The First Meeting

By Vicki Zwart

When the first Annual Meeting of the American Geophysical Union was held in Washington, D.C., on 23 April 1920, the fledgling society had few members – just 65 - but plenty to talk about. Per “the Organization and Aims of the American Geophysical Union,” printed in Transactions, Vol. 4, Issue 1, the meetings were concerned with “submission and discussion of special reports and papers,” just as they continue to be.

In the early 1940s, attendance at AGU’s Annual Meetings stayed steady despite the demands of World War II with some 400-500 registrants a year. A prominent geophysicist from California was quoted in Transactions, Vol 24, Issue 1, saying “The Union, in my opinion, is to be congratulated for having the vision and courage to proceed with the (24th) annual meeting. The Nation needs more, not less, scientific endeavor.”

In 1950, Annual Meeting attendance broke the 1,000-mark and continued to grow over the next decade. By 1959, when AGU celebrated its 40th Annual Meeting in May, it had its best attendance so far with more than 1,400 registrants.

In the 1960s, the Annual Meeting’s status changed. It was no longer AGU’s only large meeting of the year for Section members to gather and present papers. The first Western Annual Meeting was held 27-30 December 1961 in Los Angeles.

The Annual Meeting became the “Spring Meeting” in 1978. The location began to rotate in 1978 after prompting from members, moving out of Washington in alternate years. The last “Spring Meeting” was held in its usual format in Washington in 2002.

In 2003, AGU’s “Spring Meeting” was the EGS-AGU-EUG Joint Assembly, held in Nice, France. From then on, the Spring Meeting was renamed a “Joint Assembly.” The Joint Assemblies continued on and off through 2015.


In 1939, at AGU’s 20th Annual Meeting, attendance was up to about 500 and the first Union award presentation was announced – the William Bowie Medal – in honor of AGU’s first president and an extraordinary scientist.

At the 30th Annual Meeting in 1949, attendance was up to about 800 with 117 papers presented. Total Union membership was 4,449.

The Western Annual Meeting became the “Fall Meeting” in 1968 and continued to gain in popularity with members, especially after the dates were moved to earlier in December.

The Spring Meeting’s first new meeting location in nearly 60 years was Miami. Other locations included: Toronto, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and then Baltimore in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s until moving to Boston in 1998.

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