical or pragmatic interests on the part of physicists was a sort of pollution of the pure research atmosphere. So they seemed to welcome the establishment of organizations to foster these interests outside the Physical Society. Well, I don’t know whether that answers your question or not, or whether you have another question before I proceed.
I’d like your opinion as to why.
I think I can expand on that a little bit. Chemistry, earlier in the history of chemistry and physics, has practical implications and applications more than did physics. Let’s go back further. When electricity seemed to get to the point where it had visibly practical applications, it didn’t remain part of physics, it became electrical engineering. It broke away. This was the first break between physics and engineering. I don’t know when the American Institute of Electrical Engineers was organized, but I am sure that those with interests in electricity who were members of the Physical Society must have found that a more congenial intellectual home than the Physical Society, and then the Optical Society and others broke away. But pure research in chemistry was of course a major interest of the Chemical Society, and their publication, their principal journal, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, was devoted largely to pure research. But as the more practical interested developed, and the divisions developed which were devoted to the more practical interests, new journals were established — still all within the scope of the American Chemical Society. The Journal of Chemical Education early became one of the leading journals in the country devoted to higher education in chemistry. So I think the fact that chemistry earlier and more obviously found its many applications for benefit to society was the reason that the Council of the American Chemical Society took this different view toward the chemists who were interested in developing chemistry for social benefit, than was the case with the Council of the American Physical Society.
After the disillusionment of this committee and your withdrawal from the committee, what was the next step towards the formation of the AAPT?
There was no immediate step. I went to the Central Scientific Company, and my associations with physicists all over the country, and especially with those who were engaged in teaching, became an even closer association, because the differences between Leeds and Northrup Company and their product and Central Scientific Company and their product respectively was that the Leeds and Northrup product was aimed more specifically toward research. The Central Scientific product was aimed more specifically toward teaching. At that time they were no longer importing apparatus from Europe. They had started to manufacture all sorts of laboratory and demonstration apparatus although to a limited extent Leeds and Northrup also produced laboratory apparatus for teaching. But in general, the product of Central Scientific Company was to a larger extent a product aimed at teaching at all levels, high school and college. So this brought me in even closer touch with those who were interested in the teaching of science generally and the teaching of physics specifically. So, at that time, when I came with Central Scientific Society, and I was still the angry young man over the treatment which the Council had accorded our first report, I frequently discussed this situation and this problem with one of my colleagues in the company, the sales manager of Central Scientific Company, at that time, S.L. Redman, who himself had been a high school teacher in science. He was quite understanding of the problems and sympathetic with the plight of the teacher of physics who had no status in his professional society of physics. As a result of these conversations, as he traveled around the country visiting institutions, he also talked of this problem with teachers of physics. He had wide acquaintance among them and I think was very well regarded by them, although he was not a member of the Physical Society, I’m quite sure. Well, in the course of his travels, he found those who were especially interested in this problem, in the possibility of developing a method by which teachers of physics would be better able to communicate with each other. They hoped that somehow a forum could be established in which they could orally interchange views and ideas. As the years went on, during the twenties, I could perceive in my contacts, and in the reports which Redman gave me after his visits, that there were two thoroughly distinct opinions. Both opinions coincided in that there ought to be something for the teacher, there ought to be some kind of organization for the teacher in which he could improve his teaching techniques, in which he could discuss his problems, etc. But the opinion divided in this respect. On one side were those who felt that whatever the group would be, whatever the organization would be, it should remain within the American Physical Society. The other group felt that we had enough evidence that the Council of the Physical Society would not be sympathetic to the idea of having an organization specifically interested in teaching within the Physical Society. I may say that I belonged to the second group who felt that it couldn’t possibly be done effectively within the Physical Society because of the lack of sympathetic interest on the part of the Council of the Physical Society. Well, to go on — it’s difficult to give you more than a sketchy picture, but through the contacts that I had through the years, and the picture which was building itself up in my mind through the years, there came (I think the year 1927) a time when the American Society for Engineering Education, (at that time called the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, SPEE,) occasionally held summer institutes for its members. One summer institute was established at MIT I think in 1927, at which W.S. Franklin and A.W. Duff were the co-directors and I had the privilege of attending two weeks of that session. So this gave me another opportunity of talking with people who were engaged in the teaching of physics to students of engineering. I remember one evening when there was no other program scheduled, calling a meeting of a group and discussing with the group these problems that I have mentioned. I found a great unanimity of sentiment that if we were to make progress in getting an organization going, the purposes of which might be stated as “the dissemination of the knowledge of physics, particularly by way of teaching,” something needed to be done to get started. This, then, was further stimulation. In the meantime, my colleague Redman had found very great interest at the University of Kentucky on the part of W.S. Webb, head of the Physics Department and M.N. States, who was a member of the department, in this same problem. We enlisted their interest. In those days, the Physical Society was still holding an annual meeting at the time of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The 1929 meeting of the Association was at Des Moines. States attended that meeting. I don’t think Webb did. Redman attended, and I did. So States and Redman and I then got together for many hours to discuss the general problem of getting the organization under way. In the conversations in Des Moines in 1929, we agreed that the time to launch the association was at the forthcoming Cleveland meeting in 1930. Now, Redman and I, who were not directly members of the teaching profession, realized that our purposes, our objectives, might be misconstrued by the teachers if we played too prominent a part in getting the organization started. So we decided (and States agreed) that we had better do our assisting and helping to the extent that we could, as silent partners of whatever group would undertake the organizing activities. At this point, I had probably better refer to my association with H.L. Dodge. I first knew Dodge in 1916, when I was on my way to a meeting of the American Physical Society in Chicago, a Thanksgiving meeting, and I stopped at the State University of Iowa and visited there, specifically with Dodge. Even in those days, we were in a minor way, tangential way, interested in the problems of the physics teacher, but not too specifically. My contacts and associations with Dodge, which began at that time, continued through the years. His interest intensified through the years, as did mine. In the meantime, one other thing had happened. In 1927 or ’28 (this also would have to be looked up), an article appeared in the journal School Science and Mathematics, published in Chicago, with Glenn W. Warner as editor, written by John G. Frayne, who was then in charge of physics at Antioch College. The title of that article was “The Flight of College Physics.” Incidentally, when I left the University of Minnesota, in 1917, to engage in Ordnance Research and Development, it was first with the understanding that it was on a six months leave of absence. The job wasn’t done at the end of six months. I got it extended another six months. The job still wasn’t completed but they insisted that I come back. I decided that what I was doing was probably more important so I resigned. Frayne succeeded me at the University of Minnesota. Later he went to Antioch College. Frayne’s article so clearly expressed what I had been thinking and saying through these years in my conversations with the physics teachers that I immediately got in touch with Frayne, with the idea of enlisting his active interest. This resulted in a meeting of Warner, the editor, Frayne, the writer of the article, and myself, when Frayne came to Chicago for some purpose. The three of us met and we discussed the problem, and agreed that the time was coming fast when something needed to be done to establish an organization to make whatever reforms were needed. We began then to put together a list of 115 names of people in physics who had a common interest with us. It was on the basis of this list that States then became the promoter — I’m using the word “promoter” in the best sense — the promoter of the activity to get an organization established. It was this — shall I call it, the master list — from which names were selected of people who were to be invited to an organization meeting. In the meantime, States, who was then still at the University of Kentucky, had kept the interest of his chief, Professor Webb, stirred up, and together they did yeoman service in getting the necessary preparations under way. What we eventually did, then, was to screen out from this list something like 30 names of people whom we knew to be sympathetic with our project, people whom we then invited. We distributed the names among the three of us, to send personal letters of invitation to the individuals selected to attend the meeting in Cleveland. We also agreed that in inviting these people — of course, we all knew Dodge very well, and knew his interests — so we also agreed that the ideal chairman of the meeting would be Dodge. Webb invited him and he accepted, and of course he did superlative work, because of his convictions, and was one of the real powers of the early days of the Association. He was a very happy selection to be the chairman of this meeting. As you know, he was named the president of the organization, the first president. States suggested — I think you will get this from him when you interview him — that instead of holding the meeting in a hotel (he said this yesterday I believe when you were present), it would be far better to have the meeting in a private club, so there would be a minimum of gate-crashing and a minimum of intrusion from others who hadn’t been invited. So, through Glenn Warner’s friend Franklin Jones in Cleveland, who was one of the department editors of School Science and Mathematics, we reserved a room at the Cleveland Club for luncheon on the 29th of December, 1930. (I’m getting just a little bit uneasy about the time I’m talking.)
Not at all. I don’t want you to pass over this meeting on the 29th too rapidly, because there are some very important issues of policies debated at that meeting. One of the policy items discussed either that day or the following day had to do with the relationship of the AAPT to any other organization.
That’s right. In the list of people whom we had invited, we knew that there were several, particularly Dean Richtmyer of Cornell University who was a very warm personal friend of mine and who was very cosmopolitan in his interests and had close relations with the Council of the Physical Society — indeed, he might have been on the Council at the time — I knew that his leaning was toward having the organization, but having it under the umbrella of the Physical Society. I knew that there were other friends and acquaintances who felt the same way. In making the final selection of names — I don’t know whether this was ethical or not, but I don’t think the question of ethics really comes into it — I think we deliberately steered away from those whom we knew to be favorable to remaining within the Physical Society, because we were convinced that it wouldn’t work, and we felt that by having too many opinions of that kind expressed at the meeting, it might make the problems of the organization exceedingly difficult.
There are a few questions I want to ask you about this meeting on the 29th. The first of these questions had to do with the fact that, as I believe we mentioned yesterday, there were 22 invited guests and one uninvited.
Yes, twenty-two, plus one.
Do you want to tell the story of that uninvited guest?
Yes. Well, States will tell you that story too, but I’ll be glad to give you what I know of it. Of the thirty who had been invited, 23 accepted, one sent a telegram saying on account of illness he couldn’t attend, that left 22. But I remember when States and I went to the Cleveland Club for the meeting, maybe fifteen minutes early; there was already on the scene this man from the University of Iowa, Eldridge, who said he understood that physicists were getting together for a meeting and he was there to attend. He was the most vociferous of the discussants, after the luncheon. He expressed strong opinions — expressed a violent opinion that unless this group was affiliated with the American Physical Society, it would soon fold, it would be a failure. But I am sure that the other members of the group were quite perceptive and had Eldridge pretty well analyzed, so that his argument accomplished just the opposite of what he had intended.
I understood Eldridge to be opposed to the formation of any association for physics teachers, representing the research point of view?
Well, he was no high-powered researcher, so I don’t know whether this is indeed true or whether if it was true he would have gained any sympathetic hearing on that point.
Isn’t it true, though, that despite the fact that you had prepared this list, of thirty people who were known to be sympathetic to the point of view of organizing an association for physics teachers — isn’t it true that at that meeting the 29th and meetings on the days immediately subsequent, there was still some debate as to whether an association of physics teachers should be formed? Or had that issue been settled?
The issue was settled with the introduction of this resolution, which was unanimously adopted by the organizing group. But there was one afterthought, which I think could probably be identified in this draft. It was first written that a committee be established for the purpose of “preparing a constitution and bylaws.” That was changed to “preparing plans for formal organization.” “Also, that these things be done without prejudice toward ‘any possible approach from the American Physical Society’ looking toward affiliation” was changed to “any possible approach from other organizations of societies looking towards affiliation.” The adoption of this resolution I think settled the question that an organization should be formed independently of any other organization, and specifically the Physical Society, but without prejudice toward affiliation if such affiliation were to be proposed later. I think that was probably the picture as it existed. So the AAPT was formed.
How about the adoption of constitution and bylaws?
These things I think you will find pretty well shown in the minutes of the meeting. “The president formed a committee to draft a constitution and bylaws.” States and I discussed it last night.
Do you remember any debate or discussion on this?
No, I don’t remember, but I think it was highly probable. You see, this group decided to have another meeting on the 31st of December, two days later, in one of the rooms of the Physics Department of Case School of Applied Science (at that time, later Case Institute). The constitutions and bylaws, as I remember, were completed in plenty of time for that formal organization meeting. So States and I both surmised that probably we had done some preparatory work, and had probably sketched out a skeleton constitution and bylaws, which then made it fairly easy for the committee to fill in the blanks, to pad it out where necessary, and to come up with a document that then could be presented as one that the committee could recommend for adoption.
At this first meeting, you were elected to a position?
I was elected to the vice-presidency. Webb was elected secretary-treasurer, and an executive committee was formed to serve with the officers, a committee on organization consisting, with the officers, of Blackwood, Minor, States and B.A. Wooten.
It occurs to me that a very important point in the formation of the AAPT was gaining the membership of both Compton and Richtmyer.
Yes. Both of them had been acquaintances. Richtmyer was a friend, Compton was an acquaintance, and both of them were interested in what we were doing. They were sympathetically interested.
Do you know what led up their becoming members of the AAPT?
They were sympathetic to the idea of the organization, and I think with their wisdom — they were at that time slightly elder statesmen — they felt that it was probably important for a couple of the more prominent members of the Physical Society to be identified with this organization. States I think had this opinion, and I think he’s right in it, because it has stirred my own recollection, that we felt in the course of the discussions in this organization meeting that Richtmyer still rather strongly leaned toward having the organization within the Physical Society structure. But after the discussion had gone on sufficiently long for the motion to be presented (States tells me this, and I think his recollection is correct), I had asked Richtmyer if he would not express his views. We saw that Richtmyer had veered from his first idea, toward the idea that probably it would be better to have the organization independent of the Physical Society. Then, on the 31st of December, when the constitution and bylaws were formally adopted, and members present were given an opportunity of subscribing to what was now the charter of the organization, to become charter members, Richtmyer and I were the first in line to sign. I remember my urging Richtmyer to be Number 1, and he was Number 1. I was Number 2. States was Number 4. I think Dodge was Number 6. Palmer was Number 16. I think those are the only people present here who were among the first 25 signatories of the charter. There is one other person here who was not involved in the organization activities. That is Bockstahler of Northwestern. He was Number 25 on the list, and is present at this meeting.
Shortly after the organization of the AAPT, within the same year, the American Institute of Physics was formed.
Yes. I discussed with Richtmyer the desirability of having AAPT included as a founding member of AIP. I’m sure other people of the organization like Dodge had discussed it with Richtmyer, and Richtmeyer had made an agreement, if not a commitment. At least he had indicated that in his view, the American Association of Physics Teachers ought to be one of the founding members of the American Institute of Physics. Now, through the year of 1931, things had moved rather slowly, within the group of organizers of the Institute of Physics. These were primarily Richtmyer, Compton, and Dean Pegram of Columbia. I think Tate of Minnesota was involved and maybe one or two others, along with Buffum, who was the executive officer of the Chemical Foundation at that time. He was running the Chemical Foundation for Francis O. Garvan, who had been foreign property custodian during World War I and who had set up the Chemical Foundation out of royalties on patents owned by enemy aliens. As you remember, it was the Chemical Foundation that became the financial angel of the American Institute of Physics. Buffum was one of this group. I have correspondence in my file which indicates that during the course of 1930, I wrote to Richtmyer and to Compton, and sort of needled them a little bit, to see whether it wouldn’t be possible for the organizers of the Institute to take official action to include the Association of Physics Teachers as a founding member. This was done before the end of 1931.
The AAPT had a definite role in the founding of the AIP?
Oh yes, it had a very definite role in founding the Institute, and through the years its role has become increasingly important. Let me put it this way: our first efforts to recruit members in the Association of Physics Teachers were fraught with great difficulty, because it was a time of depression. Even though the membership fee was only $2, this meant a great deal to many of the people who might have become members. I found, on this same sheet that I showed you before, another interesting thing that relates to our membership problem, and that was a note on the margin. This is the sheet of paper that I had, at the organization meeting. I also had it later, when the membership had become 534. That was at the end of 1931, and we had estimated that there might be this number of people teaching college physics, of whom we hoped a half might be interested primarily in research and a half in teaching, so that we felt that seven or eight hundred members might be interested in the teaching of physics. Now, in the recruitment of teachers, you head Stated mention yesterday — and you’ll find this also in the minutes — that because of my position in Central Scientific Company, I was able to make available to the new organization many of what at that time were modern office facilities of the Central Scientific Company, at no cost to the association. One of these facilities was a couple of automatic typewriters, operated by perforated tapes like the old piano players. A letter was written to prospective members of the society which, on the automatic typewriters, was in all respects like a personal letter. These were prepared for Webb’s signature, as secretary treasurer, and were sent out over his name. This resulted in rapid growth during 1931, up to more than 500 members at the end of the year.
One of the early problems faced by the Association, as I read the minutes, is the question of whether or not you’d be able to finance the publication of a journal.
Yes, that was a problem.
Apparently the publication of a journal was considered a very important thing.
Yes. You see, the existence of the Association merely per se couldn’t be held out as an inducement for people to join it, because if it conferred any status at all, it was merely the fact that here was a name of an organization to which the person belonged. Now, I know that some people joined it because this was a period of depression when some of them were looking for jobs, and for them to be able to say they were members of the Association of Physics Teachers might have some influence in getting a job. But on the whole, it really had very little to offer the membership. To be sure, it could set up meetings in connection with meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, meetings at the time of the Physical Society meetings — meetings at which members could convene and discuss their problems. But after all, there weren’t very many people who could afford to travel to meetings, in time of depression. So it was early decided that a journal was an imperative for the Association. At that time, Duane Roller, who was at the University of Oklahoma, in the Physics Department of which Dodge was the chairman, had been doing an editorial job as a department editor in Glenn Warner’s School, Science and Mathematics. So he had editorial ability and a good “feel” for editorial decisions, so Dodge proposed, I think at the Atlantic City meeting, that a journal be established and Roller be the editor. There was some opposition, Dodge may have told you, and I do recall that there was opposition from Fred Palmer to having Roller the editor. What the reason for that was, I don’t remember. But at any rate, whatever opposition there was was overcome, and Roller was selected as editor and the journal was called American Physics Teacher. Roller wanted a name that indicated broader scope, but the majority sentiment was that it had better be called by a name which was more representative of the interests which it would cover. So it was called the American Physics Teacher. I think the decision was to publish this six times a year. The first article in the first issue was a talk that Richtmyer gave at the Atlantic City meeting.
It occurs to me in looking over the minutes of those early meetings that another very important problem was the decision whether or not to admit secondary school teachers of physics.
Yes. That occurs in many places in the minutes of those early meetings. It was a problem which at first was met, in a way. Well, it wasn’t really met at the early meetings. I think we did a little bit of weaseling in adopting a resolution which interpreted qualification for membership to be “an interest in the teaching of physics at the college level,” or words to that effect. Now, this would not exclude high school physics teachers if their interest was in college physics teaching, as was the case with many such teachers who had aspirations to become teachers of college physics. They weren’t excluded, but the Association took no positive steps to making membership in the Association attractive for high school teachers, because they saw the problems of having good meetings, since they might be split in the principal objectives and interests.
Wasn’t there also the thought in the minds of some people that if you did admit high school teachers, the intellectual quality of the Association would be somewhat diluted? Perhaps the Association would come exactly what the APS said it would become?
This could have been in the minds of some of those who opposed it. I don’t know. In my own mind, I felt the time wasn’t ripe for admission of secondary school teachers, until the Association had gotten its house pretty well in order and had become strong enough to have, within its own organization, a second group whose principal interest was a little different from the principal interest of the organizers and of those whose principal interest was in college.
May I ask you one final question. This has to do with your own role in this organization. You are one of the few people in this organization at this time who has an industrial affiliation, as compared to an academic.
I had an industrial affiliation for many years, yes. My industrial affiliation was discontinued in 1944, when I went back to Northwestern University. I was at the Central Scientific Company from 1921 to 1944.
In the formation and early years of the AAPT, who did your role fit?
You see, I was vice-president the first year. Then I became treasurer, I think in 1934, and remained treasurer over a period of years.
How did your role affect your position in the Association? Specifically, was there the feeling “We must not push Dr. Klopsteg too far, he may be a good man for the president but we don’t want to make him president because suddenly we’ll get a nasty commercial angle.”
Yes. I was always quite aware of such implications as that, that I might be accused of doing all this just for the sake of commercial promotion. This never was in my mind. I always was primarily interested in getting the Association organized for the benefit of the teacher. Of course, I wasn’t unaware of the fact that if a good organization of this sort came into being, it might in a secondary way benefit the company, but I couldn’t feel that this was a valid reason for my not doing all I could to promote the organization in the best way possible. In the early years, as I said, I had access to things and to funds that were freely provided to the Association, and which helped it over the early days when its financial situation was not particularly good.
What happened in the relationship between the AAPT and the APS in the five or six years after the formation of the AAPT? What was the organizational relationship? What happened to the attitudes and values concerning research versus teaching? Did the formation of the AAPT in any way influence the status of the physics teacher in college?
Before I give you a specific answer to that question, let me carry on to 1934, to the meeting at Pittsburgh, when one of the problems was this. The journal had been established in ’33, and financing of the journal was one of the chief problems confronting the executive committee. What was needed obviously was a larger membership, and possibly an increase in dues. The dues at that time were still $2 a year. Now, the records will show whether it was at that meeting or the following meeting that the dues were increased to $3 a year, but in the executing committee, we were groping for methods — call them gimmicks if you wish — for increasing the membership. One straightforward method was to find a vigorous chairman of a membership committee, and we found him in Homer Dodge. He took the chairmanship of the membership committee, organized his outposts, his assistants in outlying areas, and very substantially increased the membership during the following year. But I still had in mind the fact that notwithstanding our having a journal, what the Association was offering as inducement for membership was still very little. In the course of our discussion, it occurred to me that one of the important things that membership in an Association ought to provide is status for the person who is a member, and improvement in that status, it seemed to me, might be brought about if the Association were to sponsor and produce and confer an annual award, which was, in the words which I at that time suggested, would be given “for notable contributions to the teaching of physics.” This was voted by the executive committee, and it did not take the form of a medal, as I remember it, until two years later. The following year, the Award for Notable Contributions was given posthumously to W.S. Franklin, who had been a leader in teaching at Lehigh and MIT. The award took the form of two memorial plaques cast in bronze with the new monogram of the Association cast in it, and with a tribute to W. S. Franklin. One of these went to Lehigh, one of them went to MIT. That was the first of the awards. The succession of them you can find in the minutes. It was I think the second year thereafter, Richtmyer had assumed the task, and I was the anonymous donor of the funds needed to get these awards established. Each award — plaque or medal — was accompanied by an engrossed certificate, and we carried the expense of the medal, the expense of designing it, of making the dies, of making the first medals, for something like ten years, by which time the Association had become financially strong enough to carry it on its own. At that time I had no further objective to saying who the donor was. I kept it anonymous because I didn’t want the impression to prevail that the Central Scientific Company was doing this for purposes of promotion. Now, I feel fairly sure that the establishment of the award, and it’s being developed into what became the Oersted Medal, had a great deal to do with developing an impression in the minds of prospective members that it provided status for the teacher. Here was a possibility for any prospective member to qualify for what has become a distinguished award. Now, you asked about the relationship between the Association and the American Physical Society. We need to go back now to the meeting of 1932, which was held in Boston when I could not be present, and States will give you the elaboration of this. States represented W.S. Webb at that meeting, who was also unable to be present and he represented me at a meeting of the executive committee. I should have told you that by that time I had persuaded States to leave the University of Kentucky, and in 1931 to come to the Central Scientific Company as director of research and development, so that our associations from that time on were even closer than they had been before. So he went to the Boston meeting, and reported when he came back that Richtmyer had come late to a meeting of the executive committee and stated that he had just come from a meeting of the Council of the Physical Society, and that the Physical Society had been impressed with the interest in the meetings of the American Association of Physics Teachers, and were figuratively extending the hand of fellowship and hoping that there would be a continuing association. Of course that offer of fellowship was warmly accepted, and there have been close association and good working relations between the two organizations since that time. I think I must make one qualification. The secretary of the Physical Society, Karl Darrow, from the beginning was never really very enthusiastic about the Association. He was always a little bit sticky about making the arrangements that would fit the schedules of the Association of Physics Teachers. After all, the Physical Society was the predominant organization, and in spite of Karl’s somewhat reluctant attitude we have come a long way, and I think Karl has perhaps come to a view which he might even willingly express, that the Association of Physics Teachers has become an important association in the group that represents physics.