As the New Jersey Section of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers prepares to celebrate it’s 50th Anniversary, now is the ideal time to take a look back and reflect on the origins of the section and some of it’s early history. This brief look back, was compiled in 2003 by Dr. Frank Dittman, a fifty-year member of the AIChE, and long time member of the New Jersey Section and Andy Soos, our current Secretary and himself a long time member of the Section.

The Early Years – The 1950’s

The prime mover in the founding of the New Jersey Local Section was Franklin J. Van Antwerpen, the then Executive Secretary of the National AIChE, who was affectionately known to his friends and associates as Van. At this time, the National AIChE had already been in existence for nearly fifty years and had well established local sections in both New York City and Philadelphia, which those engineers residing and working in New Jersey were split between. As a result, there was some initial resistance to the formation of a new local section in New Jersey, but Van Antwerpen had become convinced about 1948 that the time had arrived for New Jersey to have it’s own local section. Not to be deterred, and with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm, he went about the task of organizing and recruiting members for the new section. After much effort, the first organizational meetings took place during the later part of 1948. In 1949, the New Jersey Section was officially born when it was chartered by the National AIChE. This led to the election of the first group of Section Officers, which included Charles Bartels as the first Section Chair, Franklin J. Van Antwerpen as Vice Chair, H. Philip Orem as the first Secretary and R.P. Smith as the new sections Treasurer. The very first official Section Meeting was held at the offices of the Public Service Electric and Gas Company in Newark.

Although it was known as the New Jersey Section, the Section’s territory was actually limited by it’s constitution to cover the New Jersey counties of Union, Middlesex, Somerset, Monmouth, Mercer, Hunterdon and Warren. This, however, was not seen as being too restrictive as the same constitution also provided that any chemical engineer who was living and/or working outside those counties could still apply to the membership committee for membership in the section. Once accepted as a member, they would be required to pay the local section dues, either directly to the Section or through National. Also in accordance with the local section constitution, it was mandated that “The headquarters of the Section shall be located in the city of Plainfield”. To this day, section meetings are still held in that city or the nearby vicinity. In later years, when the Lecture Series and One-Day Symposium were established, appropriate meeting places had to be found wherever available, but always within the Section’s geographical boundaries, except for some joint meetings.

As a result of the limits imposed on the Section’s covered area, the only University in the area having a Chemical Engineering Department at the time was Princeton University. The students in Princeton’s Chemical Engineering Department were therefore the recipients of the Student Awards that the New Jersey Section soon began awarding on an annual basis. These awards were based upon a review of the student’s work in their chemical engineering curriculum and related courses. Seeing the success of the New Jersey Section, in 1958, a group of chemical engineers in the industrial sector, along with students at the Newark College of Engineering (now known as the New Jersey Institute of Technology) and Stevens Institute in Hoboken, organized and received a charter for the formation of the North Jersey Local Section of the AIChE. Their covered territory consisted of the northeastern counties of New Jersey to the New York border and included both Stevens and Newark College of Engineering as it still does today.

The 1960’s

The decade of the 60’s was an important time of growth and development for the New Jersey Section. In 1961, in cooperation with the newly formed North Jersey Section, the One-Day Symposium was started. The Symposium, which was held each year during the month of May, typically concentrated on two major subject areas of current importance to chemical engineers. Several speakers were brought in from local industry and/or academia to cover the chosen topics. Initially, the New York City Section, was also a co-sponsor of this event, but they eventually withdrew and left it to the two New Jersey sections.

Based upon the success of the One-Day Symposium, the two sections got together again in 1965 to organize the Fall Lecture Series. This was a series of lectures which met one evening a week for six to eight weeks and covered new technologies and developments in the field of Chemical Engineering. Each evening of the series, one or more qualified speakers presenting the pertinent topics chosen for the evenings discussion. In addition to the two sections, the lecture series was often co-sponsored by one of the major chemical manufacturers or pharmaceutical manufacturers in the area. The sponsoring company will usually supply the facility for the lectures along with any required audio visual equipment and refreshments for meeting attendees.

In 1966, the two sections continued to collaborate, joining with National AIChE to sponsor the national meeting held in Atlantic City. The most significant development that occurred during this time was the establishment of the chemical engineering program at Rutgers University in 1960. This provided the New Jersey Section with another batch of students to support in their academic endeavors. In 1964, Rutgers graduated their first class of nine chemical engineers.

As a result of changes in the industrial climate in New Jersey and in response to a request from the Allentown Pennsylvania Local Section, in 1964, the New Jersey Section’s constitution was amended to eliminate Warren County from their territory. Additionally, the membership rules were changed to encourage membership at the national level as well as local section membership and the Executive Committee was expanded to five members with alternating two-year terms. This was a response to a growing membership and increasing needs of the section and it’s members.

The 1970’s

In 1976, the Central Jersey Local Section was chartered, with it’s headquarters located in Princeton. The Central Jersey Section covered the territory from Mercer County south. As a result, Mercer County was removed from the territory of the New Jersey Section, along with Princeton University. Due to this change, Rutgers University was now the only Chemical Engineering Program within the Section’s boundaries and remains so to this day.

Shortly thereafter, the New Jersey Section established a regular system of student awards for outstanding chemical engineering students at Rutgers University. At the same time, a separate investment account was set up, with the interest from the account to be used exclusively to fund the annual student awards. In order to have a forum for presenting these awards, an annual Student Night was held each March on the Rutgers campus. This evening meeting featured the presentation of the Student Awards and a general program of interest to the students and members alike.

The 1980’s

The 1980’s were a period of business as usual for the New Jersey Section. In 1989, the New Jersey was awarded the annual Randall Sheeline Public Relations Excellence Award for it’s outstanding SARA volunteer activities with various local emergency response agencies. This effort was led by the Section’s Government Interaction Committee (GIC) which was chaired by Andrew Soos.

Also in 1989, the New Jersey Section began publication of it’s own newsletter, which to this day is still edited by Andrew Soos. This newsletter is typically published three or four times a year and presents articles of current interest to section members along with pertinent information and a review of past meetings and awards.

The 1990’s

In the early 90’s, the New Jersey Section decided to institute an award that would recognize one of the section members who had provided outstanding service to the community and the field of chemical engineering. In arranging for this award, the decision was made to name the award for a section member who had a long history of service to the section and the community at large. As a result, the award was called the Frank Dittman Excellence Award in honor of Dr. Frank Dittman a professor at Rutgers University who was also a guiding force in the section. Dr. Dittman was also the first recipient of the award named in his honor. Subsequent winners of this award were Dr. Henry Shaw of NJIT and Dr. Norberto Lemcoff of The BOC Company.

In 1991, the New Jersey Section joined with SAMPE, the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Plastics Engineering, to establish “Minitech”, an annual one-day program where students could present papers on various topics, which would then be judged by a panel of judges from both industry and academia. Prizes, which are provided by local industry, would then be awarded to the top students in each category. In recent years, the two societies have been joined by the Society of Plastic Engineers (SPE) and the “Minitech” has continued to grow. For many years, the New Jersey Section has been represented by Frank Dittman in this endeavor.

In 1993, the New Jersey Section Newsletter was presented the Marx Isaacs Excellence Award for it’s innovative style and pertinent information. In an effort to further the Section’s support and interaction with the students in the surrounding universities, in 1997, the College Bowl was established under the guiding vision of Phil Messina. In this contest, teams of students from each of the areas chemical engineering programs would compete in answering questions relating to chemical engineering. The first such competition was won by students from Rutgers when they defeated teams from both Stevens and NJIT. Future competitions are planned and will include teams from the aforementioned schools and Princeton.

Present Day

At the present time, the overall section membership has decreased slightly from it’s peak in the 1970’s and 1980’s. This can be attributed to the reduction in manufacturing jobs in the region due to relocation and downsizing. There is still, however, a solid core of dedicated chemical engineering professionals remaining in the Section. Many of these have turned to non-traditional career paths with smaller less well known companies, while others have taken the initiative to utilize their experience and become independent consultants.

Since the original inception of the New Jersey Local Section in 1948, the North Jersey Section, the Central Jersey Section and the South Jersey Section have all been born and become separate sections. Our New Jersey Section to this day remains centrally located, primarily in Middlesex, Union, Somerset and Monmouth counties.

The most important function of the Section is two-fold. First is the interaction with the students and the guidance we can provide them in prepare for their eventual career in industry. Second and of equal importance, is the monthly dinner meetings. These usually consist of a good meal and a speaker on some topic of interest to section members. The dinner meetings provide an opportunity for members to meet and network, forming connections that can prove to of great value, while they learn about some new technology or initiative.

As we conclude this look into the past of the New Jersey Section, it is only proper to look to the future and the coming of the new millennium. As always the Section is in need of new volunteers to maintain the standard of programs and activities we have previously established. Help is needed in arranging and organizing dinner meetings, lectures and other programs. It’s a great way to get involved and meet your fellow chemical engineers.  See the Officers page for more information.