Not far from the Caltech campus, lights blazed from the windows of the home of Henry E. Huntington, retired railroad magnate and art collector. That night of March 9, 1926, marked the first formal meeting of a new organization: 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 was emerging as a scientific world leader, with a commitment to educate a small number of students in an atmosphere of research conducted by scientists of the highest distinction.
A Period of Expansion
At the time, Caltech comprised five 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.
The First Hundred
Millikan, with the help of trustee Henry Robinson, decided to find a hundred founding members 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 Associates membership met the initial goal of 100 members, 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."
Proud Past, Exciting Future
Nearly a century later, members of the Associates continue to provide the type of valuable unrestricted support that fuels the early stages of innovative research projects, a hallmark of the Institute. Their continued support allows Caltech to explore new frontiers and to push the boundaries of knowledge.