Since 1876, over 120 individuals have been identified with the title of President of the American Chemical Society. The approximately 163,000 ACS members, primarily American but including chemists from every continent except Antarctica, work in all the chemical sciences. The position of president (a one-year term) has evolved in importance and complexity since the founding of the Society.
Thirty-five chemists met in New York City on 6 April 1876 to found the American Chemical Society. Charles F. Chandler (6th ACS president) spoke of the need for such a national organization: to bring chemists together for scientific and social interactions, to establish a library and to organize a museum. Seven months later, the first president, John W. Draper (professor of chemistry at New York University) delivered his inaugural address. Several future ACS presidents served as initial officers with Draper. In the early years the number of ACS members varied widely: 192 in late 1876, 243 in 1881, 167 in 1889, approximately 1,850 in 1901, about 5000 in 1910. But as the American Chemical Society grew so did the responsibilities of its President. In 1889, the discussion about local sections began. The first section formed was the Rhode Island Section in 1891. Thus began the expansion of the Society beyond New York City. In addition, voting by mail was begun and Council (the governing body of ACS) was established.
The responsibilities of the ACS President have grown considerably over the years. Each president develops his or her own set of goals with corresponding tasks and events while serving as the Society's primary spokesperson and representative. The major jobs of the first five presidents (1876-80) were to firmly establish the American Chemical Society as a separate and distinct professional organization, not to be confused with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and to encourage chemical scientists to join. By the end of the first 100 years of ACS, the president was recognized as a spokesperson for the chemical profession. At the start of the second 100 years of existence, the range of involvement of the ACS president had expanded beyond science to include government and international influences. The first three presidents of the second century were Glenn T. Seaborg, Nobel laureate, 1976; Henry A. Hill, the first African-American president, 1977; and Anna J. Harrison, the first woman president, 1978. Each expanded the scope of influence of the ACS.
As the size and influence of the ACS continues to expand both nationally and internationally, so do the responsibilities of the President, as well as the Past-President and President-Elect.