Vincent J. Schaefer Papers, 1891-1993
- Schaefer, Vincent J.
- The Vincent J. Schaefer Papers represent the professional accomplishments and personal interests of the scientist who discovered cloud seeding. Schaefer spent more than 20 years with General Electric in Schenectady, New York, working his way up from apprentice, to research assistant, to research associate. In those years he was mentored by Irving Langmuir, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. The work Schaefer did at General Electric laid the foundation for further success as he became director of research for the Munitalp Foundation, began a highly successful summer science program for high school students, acted as an independent consultant, and founded the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York at Albany. This collection contains research data, notes, correspondence, publications, and photographs that showcase Schaefer's long, industrious scientific career as well as highlighting his many hobbies in local history and environmentalism.
- 135 cubic ft.
- English and English
- Preferred citation:
- Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Vincent J. Schaefer Papers, 1891-1993. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as the Schaefer Papers).
Access and Use
- Conditions Governing Access:
Access to this record group is mainly unrestricted with the exception of fourteen folders in Series #5, the Natural Sciences Institute, and two folders in Series #6, the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center. Researchers with inquiries about this material should contact the head of archives.
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
- Scope and Content:
The Vincent J. Schaefer Papers span Schaefer’s young adult years all the way through his retirement after leaving the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the University of Albany. His professional papers also include General Electric, the Munitalp Foundation, the Loomis School, and independent consulting. Schaefer was particularly well known for his role as the scientist who discovered cloud seeding, a development that stemmed from work he did with precipitation and ice nuclei studies during World War II. Schaefer was also known for his studies of surface chemistry, solar energy, and aerosols, and was a driving force in the environmental movements of the 1960s through the 1980s. The collection includes documentation of all of these topics, not only by Schaefer but by colleagues with whom he worked closely.
Additionally, this collection contains files documenting Schaefer's myriad personal interests, many of which focus on outdoor activities and demonstrate his love of nature. Researchers will find that there is much crossover between Schaefer's professional pursuits and the activities he enjoyed in his spare time.
While there are many records in the collection such as research notes, letters, notebooks, and maps, Schaefer also donated many photographs and films of his work, particularly in the area of cloud seeding. While the bulk of the collection comprises his professional life, there are also many files demonstrating Schaefer’s interests in local history, archaeology, and geography.
For related materials, please see the following collections held by the ME Grenander Department of Special Collection and Archives: Atmospheric Sciences Research Center Records (UA-450), which includes many publications and articles issued by the ASRC, Duncan Blanchard Papers (UA-902.065), Raymond Falconer Papers (UA-902.014) and Bernard Vonnegut Papers (APAP-UA-902.068)
- Biographical / Historical:
Vincent J. Schaefer was born July 4, 1906, the oldest son of Peter Aloysius and Rose Agnes (Holtslag) Schaefer. Schaefer had two brothers, Paul and Carl, and two sisters, Gertrude and Margaret. The Schaefers lived in Schenectady, New York but enjoyed spending summers in the Adirondack Mountains. Schaefer had a lifelong association with the Adirondacks, as well as more general interests in hiking, natural history, and archeology. In his youth he was the founder of a local tribe of the Lone Scouts and with some of his friends wrote and printed a tribe paper called "Archeological Research." Schaefer credited this publication with his introduction to many prominent individuals in the Schenectady area, including Dr. Willis R. Whitney of the General Electric (G.E.) Research Laboratory.
In 1922 Schaefer found himself in the difficult position of having to leave school to supplement the family income. On the advice of his maternal uncles, Schaefer joined a four-year apprentice machinist course at G. E. During the second year of his apprenticeship, Schaefer was granted a one-month leave to accompany Dr. Arthur C. Parker, New York State Archeologist, on an expedition to central New York. As Schaefer was concluding the apprentice course in 1926 he was assigned to work at the machine shop of the G. E. Research Laboratory, where he worked for a year as a journeyman toolmaker.
Somewhat discouraged by his work in the machine shop, Schaefer sought to satisfy a desire to work outdoors and to travel by joining, initially through a correspondence course, the Davey Institute of Tree Surgery in Kent, Ohio, in 1927. After a brief period working in Michigan, Schaefer asked to be transferred back to the Schenectady area and for a while worked as an independent landscape gardener. Upon the advice of Robert Palmer, superintendent of the G.E. Research Laboratory, in 1929 Schaefer declined an opportunity to enter into a partnership for a plant nursery and instead rejoined the machine shop at the Research Laboratory, this time as a model maker.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s Schaefer built up his personal library on natural history, science, and his other areas of interest and read a great deal. He also organized groups with those who shared his many interests--the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club in 1929, the Van Epps-Hartley Chapter of the New York Archaeological Association in 1931, and the Schenectady Wintersport Club (which established snow trains to ski slopes in the Adirondacks) in 1932. In 1933 Schaefer began work on creating the Long Path of New York (a hiking trail beginning near New York City and ending at Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks). During this period Schaefer also created adult education programs on natural history topics which gave him opportunities to speak in the community. Through these many activities Schaefer continued to expand his acquaintances, including John Apperson, an engineer at General Electric and a devout conservationist of the Adirondacks. Apperson introduced Schaefer to Irving Langmuir, a scientist at the G.E. Research Laboratory who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1932 for his work in surface chemistry. Among other things, Langmuir shared Schaefer's love of skiing and the outdoors.
At the Research Laboratory machine shop, Schaefer built equipment for Langmuir and his research associate, Katharine Blodgett. In 1932 Langmuir asked Schaefer to become his research assistant, which Schaefer accepted. In 1933 he began his research work with Langmuir, Blodgett, Whitney, and others at the Research Lab and throughout the G.E. organization. With his new colleagues as well as by himself, Schaefer published many reports on the areas he studied, which included surface chemistry techniques, electron microscope techniques, polarization, the affinity of ice for various surfaces, protein and other monolayers, studies of protein films, television tube brightness, and submicroscopic particulates. After his promotion to research associate in 1938, Schaefer continued to work closely with Langmuir on the many projects Langmuir obtained through his involvement on national advisory committees, particularly related to military matters in the years immediately before and during the Second World War. This work included research on gas mask filtration of smokes, submarine detection with binaural sound, and the formation of artificial fogs using smoke generators-- a project which reached fruition at Vrooman's Nose in the Schoharie Valley with a demonstration for military observers.
During Schaefer’s years as Langmuir's assistant, Langmuir encouraged him to carry on his own research projects. In 1940 Schaefer became known in his own right for the development of a method to make replicas of individual snowflakes using a thin plastic coating called Formvar. This discovery brought him national publicity in popular magazines and an abundance of correspondence from individuals, including many students, seeking to replicate his procedure.
In 1943 the focus of Schaefer's and Langmuir's research shifted to precipitation static, aircraft icing, ice nuclei, and cloud physics. Many of their experiments were carried out at Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire, where conditions were ideal for ice studies. In the summer of 1946, Schaefer developed a laboratory method to seed supercooled clouds with dry ice, and in November 1946 he conducted a successful field test seeding a natural cloud by airplane. The resulting publicity again brought him an abundance of correspondence, this time from people and businesses making requests for snow as well as scientists around the world also working on weather modification. Schaefer's discovery also led to debates over the appropriateness of tampering with nature through cloud seeding. In addition, the successful field test enabled Langmuir to obtain federal funding to support additional research in cloud seeding and weather modification by the G.E. Research Laboratory. Schaefer was coordinator of the laboratory portion of the U.S. military-sponsored Project Cirrus while the Air Force, Army Signal Corps, and Navy supplied the aircraft and pilots to carry out field tests and to collect the data used at the Research Laboratory. Field tests were conducted in the Schenectady area as well as in Puerto Rico and New Mexico.
When the military pilots working on Project Cirrus were assigned to duties in connection with the Korean War, G.E. recommended that Project Cirrus be discontinued after comprehensive reports were prepared of the project and the discoveries made. The final Project Cirrus report was issued in March 1953. While Project Cirrus was winding down, Schaefer was approached by Vernon Crudge on behalf of the trustees of a foundation called Munitalp to work on their newly-developed meteorological research program. For a time, Schaefer worked for both the Research Laboratory and Munitalp, but in 1954 he left the Research Laboratory to become the director of research for Munitalp. There Schaefer worked with the U.S. Forest Service in the northern Rocky Mountains on Project Skyfire, a program to determine the uses of cloud seeding to affect the patterns of lightning in thunderstorms (and the resulting forest fires started by lightning stikes). Project Skyfire had its roots in an association between the Forest Service and Schaefer begun in the early days of Project Cirrus. Schaefer also worked on developing a mobile atmospheric research laboratory and time-lapse films of clouds. Schaefer left Munitalp in 1958, turning down an offer to move with the organization to Kenya, but he remained an advisor to Munitalp for several years thereafter.
After leaving Munitalp, Schaefer's career turned toward scientific education. His own educational background left him with a firm belief in the power of independent learning and the importance of hands-on, practical experience. He worked with the American Meteorological Society and National Science Foundation on an educational film program and to develop what eventually became the Natural Sciences Institute (NSI) summer programs. The Atmospheric Sciences Program, as it was first known, gave high school students the opportunity to work with scientists while also conducting their own field research and experimentation. From 1959 to 1961 Schaefer was director of these summer sessions at the Loomis School in Connecticut. From 1962 to 1968 he continued the program under the auspices of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC) at the State University of New York at Albany, where it became the NSI. During this period Schaefer also continued his consulting work for many companies, government agencies, and universities. These consulting activities spanned most of Schaefer's career and extended beyond his retirement from the ASRC in 1976.
While conducting the Atmospheric Sciences Program, Schaefer’s work attracted the attention of Dean Oscar Lanford and President Evan Collins of the New York State Teachers College. They extended an invitation for Schaefer to come teach, which ultimately led to his founding of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center in 1961. Schaefer himself became director in 1966, a position he held for ten years before giving control to Volker Mohnen. Schaefer brought highly qualified atmospheric science researchers to the ASRC, many of whom he had met through his work at G.E. and Munitalp. Bernard Vonnegut, Raymond Falconer and Duncan Blanchard were all veterans of Project Cirrus who joined Schaefer at the University at Albany. In addition to the NSI summer programs, Schaefer led annual research expeditions to Yellowstone National Park for scientists to conduct field work in the vicinity of Old Faithful. In the 1970s Schaefer's other research interests focused on solar energy, aerosols, gases, air quality, and pollution particles in the atmosphere. His work in some of these areas culminated in a three-part report on “Air Quality on the Global Scale” in 1978. In addition, during the 1970s, Schaefer was an instructor in the American Association for the Advancement of Science Chautauqua short courses for science teachers.
During his retirement, Schaefer worked with photographer John Day on A Field Guide to the Atmosphere (1981), a publication in the Peterson Field Guide series. In addition to continuing his consulting work, Schaefer was in a position to devote much more of his time to some of his life-long interests such as environmental issues and natural and local history. This included the writing of numerous articles and the delivering of many presentations concerning the natural environment of upstate New York and the human impact on it. He also devoted much of his time to the fight for the preservation of many wilderness areas and parks, such as the Mohonk Preserve, Vrooman's Nose, and the Great Flats Aquifer. Schaefer's long-term interest in Dutch barns made it possible for him to assume the editorship of Dutch Barn Miscellany for a time and to build a scale model of a Dutch barn. He also did a lot of research on the original settler families of the Schenectady and Mohawk Valley areas. During his retirement, Schaefer reflected on his extraordinary life, preparing timelines, an unpublished autobiography, and indices to some of his research notebooks and film collections. Schaefer also attended to the disposition of his papers and library. He worked on a project he entitled "Ancient Windows of the Earth," which involved the slicing of rocks thinly so as to create a translucent look. When he mounted such pieces on lampshades or other objects, it created a stained-glass window effect from the natural rock layers, highlighting the rock's geologic history. As part of this project, Schaefer designed and built a window in memory of his parents for the Saint James Church in North Creek in the Adirondacks.
Schaefer married Lois Perret on July 27, 1935. Until their deaths they lived on Schermerhorn Road in Schenectady, in a house Schaefer built with his brothers, which they called Woestyne South. Woestyne North was the name the Schaefers gave to their camp in the Adirondacks. The Schaefers had three children, Susan, Katherine, and James. Vincent Schaefer passed away July 25, 1993 at the age of 87.
- Acquisition information:
All items in the Vincent J. Schaefer Papers were donated by Vincent Schaefer or his heirs to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, between 1979 and 1993.
- Processing information:
Processed in 2011 by Kerry Lynch.
- Schenectady, New York
Conservation and the Environment
Athletics and Sports
Hurricane King-- 1947
Aerosols-- adverse effects
Glass plate negatives
UAlbany Faculty & Alumni Papers
- Schaefer, Vincent J.
Langmuir, Irving, 1881-1957
Whitney, Willis Rodney, 1868-1958
Suits, C. Guy, (Chauncey Guy), 1905-1991
Schaefer, Lois (Perret)
Blanchard, Duncan C.
General Electric Company
Boeing Engineering and Construction Company
Bechtel Power Corporation
Pacific Gas & Electric Company
Arthur D. Little, Inc.
United States. Department of the Interior.
State University of New York. Atmospheric Sciences Research Center
Knolls Research Laboratory
Advance Cooler Manufacturing Corporation
U.S. Army Signal Corp of Engineers
Houghton, Mifflin and Company
- Schenectady (N.Y.)
Mount Greylock (Mass.)
Mount Washington (N.H.)
Mount Washington Observatory
Yellowstone National Park