Not far from the campus of Caltech, lights blazed from the windows of the home of Henry E. Huntington, retired railroad magnate and art collector. Conversation that night of March 9, 1926, centered on the first formal meeting of the new organization assembled there, the Associates of the California Institute of Technology.
One hundred of southern California's most influential men and women banded together to "aid and advance the welfare of the California Institute of Technology." Caltech, which the Associates had pledged to support, was emerging as a scientific world leader. Its commitment was to educate a small number of students in an atmosphere of research conducted by scientists of the highest distinction.
Caltech, in the mid-1920s, was housed in five modern buildings, part of a master plan by one of the nation's foremost architects, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. The orange groves, symbol of the early campus, were fast disappearing as new structures were built. The growing physical plant and increasing research commitments were of constant concern to Robert Andrews Millikan, director of physical research, chairman of the executive council, and Caltech's first Nobel laureate. The stage was set for the founding of the Associates.
Millikan, with the help of trustee Henry Robinson, decided to "find a hundred men in southern California who would be both able and eager to annually invest $1,000 for a period of ten years". Trustees Allan Balch, Henry O'Melveny, Norman Bridge, Harry Chandler, and Henry Robinson pledged to promote the idea of the Associates of the California Institute of Technology. When the goal of "one hundred members" was reached, Henry Huntington extended the gracious invitation to hold the first formal meeting in his home.
Later, Millikan said that "there is no date in the history of the California Institute of Technology more significant than March 9, 1926, the first meeting of the California Institute Associates. This event signalized the recognition by a large and exceedingly influential body of southern California citizens of the importance of the service which the Institute was rendering."
90 years later, members of the Associates still continue to provide valuable, unrestricted funds for early stages of innovative research projects—the hallmark of the Institute. Their continued support allows Caltech to explore new frontiers and to push the boundaries of knowledge.
Information taken from The Associates of the California Institute of Technology: Patrons of the Century's Science, by Alice Stone.