Indiana ornithologist Amos W. Butler was frustrated by unsuccessful efforts to obtain information from other scientists in the state, the lack of association with other persons involved in scientific pursuits, and the lack of opportunity to see scientific books. He was able to interest other people in organizing the Brookville Society of Natural History of 1881, which was the forerunner of the Indiana Academy of Science.
During the winters of 1883 and 1884, Dr. Butler corresponded with noted scientists of Indiana concerning the organization of a state society. The American Association for the Advancement of Science also discussed the matter in 1884. The Brookville Society of Natural History was asked to take the initiative in forming an Indiana state society. Much of the organizational work was done in the town hall at Brookville, Indiana, which would be called the "birthplace" of the Indiana Academy of Science. The first meeting of the society was held December 29, 1885 in the Marion County Courthouse, Indianapolis. Approximately 40 people attended the meeting. The society was formally organized, and a constitution and by-laws were adopted.
The men who organized the Indiana Academy of Science were of high professional stature, which insured that the organization would be respected. It has continued to be an association with many outstanding members many of whom are known internationally. Many memorial halls around the state are dedicated to members of the Academy.
Some of the early members had a great impact on the improving the quality of life in Indiana. Among their accomplishments were:
- Helped establish health care
- Improving disease control
- Initiate the reportingof vital statistics
- Exposing problems in food processing which led to establishment of pure food laws
- Helping develop better foods through horticultural improvements
- Developing innovative microscopic and laboratory techniques
- Investigating state natural resources and their uses, and
- Contributing to the knowledge of teaching skills.
The society was incorporated December 21, 1887, with certification of filing of the Articles of Association with the Secretary of State of Indiana. Twenty-eight signers of the first constitution also signed the Articles of Association.
The Academy was decided to host annual meetings in the fall or winter at a meeting place located centrally in Indiana. The first committees to be appointed reflect some of the early interests of Academy members: Biological Survey, Cooperation of educational Soceities, Plan for Publication, State Library, Incorporation, Legislation for Destruction and Restriction of Weeds, Legislation for Protection of Native Birds, Dividing the Academy into Sections, Preservation of Aboriginal Earthworks near Anderson, and Relations of the Academy to State. The first paper sessions included papers from various fields of study and were presented in general sessions.
The first volume of the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, published in 1892, covered the 1885 to 1891 activities. This volume and the 1893 and 1894 volumes were financed by individual and business contributions and printed in Terre Haute. A plan to seek state aid for publication was launched in 1890 and was approved in March of 1895.
Associated with the desire for a publication by members of the Academy, was the need to obtain access to and provide for dissemination of scientific publications. The Academy originally provided for a librarian in its first constitution of December 29, 1885. In 1898 a tentative agreement between the Academy and the Indiana State Library gave custody of Academy materials to the State Library although they remained Academy property. As a member of the Academy Library Committee, John S. Wright played a prominent part in making the arrangement and providing financial help. Later, in 1899, the Academy acquired the library of the Brookville Society of Natural History and investigated having the entire collection cataloged by the State Library. An initial Academy/State Library agreement was further revised in 1905 and 1907. The 1907 agreement remains in effect today. Essentially, the current agreement provides that in return for housing and maintaining the Academy collection, the State Library will have use of the material. Also, the agreement stipulates that the State Library will use exchange copies of Academy publications to build the Academy's collection, and that the State Library will pay for non-member distribution of Proceedings.