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A Chronology of the Early Development of Ocean Sciences at NSF

Michael R. Reeve

Division of Ocean Sciences, National Science Foundation


The historical time line below is intended to trace the emergence and development of ocean sciences within the National Science Foundation (NSF). It focuses specifically on the years up to the time that the Ocean Drilling Program was established in the Division of Ocean Sciences. Since then (1984), the division has remained virtually unchanged up to the time of writing. This account touches on other organizational structures and events to provide a context for the emerging story, and provides the context that links the various contributions in this volume. I have used the resources cited in the next paragraph, internal memoranda available to me and now deposited in the National Archives, and personal recollections of colleagues such as those contributed in this volume. (See also ocean science budgets in Appendix E and organizational charts in Appendix F.)

There are several general histories that speak to the events leading up to the establishment of the Foundation and its early years. ScienceThe Endless Frontier by Vannevar Bush was a report to President Roosevelt in 1945 (Bush, 1945). It was reprinted by NSF in 1990 (NSF 90-8) in a volume that also contained appendices and an extensive commentary by Daniel Kevles (California Institute of Technology) concerning the impact of the report. J. Merton England (the NSF historian in 1982), wrote a volume entitled A Patron for Pure ScienceThe National Science Foundation's Formative Years, 1945-1957 (NSF 82-24). Finally, George T. Mazuzan (NSF historian from 1987 until his retirement in 1998) wrote The National Science Foundation: A Brief History (NSF 88-16).

Also invaluable was NSF Handbook Number 1, titled Organizational Development of the National Science Foundation. It covers the period from the Foundation's establishment in 1950 up to 1984. It is an annual compilation of organization charts, together with a summary of ''organizational development," which includes organizational changes, significant legislation and executive orders, and National Science Board actions. A copy of this document currently resides in the NSF library.


1950—President Truman signed the National Science Foundation Act on May 10, 1950. The Act provided that the Foundation shall consist of a director responsible for administration and a National Science Board to establish substantive policy and approve certain specified actions. Both the director and the board were to be appointed by the President. Beyond this, the act specified structure to the extent of four divisions: (1) Medical Research; (2) Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences; (3) Biological Sciences; and (4) Scientific Personnel and Education. The Act also specified the establishment of divisional committees to make recommendations to, and advise and consult with, the board and the director on matters relating to programs of their own divisions. The President appointed 24 board members and convened the first meeting at the White House on December 2, 1950.

1951—At its second meeting on January 3, 1951, the board established the four prescribed divisions. On April 6, the President appointed Alan T. Waterman as the first and only director to serve two consecutive full terms, each of six years. Waterman was formerly Chief Scientist at the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Assistant directors were appointed to three of the divisions. The appointee for the Biological Sciences Division also acted for the Medical Research Division, until the two divisions were combined a few months later.

The first four programs were established in each of the Divisions of Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (MPES) and Biological and Medical Sciences (BMS). The board also appointed divisional committees.

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