Twenty-Five Years Ago in Washington

As we prepare for yet another ACS national meeting in Washington, DC, I thought it might be amusing to look back at the fall 1992 meeting, also in Washington, DC. The very first of my ACS meeting reports was based on that meeting. (The 49th report in the series is now being advertised at Back in those days the report was distributed to only a small number of trusted readers and I was able to employ a much more gossipy style than the more objective one I currently use. Since so many years have passed, I feel able to repeat some of the gossip verbatim, but first some fact and figures:

Attendance was about 11,000, plus 1,500 exhibitor registrants. There were about 400 booths at the exhibition, representing about 220 companies. CINF presented a program of 35 talks (compared with 147 planned for the fall 2017 meeting); COMP had 59 (compared with over 400 in 2017). The Herman Skolnik Award was presented to Jacques-Emile Dubois, and the reception was held “in France” at La Maison Française de Washington (part of the French embassy). Apart from the Award symposium (on topological information in molecular modeling), there were sessions on genome information, the use of hypermedia, biotechnology patent information, and information for the bottom line.

In the exhibition, Fein-Marquart’s Kekulé software was demonstrated. My report says: “Kekulé takes a scanned chemical structure as input and makes a connection table from it. A structure is displayed from the connection table, and superimposed on the scanned version, so that it is easy to make any minor corrections using the molecule editor.”

The InfoChem reaction databases, ChemReact, ChemSynth, and ChemSelect were being shown in the Springer-Verlag booth. ChemReact and ChemSynth were REACCS-compatible; ChemSelect could be searched on a PC using MDL’s ChemBase software. MDL was still “Molecular Design Limited” and still had the lovely “M” logo. Who remembers the advert: “To ordinary draw programs it could be a caterpillar. Only ISIS/Draw knows it’s Friedelin”? I think I still have the T-shirt. In fall 1992 MDL was also demonstrating polymer solutions in MACCS-II. The company had a year of uncertainty after the death of Robert Maxwell in November 1991. In my report on the fall 1992 ACS meeting I noted that something like 60% of Maxwell Online staff had now left or been “let go”.

CAS had a large advert in the Chemical Information Bulletin proclaiming “Move into the 21st century: use CASREACT on STN”. In fall 2017 no doubt SciFindern will be the 21st century wonder. Databases on CD ROM were all the rage in 1992. There were even requests for CA on CD-ROM, as the 12th Collective Index on CD-ROM was about to be released. Beilstein’s Current Facts in Chemistry on CD-ROM was being touted. Do you remember the Lawson Number? Springer New Media was advertising “Draw a structure, AutoNom names it, within seconds”. Molecular Solutions Inc. were selling a rather useful book called the Computational Chemistry Yellow Pages.

More product news verbatim from my report: “At the last ACS meeting, AUTODESK could not do ‘lectures’ in their booth because they were told that microphones are banned. Piped music is, however, not banned, so this time they blasted ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ to all and sundry”. AUTODESK were promoting HyperChem in a big way.

Last but not least, I must mention the open meeting of the Society Committee on CAS (SOCAS). This always used to form the last item of the CINF technical program on the Monday afternoon, and it was always very well attended. For the fall 1992 event I reported:

“This time it was characterized by a great deal of smugness and back-slapping on the part of those on the platform: Joe Dixon, Larry Thompson (Chairman of the Committee), Clayton Callis (until recently, Acting Director of CAS) and Bob Massie (the new Director of CAS). Joe Dixon started by introducing Bob Massie, mentioning that the search process for the new Director had been long and thorough and denying the rumors (in Monitor) that three people had turned the job down. Massie’s background was outlined (linguist, lawyer, marketing manager, and ex-CEO of Gale Research). Bob Massie replied to the accolade but said that Clayton Callis would do a more substantive report on this occasion since he (Massie) had only been in office for five weeks […] Larry Thompson said that he (Larry) was now about to retire from the committee after a three-year term. He reckons that communications between CAS and CINF have improved during his term of office and a ‘kinder and gentler’, less adversarial regime has begun […]

And at last Stu Kaback (Exxon) rose to his feet. He had not intended to speak, he claimed. Larry Thompson congratulated him on waiting all of 26 minutes. It was, said Stu, eight years since the fall 1984 meeting where the attendees erupted in front of Dale Baker, and Seals and Dunn promised that as soon as STN was strong enough the data would be licensed to other hosts. ACS members are now paying over the odds to strengthen STN. It saddens him that no one has found a way around the lawsuit from which only the attorneys benefit. [Cries of ‘hear, hear’ and much applause.] Arleen Somerville then cooled things down by waffling about her useful communications with CAS, and Larry Thompson announced that the hour was up.”

And with that, my article also concludes. I hope to continue my history theme when the spring 2018 national meeting approaches. I expect I can find some gems in my report on the spring 1993 meeting in Denver.

Wendy Warr
July 2017