Smithsonian Institution Archives

Records, 1902-1965


Collection ID:
Science Service
Physical Description:
268.55 cu. ft. (79 record storage boxes) (372 document boxes) (2 12x17 boxes) (3 3x5 boxes) (3 5x8 boxes) (2 tall document boxes)
Smithsonian Institution Archives


The bulk of this collection was processed by Jane Livermore, a devoted and tireless volunteer in the Smithsonian Institution Archives between 1995 and 2004. Livermore is a former Science Service employee. She worked in the organization's library, oversaw the educational project "THINGS of Science," and served as Assistant to the Director. The Archives wishes to thank Ms. Livermore for her excellent work on this collection.
Many others have assisted on this project. SIA also thanks Helen Shade, Program Assistant in the Archives Division, who helped create folder listings for many of the later series in this record unit. SIA is especially indebted to historian Marcel C. LaFollette, who has conducted extensive research in this collection, written a historical summary for this guide, and whose findings in these records have generated excitement both within the Archives and among professional colleagues. SIA could not have created this finding aid without Dr. LaFollette's contributions, annotations, and insights.

Descriptive Entry

Descriptive Entry
Record Unit 7091 contains: correspondence and telegrams; drafts and final versions of articles, books, and radio scripts; staff notes and interoffice correspondence; published material such as pamphlets and news clippings; photographs and drawings; advertisements and trade literature; and other ephemera related to science news coverage and publishing.
This record unit is one of the largest single collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). There are several related collections in SIA (see Accessions 01-122, 01-243, 04-042, 90-068, 90-105, 93-019, and 97-020 (see also the National Air and Space Museum; the National Museum of American History, including the Archives Center and collections in agriculture and mining, chemistry, costume, engineering, electricity, medical sciences, military history, modern physics, and photographic history; the National Museum of Natural History; and the National Portrait Gallery).
The arrangement of RU 7091 reflects the eclectic nature of an active news organization that was reactive to current events and discoveries, in touch with a worldwide network of researchers, and concerned about accuracy. In 1960, the organization's educational director described their records in this way: "... Science Service has been distributing science news for 40 years. During that time we have been in touch with practically all the major scientists and the developments which were taking place. Since all of our material has to have full authentification, we have built up a mass of files" (Letter from Frederick A. Indorf to Joseph C. Shipman, October 24, 1960, Box 350, Folder 13). This "mass of files" also included two extensive "morgues" that contained back-up material, information, and photographs that could be used in future stories. The informational "morgue" files were organized according to the Library of Congress classification scheme. A few of these files are in RU 7091 (see Series 7); more extensive collections are located in SIA Accessions 01-122, 01-243, 90-068, 90-105, and 93-019 and in curatorial collections in Smithsonian Institution museums. A major portion of the biographical "morgue," containing photographs and information about scientists, engineers, and other public figures, is in SIA Accession 90-105.
Editorial correspondence with news sources was usually filed in the general correspondence files of Series 1 - 5. Some was also filed with the resulting story for the Daily Mail Report (see Series 8) or with other back-up in a morgue file. Correspondence with scientists and engineers who appeared on the Science Service radio programs may also be found in the radio program files (see Series 10). Audiotapes of some broadcasts are in Series 20, SIA Accession 04-042, and in the NMAH Archives Center collection (Call # ACNNMAH0223).
Most folders in RU 7091 retain the original folder's title. This finding aid uses edited descriptions and additional notes to assist researchers in navigating through the record unit. Most correspondence was filed by the date and the last name of correspondent, but documents were sometimes filed alphabetically according to a topic or by the name of an individual's affiliation.
The topics covered in RU 7091 include all fields of science and engineering, theoretical physics to bridge construction techniques, wildlife conservation to plastics and paints. There is considerable attention to social and economic issues and to military research and censorship during World War II. The staff visited museums, observatories, industrial test facilities, and military installations; they reported on most of the major scientific events of the time, including the Scopes trial. During the 1930s and 1940s, Science Service purchased news and photographs from official U.S.S.R. news offices and also supported efforts to interact with Soviet scientists. There were attempts to establish branch operations in England and France and to encourage science popularization and education in Mexico.
Correspondents include trustees, news sources, publishers, writers, and business clients. Most inquiries from readers or listeners were answered and filed with regular editorial correspondence. "Taffy" is the term Science Service used for complimentary correspondence; it is often filed separately. Series 5 also contains manuscripts and letters from scientists and non-scientists who were convinced they had discovered, proved, or understood a new scientific principle or insight - or else could save humanity from foreseeable destruction.
Frequent correspondents among the trustees included: C. G. Abbot, Edward U. Condon, Rene J. Dubos, Frank R. Ford, George Ellery Hale, Ross G. Harrison, Harrison E. Howe, W. H. Howell, Vernon Kellogg, Karl Lark-Horovitz, D. T. MacDougal, Kirtley F. Mather, John C. Merriam, Robert A. Millikan, Raymond Pearl, Marlen E. Pew, Michael I. Pupin, I. I. Rabi, Charles Edward Scripps, Robert P. Scripps, Paul B. Sears, Thomas L. Sidlo, Harry L. Smithton, Mark Sullivan, Warren S. Thompson, Henry B. Ward, Alexander Wetmore, David White, William Allen White, and Robert M. Yerkes.
Other notable writers, scientists, and public figures include: William Beebe, Hans A. Bethe, Charles Bittinger, Howard W. Blakeslee, Edwin G. Boring, Bart J. Bok, Gregory and Marjorie Breit, P. W. Bridgman, Wilfred Swancourt Bronson, Rachel Carson, George Washington Carver, Morris L. Cooke, Clarence Darrow, Frances Densmore, Thomas A. Edison, Enrico Fermi, Henry Field, George Gamow, Eugene Garfield, Robert H. Goddard, Peter C. Goldmark, Hamilton Holt, J. Edgar Hoover, Julian S. Huxley, Louis M. Lyons, Margaret Mead, Merrill Moore, Edward R. Murrow, H. H. Nininger, Henry Fairfield Osborn, Gifford Pinchot, James A. Reyniers, J. B. Rhine, Walter Orr Roberts, M. Lincoln Schuster, John T. Scopes, Glenn T. Seaborg, Gilbert Seldes, Elizabeth Sidney Semmens, Upton Sinclair, Otto Struve, Elihu Thomson, Harold C. Urey, Mark Van Doren, Selman A. Waksman, Henry A. Wallace, Warren Weaver, H. G. Wells, and Gaylord Wilshire.
RU 7091 contains extensive records of the transactions with temporary correspondents and photographers, notes on the article titles and amounts paid, as well as correspondence discussing particular scientific events and, during the 1930s and 1940s, the situation in Europe. Among the active European correspondents were Maxim Bing in Switzerland, Victor Cofman in England, and Theodor G. Ahrens, Hans F. Kutschbach, and Gabrielle Rabel in Germany.
Researchers interested in the history of American publishing, journalism, advertising, and public relations will find extensive correspondence with professionals in those fields. Newspaper Enterprise Association, or "NEA Service," was a news syndicate established by the Scripps organization in 1909, to which Science Service sold articles and feature series. They also marketed articles and photographs to publications like Life and Reader's Digest. There is considerable correspondence with the editors about topic selection and why particular stories were rejected.
Science Service staff used special abbreviations in their interoffice correspondence. Starting in the 1930s, small name and date stamps were also used to record or acknowledge all correspondence and notes. Abbreviations were written in all capital letters as well as in initial cap form (e.g., Watson Davis was "WD" as well as Wd"). Here is a partial list of abbreviations that appear frequently in RU 7091:
ACM = A. C. Monahan
An = Anne Shiveley, secretary to Watson Davis
Ba = Howard Bandy, treasurer
Be = Miriam Bender, office staff
DGL = Donald G. Loomis, assistant treasurer
Do = Dorothy Reynolds, secretary to Watson Davis
Ed = Emily C. Davis (sometimes written as "ECD")
En = Leonard Engel
Ew = Ann Ewing
Fa = Bob Farr
FD = Fremont Davis
Fl = Margaret Fleming
Fr = Violet Frye
Gi = Minna Gill, librarian
Hd = Helen Miles Davis
Hj = Hallie Jenkins, sales manager
Ho = Janet Howard
HW = Howard Wheeler, business manager
JWY = J. W. Young
Js = James Stokley
Kl = Fred Kline, list room
Kr = Joseph Kraus, science youth programs
Md = Marjorie MacDill (Breit); in 1928, Jane Stafford became the medical editor and used these initials from 1928-1936
Mg = Mary McGrath, secretary to Watson Davis
Ml = Bernice Maldondo
Mm = Martha G. Morrow
Mn = Minna Hewes
Mo = Morton Mott-Smith
Ot = Frances Ottemiller
Pd = Phillippa Duckworth, secretary to E. E. Slosson
Ps = Page Secrest
Pt = Robert Potter
Ri = William E. Ritter
RLI = Ronald L. Ives, photograph editor
RNF = Robert N. Farr
Ro = Ron Ross
Sl = E. E. Slosson
St = Jane Stafford, after 1936
Th = Frank Thone
Vn = Marjorie Van de Water
Wd = Watson Davis
We = Margaret Weil
Wi = Austin Winant
Interoffice correspondence in the 1920s also used these abbreviations: Bk = bookkeeper; Cr = circulation; Fl = File; Lb = library or library files; Mr = mailroom; Rt = retail files; Sa = sales department; Tp = typing department; Wb = wastebasket.

Historical Note

Historical Note
Science Service, a not-for-profit institution founded to increase and improve the public dissemination of scientific and technical information, began its work in 1921. Although initially intended as a news service, Science Service produced an extensive array of news features, radio programs, motion pictures, phonograph records, and demonstration kits and it also engaged in various educational, translation, and research activities. It later became Science Service, Inc., an organization that publishes Science News and promotes science education. On January 10, 2008 Science Service was renamed Society for Science & the Public (SSP).
Record Unit 7091 contains correspondence and other material related to Science Service, from just before its establishment through 1963, including the editorial correspondence of the first two directors and senior staff.
The inspiration for such an organization developed during conversations between newspaper publisher E.W. Scripps (1854-1926) and zoologist William E. Ritter (1856-1944), who headed the Scripps-funded oceanographic institute in California. "Document A - The American Society for the Dissemination of Science," dictated by E. W. Scripps on March 5, 1919 (see Box 1, Folder 1), declared that the "first aim of this [proposed] institution should be just the reverse of what is called propaganda." Scripps believed that it should not support partisan causes, including those of any particular scientific group or discipline, but should instead develop ways to "present facts in readable and interesting form..." (p. 3). Scripps and Ritter held meetings throughout the United States to solicit ideas and support from scientists. By 1920, they had concluded that the best way to improve the popularization of science would be to create an independent, non-commercial news service with close ties to, but not operated by, the scientific community. The scientists would lend credibility to the organization's work, help to ensure accuracy, and project an image of authority.
Scripps supplied an initial donation of $30,000 per year from 1921 until his death in 1926. His will placed $500,000 in trust for Science Service and provided a continuing endowment until the trust was dissolved in 1956.
Science Service did not provide all its services for free. Scripps believed that the news service would be more valued by its clients - and would better reflect their needs and professional standards - if it charged a fair price for its products. As a result, the history of the organization is one of continual innovation, as the staff developed and marketed new syndicated features, wrote articles and books for other publishers on commission, and re-wrote each basic news story for multiple markets.
From the beginning, Science Service was guided by a 15-member board of trustees composed of two groups: prominent scientists nominated by the National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Smithsonian Institution, and newspaper editors or executives nominated by the Scripps-Howard organization or the Scripps family trust. William E. Ritter served as the first president of the board of trustees. Such scientists as J. McKeen Cattell, Edwin G. Conklin, Harlow Shapley, and Leonard Carmichael (the seventh Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution) succeeded him over the next four decades.
During the summer of 1920, Ritter began negotiations with Edwin E. Slosson (1865-1929), a well-known chemist and popularizer. Slosson had taught at the University of Wyoming for thirteen years until moving to New York to become the literary editor of The Independent. He began work as the head of Science Service in January 1921.
The first public announcement of the creation of Science Service appeared in Science, April 8, 1921, pp. 321-323. The first meeting of the trustees was held on May 20, 1921; the Science Service trust was set up July 22, 1921; and the not-for-profit organization was incorporated in the state of Delaware on November 1, 1921.
In 1921, Howard Wheeler, former editor of the San Francisco Daily News, was hired as the business manager. Watson Davis (1896-1967), a civil engineer who had been working at the National Bureau of Standards and writing science features for a Washington, D.C., newspaper, was hired as principal writer. In 1923, Wheeler was fired; Slosson (whose title had been "Editor") was named Director; and Davis was promoted to managing editor.
Throughout the 1920s, Davis built the news service through the "Daily Science News Bulletin," which later became the syndicated "Daily Mail Report" sold to newspapers around the country. He developed a local radio program and script service ("Science News of the Week"), coordinated a project to produce phonograph records, and assembled a skilled staff to handle reporting, circulation, production, sales, advertising, and accounting. Davis also edited the organization's most successful product, Science News Letter (titled Science News Bulletin, April 2, 1921-March 1922, and Science News-Letter, March 1922-October 1930).
After Slosson's death on October 15, 1929, the trustees favored replacing him with another scientist. Davis lobbied for the position but remained as managing editor until he was finally appointed director in 1933. He guided the organization until his retirement in 1966.
From 1921-1924, the editorial offices were located in offices rented by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington. When the NAS moved to its own building at 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., in April 1924, Science Service acquired space there. As World War II began, space became precious at the NAS headquarters. In spring 1941, Science Service purchased its own building at 1719 N Street, N.W., to house its expanding operations and staff.
Between 1921-1963, Davis and senior writers such as Frank Thone, James Stokley, Jane Stafford, and Marjorie Van de Water interviewed hundreds of scientists and engineers, and wrote thousands of articles, often maintaining a lively correspondence with their sources. Thone, a botanist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, worked for the organization from 1924 until his death in 1949, covering both the Scopes trial and the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll; astronomer Stokley joined the group in 1925 and continued to write the "Star Map" feature even after he went to work for the Franklin Institute and for General Electric. Stafford, one of the founding members of the National Association of Science Writers, covered medicine and biology for Science Service from 1928 to 1956. Van de Water covered psychology and related topics from 1929 through the 1960s. Other members of the Davis family also assisted in the operations, including Watson's wife, the chemist Helen Miles Davis (1896-1957), who edited Chemistry from 1944, when it was acquired by Science Service, until shortly before her death. Watson's brother Fremont Davis served as the organization's photographer.
Science Service also depended on an extensive network of part-time correspondents, or "stringers," in the United States, Europe, and Asia, to provide information and photographs. Most of these contributors were graduate students, young professors, or schoolteachers. By the mid-1930s, Science Service was dispensing small fees (under $10.00) for over 500 short news items and illustrations annually. The staff was also answering hundreds of letters each year from readers of all age who were curious about science in general or had specific questions about a subject mentioned in the news. The correspondence with these people afford a rich resource for social and cultural historians.
In addition to sending its writers to participate in expeditions, Science Service established projects to collect scientific data, such as seismological information and ursigrams, and to compile weekly astronomical and meteorological charts. They also initiated a "Scientific Minute Men" project in which a network of archeologists and other scientists were authorized to wire Science Service at no charge.
The activities of the staff and organization were wide-ranging and reflect the breadth of science and scientific concerns during the twentieth century. Slosson and Davis were involved extensively with groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma Xi, and American Eugenics Society, and the staff writers covered dozens of scientific meetings every year, sometimes serving as officers of those associations. Davis was a major participant in the National Inventors Council and served on dozens of advisory committees for scientific laboratories and universities, and national and international government agencies. With Alexander Gode, Davis worked to promote acceptance of Interlingua, an international scientific language. One of the organization's most lasting contributions was to science education, through its sponsorship of Science Clubs of America, National Science Fairs, the Science Talent Search, and informal teaching units called "THINGS of Science." Science Service also sponsored early innovation in microphotography, established a Documentation Division and a Bibliofilm Service, and helped to found the American Documentation Institute.
For the first four decades of its existence, however, the central mission remained science journalism. As Davis wrote in 1960, Science Service strived from the beginning to convince both publishers and scientists that "science is news, good news, news that can compete, from a circulation standpoint, with crime, politics, human comedy and pathos, and the conventional array of news and features" and that science "could be written popularly so as to be accurate in fact and implication and yet be good reading in newspaper columns" (Watson Davis, "The Rise of Science Understanding," 1960, Box 368, Folder 2). These records will help historians to understand better the processes of negotiation, adjustment, and innovation which created that news. - Marcel C. LaFollette


Finding aid prepared by Smithsonian Institution Archives

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Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7091, Science Service, Records

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Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Slosson, Edwin E. (Edwin Emery), 1865-1929 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Davis, Watson, 1896-1967 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rasmussen, Knud, 1879-1933 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scripps, E. W. (Edward Willis), 1854-1926 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Columbia Broadcasting System, inc. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Documentation Institute Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Inventors Council (U.S.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Unesco Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rockefeller Foundation Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Association for the Advancement of Science Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Research Council (U.S.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Society for the Dissemination of Science Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Knud Rasmussen Expedition (1920) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Adventures in science (Radio program) Title Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Science -- History Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association) Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Journalism, Scientific Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
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