Waldemar Kaempffert

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Waldemar Kaempffert (September 27, 1877 - November 27, 1956) was a US science writer and museum director.

Waldemar (Bernhard) Kaempffert was born and raised in New York City. He received his B.S. from the City College of New York in 1897. Thereafter he was employed by Scientific American, first as a translator (1897–1900), then as managing editor (1900–1916). He also wrote articles about science for other publications during this time, including three articles for Harper's, beginning in 1908. In 1916, he started working as the editor of Popular Science Monthly. On January 7, 1911, he married Carolyn Lydia Yeaton, who died in 1933.

In 1922, he began writing essays about science for the New York Times, where he was named Editor of Science and Engineering in 1927. He would continue to hold this position till 1953. During the 1920s, he also wrote free-lance magazine articles. in a June 1924 essay for Forum magazine, "The Social Destiny of Radio," he addressed a non-technical audience, discussing where radio had been and how it was changing American life.

In 1928, following a nationwide search for a director, the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago asked Kaempffert to become its first director. He enthusiastically devoted himself to the work of laying out the history of the sciences and of the industries. He encouraged his curators and exhibit designers to base their exhibits on careful research in order to be as objectively true as possible. This devotion to objectivity, however, led to disputes with the board of directors, especially around the appointment of George Ranney, who was also a director of International Harvester. This appointment created an apparent conflict of interest in the museum, as International Harvester was contributing to an exhibit on farm tractors that claimed that an IH predecessor company was responsible for the invention of the tractor. Research by both Kaempffert and his staff showed otherwise, but he could not antagonize donors to the museum nor his board of directors.

The board also found issue with Kaempffert's cost accounting. The board, all business executives, kept careful track of every dollar spent. Kaempffert, however, was more lax in his accounting. No wrongdoing was alleged, but the board wanted greater oversight. To achieve that, the board created a new layer of management, "assistant directors," who reported not only to Kaempffert but also directly to the Board. It was the usurpation of Kaempffert's authority that led him to ask, in January 1931, the New York Times if he could have his old job back. The Times agreed. He remained with the Times until his retirement in 1956. He was succeeded as science editor by William L. Laurence.

Kaempffert was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, History of Science Society, National Association of Science Writers (serving as the president in 1937), and the Newcomen Society.

His obituary in the New York Times said his death, on November 27, 1956, was the result of a stroke. He was 79, and had still been working as a writer till not long before he died.

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

  • "The A.B.C. of radio: The underlying principles of wireless telephony in simple language" 1922 by Waldemar Kaempffert
  • Cattel, Jaques (ed.) "Kaempffert, Waldemar Bernhard" American Men of Science: A Biographical Directory, 9th ed., vol. 1, Physical Sciences. Lancaster, PA: The Science Press, 1955.
  • Kaempffert, Waldemar. "The Social Destiny of Radio" Forum, vol. 71, #6, pp. 764–769.
  • "Waldemar Kaempffert Dies: Science Editor of The Times, 79" New York Times, November 28, 1956, p. 35.
  • Pridmore, Jay. Inventive Genius: The History of the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago. Chicago: Museum of Science and Industry, 1996, pp. 26–48. For information on Kaempffert's tenure with the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago.