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A 40-Year Perspective
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A Forty-year Perspective of the International Planetarium Society

 Dave Weinrich

By Dave Weinrich , President, IPS

Minnesota State University-Moorhead

(From Proceedings of the 47th Annual GLPA Conference in Champaign, IL Oct 19-22, 2011)


Forty-one years ago, over 300 North American planetarians gathered at the Abrams Planetarium in East Lansing, Michigan for the Conference of American Planetarium Educators. That conference led to the formation of the International Society of Planetarium Educators, which was shortly renamed the International Planetarium Society. As we approach the 40th anniversary of the first ISPE conference, this paper will give a brief perspective of the beginning of the society and its subsequent history.

"History is essential to our understanding of the present. Unless we are conscious of the way in which we came to this point in time as a people, then we shall never fully be able to plan the present and the future.”—365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao



A few months ago, I received an invitation to deliver the opening address at the upcoming conference of the Association of Brazilian Planetariums. I considered several different topics and rejected them. As I ruminated, I realized that personally, I started working at a college planetarium in August of 1970, at about the same time that the International Planetarium Society (IPS) was forming.

I decided to give a brief history of planetariums, mainly focusing on the last 40 years during which I have been involved in the profession. I planed to give a personal perspective and perhaps, at the end, speculate about the future of our profession.

When it came time to plan a talk for our GLPA conference this year, it was natural to consider the same topic, since I was already thinking and researching it.

I discovered that the organizational meeting for the International Society of Planetarium Educators (ISPE), later renamed IPS, took place right in the GLPA region. Three hundred planetarians met at the Abrams Planetarium in East Lansing, Michigan for the Conference of American Planetarium Educators (CAPE). The dates, October 21-23, 1970, corresponded to the traditional time for a GLPA conference, but that year GLPA met with members of other regional affiliates from the U.S. and Canada.

Once I decided on my topic, it was time to do some research. The book Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930-1970 by Jordan D. Marché II was a valuable resource.

The CAPE meeting was not the first major meeting of North American planetarians. That event, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), occurred at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1958. According to Marché’s book, 101 delegates from 67 facilities attended the meeting.1

The proceedings were published under the title Planetaria and Their Use for Education. The possibility of forming a national planetarium association was discussed and a committee was set up to study the topic.

Two years later the NSF sponsored a meeting at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Interestingly, their proceedings were published titled Planetariums and Their Use for Education, Volume 2. The meeting voted to initiate a national planetarium association called the American Association of Planetarium Operators (AAPO).2

After the Cleveland meeting, the AAPO ceased to exist.

In a 2006 GLPA paper, IPS historian John Hare wrote the following comment regarding the proceedings published as a result of these two meeting:

"We can see, when one delves into the records from the past, that many of the same arguments and issues are for the most part as relevant today as they were upwards to a half-century ago. … There are many pearls of wisdom that exist in the records of our profession regardless of their vintage.”3

The next major planetarium meeting was CAPE. In the meantime, six regional associations had formed in the U.S.: GLPA, MAPS, SWAP, PPA, RMPA, and SEPA along with PAC in Canada.

Some still saw the need for a broader group of planetarium professionals that could coordinate some of the activities and publications of the regionals. One of those people was Von Del Chamberlain, who was also one of the founders of GLPA.

I interviewed several planetarians who were at the meeting and asked John Hare for the IPS archives related to the CAPE meeting. The day they arrived was a busy day for me and I didn’t have the opportunity to delve into them immediately. Holding that FedEx box in my hands, before I had even opened it, was awesome. Here I was, holding documents from the very earliest years of the IPS!

It is important not to forget those early years and the origins of the organization. The same can be said of GLPA. Our organization truly does exist due to the labors of many people over the past 46 years.

I was not disappointed when I opened the box and held the actual brochure that advertised the CAPE meeting. It was a simple tri-fold brochure made of yellow paper with black print. Inside the brochure were listed some of the opportunities that the conference would present. They were:

  • Attend three days of activities specifically designed to augment your functions as a planetarium educator.
  • Meet and exchange ideas with colleagues throughout North America.
  • Hear prominent speakers presenting topics of special interest to the planetarium community.
  • See the products of manufacturers of planetarium-related equipment.
  • Participate in decisions important to the future of planetarium teaching.
  • Should a North American association of planetarium educators be organized?
  • Should a North American planetarium journal be published?

I browsed through the 16-page program for the conference and found many of the same topics that are discussed at our conferences today. The folder that held some of the archives had a picture of the Michigan State University campus and inside were old, faded Xerox copies, and mimeographed sheets with their wonderful blue color that I remember so fondly from my elementary school days.

There were postcards and a complete list of attendees at the meeting. Some of them are still in the profession and attend conferences. Most of them have retired or passed away, having left their mark on the planetarium field.

As I looked through the list, I was surprised to see the name of my college mentor, Emil C. Miller, the director of the planetarium at Luther College. I hadn’t even known that he had attended the CAPE meeting during the first semester of my freshman year.

The CAPE participants unanimously decided to organize a North American planetarium association and to publish a journal. A constitutional committee with participants from each of the seven existing regional affiliates was formed to write the by-laws of the newly-formed society. This task was completed in March 1971 and the by-laws were approved within a few months by a majority of the regionals.

Depending on how you look at it, one could say that IPS started in 1970 with the vote to organize an association of planetarium professionals, or that it started in 1971 when the by-laws were written and ratified.

Reading through the documents in the CAPE archives and the early issues of the Planetarian, the early leaders of the IPS seemed to favor, in my opinion, the latter viewpoint. If that is the case, 2011 is the 40th anniversary of IPS.

Another committee worked to start the journal and the first issue of the Planetarian was published on June 21, 1972.

There was a vision in the early years of the ISPE that it would eventually reach out to other continents. In 1973, Thomas Gates wrote:

"The planetariums of other continents will become part of our organization, and the exchange of approach and utilization of our medium will indeed become more diverse. We must be ready to serve as an effective organization for all planetariums throughout the world."4

Over the past 40 years the IPS has truly become an international organization. The Mexican affiliate was added in 1984. In 1990 the first conference outside of North America took place in Sweden. Over the years many other affiliates have been added, including China this past summer.

For those of you who would like to read more about the early history of planetariums and the IPS, I would heartily recommend Marché’s book, the details of which are listed below.

Special thanks to Jeanne Bishop, Dave DeBruyn, John Hare, Jim Hooks, and Eileen Starr.


1 Marché II, Jordan. Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930-1970. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005, p. 153.

2 Ibid, p.155.

3 Hare, John. Two Planetarium Conferences Prior to the Founding of GLPA, Proc. 42nd Great Lakes Planetarium Assn. Annual Conference, 44-53. (2006).

4 New Officers for ISPE, Planetarian, 3, March 1973, p.11

Ron Parr, Jerry Balch, John Hare, Bob AllenA message from Paul Engle


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