AGU’s “Coming of Age,” 1972

By Vicki Zwart

The American Geophysical Union’s coming of age happened a little later than most. It was not until after the Union had turned 50 that it acquired independent legal status from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

AGU was created in 1919 when the National Research Council (under NAS) united two committees – the American National Committee of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics and the Committee on Geophysics of the National Research Council (NRC). The idea of an organization dedicated to the geosciences was first raised in 1916, soon after the NRC was established. Future AGU president Louis Bauer (1922-1924) wrote to the NRC chairman that “it would appear that great opportunities are before us to make our influence felt in the world of science by which are meant those subjects of research which embrace the Earth or even the universe.” The first seven sections of the Union were: Geodesy, Seismology, Meteorology, Terrestrial Magnetism and Electricity, Oceanography, Volcanology, and Geophysical Chemistry.

The separation from the NAS took two years with the biggest concern being AGU’s role in providing the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics; a function performed by the Council of AGU since the early 1960s. Then AGU president Homer E. Newell wrote in Transactions, Vol. 52, no. 8 that “providing this service has been an important element in the vitality of the Union.” New arrangements were made with AGU continuing to play a significant role but the AGU Council no longer automatically being the USNC/IUGG.

Before the Union could incorporate as a separate legal entity, the Statutes and Bylaws were revised for an independent society, including membership, structure of the Council, officers of the Union, and procedures for nominations and elections of officers.



The formal incorporation of AGU as an independent society was on June 22, 1972

By 1970, AGU had become a society of over 10,000 members, with substantial meetings and publication program and a budget of $1.5 million.

The Hydrology Section was added in 1930 and Tectonophysics was established in 1940 for the “purpose of promoting and encouraging research of fundamental importance of Earth structure not covered in any one of the other Sections of the Union.”

At the time of the separation from the National Academy of Sciences, AGU moved to a new location at 1707 L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. and set up a Permanent Headquarters Committee to recommend on the establishment of a permanent headquarters for the Union.

Despite becoming an independent society, AGU retained some ties with NAS, including having the Union president recommend members for the USNC to the president of the Academy.

With the separation, the Council of the Union was streamlined by dropping NAS and NRC representatives. Council members were as follows: President, President-Elect, Past President, General Secretary, Secretary for International Participation, the president of each Section and the Executive Director.

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