A Selection of Highlights from the History of the National Academy of Sciences, 1863 - 2005,
by Frederick Seitz


1. This informal review of segments of the history of the Academy has been drawn substantially from the commissioned histories by Frederick W. True and by Rexmond C. Cochrane, as well as from the memoirs of many of the individuals mentioned in it. The memoirs are written by their colleagues and published in an Academy series. Also, much of the text stems from memory, either through direct personal experiences or from extensive reading over many years. As we all know, memory can be fallible. We trust that any deviations from the truth are minor and in any case not very serious.

2. The main headings serve to introduce biographical material and accounts of special events relevant to the period in which the individual named served as president of the Academy, such as the term of Alexander Dallas Bache, which starts the volume.

3. The secondary headings are used to single out the special actions of an individual or give an account of some other matter that occurred during the term of service of a given president of the Academy.

4. Frederick True, ed., A History of the First Half-Century of the National Academy of Sciences 1863–1913 (Baltimore: The Lord Baltimore Press, 1913).

5. Four series of lectures encompassing the most active areas of science were presented during the centennial celebration. Some two-dozen scientists who were at the peak of their areas of specialization were involved. President John F. Kennedy also spoke in commemoration of the occasion. The texts of most of the presentations were published in the book The Scientific Endeavor: Centennial Celebration of the National Academy of Sciences (New York: The Rockefeller University Press, 1965).

6. Rexmond C. Cochrane, The National Academy of Sciences; The First Hundred Years, 1863–1963 (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1978).

7. The final report of the Air Force study led by Professor E. U. Condon was published under the title Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects in 1968. It contains an introduction by the science writer Walter Sullivan, a member of the staff of The New York Times, and a profound essay written by Condon concerning the circumstances in which the scientific method can be applied to analyze a problem. Daniel S. Gillmore, ed., Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (New York: Bantam Books, 1968).

8. The portions of this essay that deal with accounts of the buildings associated with the main Academy headquarters at 21st and Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C. may be regarded as supplementary to those that appear in the excellent article written by Detlev W. Bronk, “A National Focus of Science and Research,” Science 176(1972): 376–80.

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