Pubblicazioni : I primi anni di vita dell'ISES

An Early History of ISES*

Jack Duffie
Solar Energy Laboratory
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The first twenty years of ISES was a time of dramatic changes and developments in the organization. What happened? Why? How did it all begin? The answers to these questions involve the people who made the history, and the story of ISES is to a large extent the story of its early leaders.

If there was any one individual who had a major role, it was Farrington Daniels. He was a unique person. He had a set of almost independent professional careers. He was a physical chemist who first made his mark in nitrogen chemistry. He worked in photochemistry and photosynthesis. During World War II he was the director of the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago where the first critical atomic reaction was carried out, and he was at Alamagordo when the first atomic bomb was exploded. These events had profound impact on his post-war career.

And then there was his work in solar energy. I am convinced that after the war, he was driven by his experiences in the atomic bomb development to seek alternative energy directions - for the betterment of mankind. Based perhaps on his knowledge of photochemistry and photosynthesis, he asked how solar energy might be used to help people - without danger of its being used for destructive purposes.

He was generous, ingenious, inventive, and imaginative. He was widely respected and admired. He was a visionary. His aim in his later years was to teach people in developing countries how to improve their lives by building and using solar cookers and stills.

Farrington was president of the American Chemical Society and was vice president of the US National Academy of Sciences,. He knew many people in many places. In 1953 he organized a symposium at the University of Wisconsin on "Solar Energy Utilization". This stimulated the interests of members of our engineering faculty, with the result that they hired me to establish a solar energy laboratory to work on engineering problems. I had little knowledge of the subject (a Ph.D. in chemical engineering with research in spray drying, and some experience with DuPont and the Office of Naval Research). But, it was intriguing. I took on the job in 1954, with my first task to assemble (with Farrington) the proceedings of the conference - Solar Energy Research. My introduction to the field was to go to visit conference speakers at their laboratories: Charles G. Abbot, George Löf, Maria Telkes, Hoyt Hottel, and others. Many of them had parts to play in the genesis of ISES.

Formation of AFASE

Farrington - the visionary - in 1952 met Henry Sargent (then the president of Arizona Public Service Company - the Phoenix electric utility) and suggested to him that there was a need for an organization to promote the development and application of solar energy - i.e., a solar industry. Two years later Sargent, with a group of other bankers and business men from Phoenix, organized and incorporated the ASSOCIATION FOR APPLIED SOLAR ENERGY (AFASE). (AFASE in 1964 became the Solar Energy Society (SES), and in 1970 the International Solar Energy Society, ISES.)

The Association was supported by funds from corporate members in the Phoenix area. its initial activities included:

  • Sponsoring the preparation, by the Stanford Research Institute, of a summary of previous and ongoing research in solar energy - a useful document in its day.
  • Organizing the World Symposium on Applied Solar Energy in Phoenix in 1955, and, in conjunction with it, the Conference on the Use of Solar Energy the Scientific Basis in Tucson.

The 1955 Symposium was a major event and was attended by 900 registrants. A thousand people dined on pheasant at the banquet.

The scientific aspects of the symposium were not neglected. Speakers included Harold Heywood from London, Valintin Baum from USSR, Austin Whillier from South Africa, Hoyt Hottel and Gerald Pearson from USA, Roger Morse from Australia, and others.

Accompanying the Phoenix Symposium was a major exhibition of solar energy equipment - The Sun-at-Work. It attracted 30,000 visitors.

These activities of AFASE made quite an impression. Thus encouraged, the Association hired John Yellott to serve as Executive Secretary (and later as Executive Vice President). The first periodical was The Sun at Work, a quarterly newsletter started in 1956. In 1957 a quarterly technical journal was established: The Journal of Solar Energy Science and Engineering - later shortened to Solar Energy. A paid editor served both publications.

The Board of Directors of AFASE was made up of Phoenix bankers, utility executives, and other businessmen. There was also an editorial board, which included one name that was known to us at that time, Frank Edlin, an engineer from DuPont. There was no other representation of scientists or engineers in this part of the AFASE structure.

There was an Advisory Council that included among its members many of the scientists and engineers active in the field at the time. Members at various times included Farrington Daniels, George Löf, Hoyt Hottel, Harry Tabor, Maria Telkes, Charles G. Abbot, Dick Jordan, Felix Trombe, Roger Morse, the author, and others. The Council's chief function was to organize technical meetings, but was seldom called on to advise in a more general sense.

Other AFASE Activities

The publications editor worked with Maria Telkes to assemble a collection of books, papers, periodicals, and patents relating to solar energy, a collection that was ultimately turned over to the Arizona State University library in Tempe - near Phoenix. It is still maintained as a resource by ASU.

The Association convened a Solar Furnace Symposium in 1957. Held at Phoenix, it brought together many of those active in this area, including Felix Trombe and Peter Glaser (one of the organization's early leaders). The proceedings of this symposium were published as part of Volume 1 of Solar Energy.

Another major initiative of AFASE was an architectural design competition. The winning design was to be constructed in the Phoenix area. The heating system was to be operated and its performance measured while the house was occupied by a family. The winning design had collectors that were in the form of rotating louvers so the slope could be adjusted to increase incident radiation over what it would be on fixed collectors.

The house was built, but no operating data were published. It was meant to be a showpiece, and was open to the public for a month - before legal action by the neighbors forced its closure. This did not enhance the reputation of the organization, nor improve what was becoming a perilous financial situation.

In the 1950s, the headquarters of AFASE were located in rented offices in Phoenix. It had a paid staff, including an executive director, an editor, and clerical help. It was a busy, active organization, with ambitious ideas and aspirations. Unfortunately, its financial base was weak. In the late 50s and early 60s, industrial interest waned as the difficulties of competing with inexpensive petroleum and natural gas became apparent. Support from business and industry diminished, and individual memberships decreased.

There was little base of R & D personnel in the US to support the Association. (The National Science Foundation did make two small grants to support publication of the Journal.) Income went down, and economies were in order. In 1958, John Yellott (then Executive Vice President) left. In 1960, headquarters were moved to donated space at Arizona State University. However, expenses continued to exceed income, and the Association incurred considerable debt.

Now we step back a year. In 1959 there was a meeting in New York of the AFASE Advisory Committee. Its purpose was to meet in technical sessions, and also to make recommendations regarding the role of the Association in future solar energy developments.

AFASE had significant accomplishments to its credit. It sponsored conferences that were effective in bringing people in the field together. It had a publication program, including a journal and a newsletter. But, no one on the board of directors had experience or competence in the science and technology of solar energy. The editors of the publications were hard working, but lacked expertise in the field. There was no reviewing system in place. Some members of the Advisory Council were not satisfied with the direction in which the Association was going, and in an unscheduled gathering the discussion centered around a basic question: should AFASE be abandoned, or should the organization be changed to a more traditional scientific/engineering society?

In spite of perceived difficulties, AFASE was a going organization, and recommendations were made that it should undergo changes in its organization, that it should be transformed into a society with a board of directors and officers elected by its members. This was a radical departure from the existing structure. In short, it would mean that the scientific community would assume from the Phoenix business community the responsibility for the Association. It took several years, but these recommended changes were accepted and implemented.

As of January 1964, the name was changed to the SOLAR ENERGY SOCIETY, and Farrington Daniels became the first president elected by the membership.

Those of us who advocated these changes in the organization probably did not realize how bad the Association's financial situation was. Already serious, it had worsened and become critical by 1967, and there was talk of bankruptcy. The correspondence of the time includes comments like:

  • We have $110 in the bank, and a payroll of $ 300 is coming due. We can make it if enough membership renewals come in.
  • There is no point in sending manuscripts for the next issue of the Journal, as Waverley Press will not do anything with them until the bills for the last issue are paid.

Further retrenchment was necessary. The Sun at Work was dropped. The paid editor was replaced by Andrew Drummond, who served without pay as the editor of Solar Energy.. A new publications arrangement was concluded (see below) to greatly reduce the cost of the journal. The work of the secretary-treasurer was taken on by Carl Hodges of the University of Arizona, also without pay.

The society's indebtedness was a millstone. There were many attempts to solve this problem. Breathing room was provided by the Rockefeller Foundation with a grant of $ 20,000. The Valley National Bank forgave loans in the amount of $ 7,000 - a direct gift to the Society. And, Farrington Daniels personally paid several years interest on the debts and part of the principal, a substantial personal sacrifice.

A significant part of the fiscal problems faced by the society was its expenditures on the Journal. Peter Glaser had succeeded Farrington Daniels as President. From activities of Czechoslovakian nationals in London during World War II, Peter knew Robert Maxwell - the founder and head of Pergamon Press. Peter went to New York and discussed with Maxwell the society's need for a new approach to publication. The result was an agreement for Pergamon to produce the journal - starting in 1968. The terms of the contract were generous for the society; Pergamon would produce and distribute to each member 4 issues a year at a cost to the society of $6 - and contribute to the Society 25% of all profits generated by sales of the publication to non-members.

Irrespective of any later activities of Mr. Maxwell, the arrangement with Pergamon was a real helping hand to the Society. It continued, with modifications, until about four years ago. With unpaid authors, editors and reviewers, a very large cadre of volunteers, SES put in the hands of its members a creditable journal at very low cost.

More changes for SES were in the wind. In 1970, Roger Morse, the third membership-elected president, arranged for SES headquarters to be housed in Australia at the Division of Mechanical Engineering of CSIRO (of which Roger was head). Frank Hogg became the (unpaid) secretary-treasurer, and other expenses of running the society were further reduced. There were other organizational changes (SES became ISES and was organized as an affiliations of Sections) but basically the modus operandi stayed much the same for the next quarter century - into the 1990s.

By a combination of these contributions, economies, and publication arrangements, SES/ISES was put on a sound financial basis. It went from perilously close to bankruptcy to having adequate cash reserves, and it survived to provide essential services to what would become a growing constituency. Those services were primarily publication of Solar Energy and SunWorld (a successor to Sun-at-Work started in 1976) and the organization of biennial world congresses.

AFASE/SES organized a series of scientific meetings in its early days. The meetings were modest in scale until the 1970s. In the 1960s, attendance of 75 or so was usual - and most everyone in the field from the US and often a few colleagues from abroad would be there. The first truly international meeting was in Melbourne in 1970. Attendance started to grow at the meeting in Paris in 1973, and at Los Angeles in 1975 where about 2000 participated.

The First Three Presidents of SES

Farrington Daniels' role in establishing the organization and his presidency have been noted. Notable also were the contributions of "unsung heroes" in this saga - people like Carl Hodges - who got little recognition and a lot of headaches.

The support of the Society's second and third presidents elected by the members were critical to its survival. Peter Glaser has had several key roles in SES/ISES. His first involvement was in the Solar Furnace Symposium in 1957. He became a committed supporter, was instrumental in solving the problem of high publication costs, was the second president of SES (during its most difficult financial crises) and later was editor of Solar Energy for 13 years.

Roger Morse was the third SES president in the early 1970s.. He arranged for the housing of SES/ISES headquarters at CSIRO, a move that was a major contribution toward assuring the society's continued existence. He was a leader in promoting the international nature of the society, and with his colleagues arranged the first meeting outside of the United States, at Melbourne in 1970.

Here are our first three presidents of SES - a chemist, a scientist working on the frontiers of "high tech" applications, and an engineer concerned with very practical applications like domestic water heaters.

  • Farrington - from Minnesota and Harvard educated, was a key figure in the Manhattan project during the war. A spokesman for solar energy, he was a visionary who dreamed of helping people in third world countries by helping them use solar energy in their everyday lives.
  • Peter was born and raised in Bohemia and educated in Czechoslovakia, England and America, and was in the Free Czechoslovak army during the war. In 1955 he joined a consulting organization in the US where he was a lunar scientist and worked with imaging furnaces and space power systems.
  • Roger, educated at Sydney University and with a decade of experience in industry, was in the Australian army in Papua-New Guinea during the war. He was largely responsible for the development of the solar water heater industry "down under". He is a very practical engineer; he put his hands on the inlet and outlet pipes for my solar water heater and told me that my heat exchanger was too small.

In the normal course of professional activities, these three would probably never have met, but ISES is a unique organization, and bridges these differences. I am sure this was a major reason for the dedication that Farrington, Peter, and Roger had to the organization and its functions. Their approaches were different but they all wanted to improve the welfare of people through solar energy and saw the society as an important means to that end.


The early history of the ISES was at times, a turbulent one. Given its start by Arizona businessmen, it evolved into a scientific/professional organization providing publications and meetings to facilitate the development of solar energy. It evolved from a local to a largely American and then to an international organization. It started operating on a grand scale, shrank, went almost hopelessly in debt, pulled itself together, and grew to become a viable society. Its publications, congresses, and section activities have had far reaching impacts on progress in the solar energy field.

Our first three elected presidents kept the organization alive through stressful times. and we are indebted to them. By the time I took office as the fourth, OPEC was strong, ISES was growing, and the presidency was a breeze.


There are two published histories of the Society:

Howe, Everett D., SunWorld 3, No. 2, 32 (1979). "ISES Roots"

Strum, Harvey, Technology and Culture, 26, 571, (1985). "The Association for Applied Solar Energy/Solar Energy Society, 1954-1970"


*This history of the early years is based on AFASE/SES/ISES publications, on the Daniels archives of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and on materials kindly supplied by Peter Glaser, Roger Morse, and George Löf. It is also based on the author's memories of the early days of the Society, and so in substantial part represents a personal view of the events. Unfortunately, it is not possible to include mention of all of the individuals who were involved or of all of the significant events. The paper was originally prepared for presentation at the 25th Anniversary meeting of UK/ISES in Brighton on 14 May, 1999.


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