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History of Phi Tau Sigma - The Beginning

Updated: Apr 23

(Contributed by William Powrie, Ph.D., Phi Tau Sigma Founding Member and Lifetime Member; Emeritus Professor, University of British Columbia)

Location; inquiring, mature Ph.D. graduate students; events and a young Assistant Professor were the elements for the creation of Phi Tau Sigma. As to the location, Amherst, Massachusetts, was a small town in 1951-1953 with an ice cream parlor, a movie theater and several bars for entertainment. With this limitation, many evenings of graduate students were spent carrying out research and socializing in the seminar room of the Department of Food Technology. Accommodations for graduate students were located about 10 to 15 minutes from the Department and thus the students would have no difficulty meeting in the evening.

About 12 students were enrolled in the Ph.D. food technology program. Many of these students were married, some were veterans and some had industrial experience. Obviously these students were mature, were focused on gaining scientific and technological knowledge and had an eye on what was needed to succeed in acquiring a challenging position after graduation.

As an unmarried 25-year old student with a Master's in Food Chemistry at the University of Toronto, I enrolled at the University of Massachusetts in 1951 to broaden my knowledge and expertise in food technology. During my first year of study, I found that the food technology courses had an excellent balance between the practical unit operations and the underlying scientific principles. In my second year, 1952, I wondered if anything was missing in our educational pursuit of pertinent knowledge. It came to mind that an extracurricular Evening Discussion Group might be formed with graduate students for the purpose of exploring new frontiers in food science and technology. Also, this forum could provide for communication and exchange of ideas with guest lecturers, faculty members and students. I talked to Milt Baldauf and Enio Feliciotti, Ph.D. student friends, about the value of such a Group. They agreed enthusiastically that we should start the Evening Discussion Group. The next step was to obtain an endorsement from a faculty member. The three of us selected Dr. Guy Livingston, a young Assistant Professor, who agreed with the idea and offered his support. On top of this, Dr. Carl Fellers, Head of Department of Food Technology, considered such a forum as having educational value and approved the use of the seminar room for the evening meetings.

The next step was to select a pioneer food scientist or technologist as our first speaker. While perusing Food Technology, I noticed an article on "Flavor Profile" by Dr. Lorne Sjostrom at Arthur D. Little in Boston. With descriptive sensory analytic techniques becoming important in the food industry, we invited Lorne, as a pioneer in sensory analysis, to present an evening lecture. He readily accepted our invitation. The first meeting of the Evening Discussion Group was an overwhelming success with enthusiastic graduate and undergraduate students, faculty members and guests having plenty of questions.

After the second successful Group meeting with Samuel A. Goldblith, Ph.D. of MIT as the guest lecturer, Dr. Livingston approached the three of us with a proposal to formalize the Group as an Honor Society for Food Science and Technology. We agreed with the idea of an Honor Society and met together in 1953 with the other Group supporters, namely Bob Decareau, Maynard Steinberg and Don Westcott, to create an official Massachusetts Charter for the Society with the seven of us as Charter members. The Society name was to be Phi (f for food), Tau (t for technology) and Sigma (s for science). The first officers of the Society in 1953 were Dr. Gideon Livingston, President, William Powrie, Vice-President and

Donald Westcott, Secretary (the latter two being graduate students). The first Chapter to be formed was at the University of Massachusetts in 1953 with Dr. Irving S. Fagerson as President.

Dr. Guy Livingston was the prime writer of the Phi Tau Sigma Constitution and By-Laws with input from the founding members. He was familiar with honor societies related to disciplines. M.P. Baudauf and E. Feliciotti along with myself organized the first meeting of the Evening Discussion Group and the other founding members helped with the organization of the subsequent meetings.

When Guy suggested that the Evening Discussion Group become an honor society, the six graduate students met with Guy frequently to assess the virtues and value of an honor society to future members. We developed major objectives of a Food Science and Technology Honor Society. With the unanimous vote to create an Honor Society by the founding members, an application for a Charter and incorporation was submitted to the State of Massachusetts. Phi Tau Sigma remains incorporated, with the Internal Revenue Service, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a non-profit organization. The founding members of the Society were to become Charter Members.

The graduate student founders and Guy decided that the bestowing of Honorary Charter Memberships to renowned food scientists and technologists would provide prestige to the Society and help in the growth of a respected Honor Society. The founders selected Dr. Carl Fellers, Dr. L. Burton, Dr. E. Crocker, and Dean Samuel Prescott as recipients. All of these individuals met and exceeded the criteria for membership in Phi Tau Sigma, but it was felt that although they were not Charter Members, they should be. Dr. Guy Livingston presented the certificates of the Honorary Charter Memberships to the recipients at a group meeting.

“Professor Gideon E. Livingston, Phi Tau Sigma president, bestows certificates on honorary charter membership in the recently founded honorary food science society, on Dr. Laurence V. Burton, Prof. Carl R. Fellers, and Dr. Ernest C. Crocker. Prof. Ernest Lockhart (extreme right) accepted as proxy the certificate awarded Dean Samuel C. Prescott, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was unable to attend.”

After the first Phi Tau Sigma Chapter was formed at the University of Massachusetts (1953), word spread and the next Chapters were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1955) and Rutgers University (1955).

With close ties between the Department of Food Technology, MIT, and the Department of Food Technology, University of Massachusetts, it was logical that the next Chapter should be at MIT. Dr. Samuel Prescott, Dean of Science, MIT, was invited to form a MIT Chapter of Phi Tau Sigma. Dr. E. Lockart, Professor of Food Technology, MIT, became the President in 1955. Dr. W.A. Mclinn, with a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts and Head of the Food Science Department at Rutgers University, was invited to form a Phi Tau Sigma Chapter. Dr. Mclinn became the President in 1955 of the Rutgers University Chapter.


Receiving charters of their respective chapters from Prof. G.E. Livingston, Phi Tau Sigma president, are Dean S.C. Prescott of M.I.T., Prof. C. R. Fellers of the University of Massachusetts, and Prof. W. A. Maclinn of Rutgers University. Standing at left is Prof. F.J. Francis, executive secretary.”

In the following years, Ph.D. graduates in Food Technology at the University of Massachusetts were instrumental in forming Chapters in various universities in the USA. For example, Dr. J.J. Powers formed the University of Georgia Chapter in 1956, Dr. E. Nebesky formed the Cornell University Chapter in 1957, and Dr. I.J. Pflug formed the Michigan State University Chapter in 1957. Pioneer food scientists and technologists, such as Dr. E.M. Mrak and Dr. K.G. Weckel were helpful in organizing some of the early Chapters (e.g. University of California, Davis, 1960, and University of Wisconsin, 1956, respectively).

Photos and captions from:

Powers, John J., 2005. Section 1. Dr. Carl R. Fellers by John J. Powers, Ph.D. in “Pioneers of Food Science – Volume 2” Food & Nutrition Press, Inc., Trumball, CT.

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