Building a Profession

Physicists, chemists, and biologists were all considered professional scientists at the turn of the 20th century. Meteorologists and cli-matologists still labored on the fringes of the scientific community. Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia all had academic programs in meteorology and climatology with professors trained in those areas as the 20th century started, but the entire British Commonwealth did not have its first meteorological professorship until the appointment of Sir William Napier Shaw to Imperial College, London, in 1920. The United States was even further behind. All of the training for Weather Bureau meteorologists was conducted "in-house," and graduate training was provided by Weather Bureau employees at Columbian University (now called George Washington University) in Washington, D.C.

By the end of the decade, there were still no meteorology departments in American colleges and universities. The U.S. Navy Aerological Service, desperate for graduate-level trained meteorologists to provide weather support for its rapidly expanding aviation program, arranged with the Aeronautical Engineering Department at MIT to create a meteorology program. Financed with a $34,000 grant from the Guggenheim Fund, the navy provided the first six students in the summer of 1928. The program's director was the Swedish meteorologist and former Bergen School member Carl-Gustav Rossby, who had coordinated the Pacific Coast model airway.

With his Bergen School background, Rossby quickly focused the MIT program on atmospheric research and applications that continued the use of polar front and air mass analysis investigations. Faculty members and graduate students, who would eventually include some of the biggest names in U.S. meteorology, conducted empirical studies of air mass characteristics as well as physical and mathematical treatments of atmospheric phenomena. Within a few years, the California Institute of Technology and New York University both established meteorology programs within their aeronautics programs. By the 1930s, meteorology had finally attained academic respectability in the United States.

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