SSA Turns 100

March/April 2005

As reported in the July/August 2004 SRL, the Seismological Society of America will be celebrating its centennial in 2006, the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

The events of 18 April 1906 were not lost on the scientific community of then. From our SSA archives, we have found a first document, a simple typewritten letter from A. F. McAdie sent to a group of now well known scientists, that alludes to the need, among other things, for a scientific society and a research journal to study such seismic disasters. The letter begins auspiciously:

Can you attend a preliminary meeting ... called for the purpose of organizing a Seismological Society of America ...? The formation of such a society would seem to be both proper and opportune. The fact that the Pacific Coast has been the center of much seismic activity, and that the city of San Francisco has now a historic interest in matters seismological, may be offered as valid reasons why this section of our country should take the initiative in the formation of such an organization. ... It is expected that such a society will be able ... to publish from time to time the best information obtainable concerning earthquakes, and in every way work for the benefit and welfare of not only our own community but all mankind, so far as the effects of earth movements are concerned ....

August 22, 1906
San Francisco, California

In preparing for our own centennial celebration, SSA has engaged an independent archivist, Alison Moore, to review the available correspondence, notebooks, and administrative records of the Society. Ms. Moore has valued these archival materials as significant to the history of the Society and to the study of seismology in California, the United States, and the worldwide community. Some material is in binders in the SSA office and some, mostly the correspondence of early SSA officers, resides in deep storage at the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley. This material includes key documents that are important to the study of earthquakes in California, and the names of many noted individuals both inside and outside the scientific and engineering communities. Important names in United States and California history appear as SSA members, including John Muir, Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover, William Mulholland, Luther Burbank, Michael O'Shaughnessy, Willis Polk, and Stephen Mather. In addition to numerous members of the scientific community, many of these rose to prominence both in the society and in the nascent field of seismology.

We have also been fortunate to have the generous volunteer efforts of member and retired seismologist Wilbur (Bill) Rinehart in gathering photographs of former SSA presidents for a centennial poster. Bill also hopes to create a poster of female pioneers in seismology to complement the centennial poster. During 2006--the Centennial Year of the Society--some of the more interesting early documents will be reprinted in Seismological Research Letters.

Along with interesting correspondence, however, we have also found some gaps. We have found no photographs of meetings, for example, except for the informal photos of recent meetings that have appeared in SRL. As many SSA members have access to small academic and/or institutional archives, you may have access to documents or photos that relate to SSA that we would appreciate hearing about. The SSA Centennial Committee believes that this is an opportunity to preserve our history, perhaps our last opportunity for many older documents.

SSA is also working to digitize BSSA from the years 1911 to the present time. The issues from 1911 to 1999 will be scanned this year, and this archive will join the BSSA electronic edition in time for our centennial celebration.

If you are interested in participating in SSA Centennial activities or have any materials that might help provide an even more complete account of this time in scientific history, contact Susan Newman, Executive Director, at SSA Headquarters, <>.



Posted: 25 June 2005