STLE honors its 75th birthday with a year of celebration

David K. Scheetz | TLT Industry March 2019

We begin with a salute to our founding fathers—a group of people who embody the spirit of volunteerism.

Using principles first articulated in 1944, STLE members have helped equipment managers run their machinery safely, efficiently and with minimum downtime for more than seven decades.
© Can Stock Photo / michaeljung

STLE celebrates its 75th anniversary this month. The American Society of Lubrication Engineers (ASLE), the organization that four decades later would be renamed STLE, was chartered March 3, 1944, in Chicago with fewer than 100 members. 

To honor STLE’s diamond birthday, the board in late 2018 appointed a team of volunteers to plan a series of commemorative activities. The celebration starts with this issue of TLT and continues through the next year and a half, including events at both the 2019 (Nashville) and 2020 (Chicago) annual meetings. All STLE individual and corporate members will have an opportunity to get involved with the anniversary celebrations and, in some cases, even sponsor key events.

While researching STLE’s history, I couldn’t help but notice that the element that makes STLE great today was evident in full force when our organization was chartered in 1944—the volunteer spirit. It was a small group of volunteers (and, I think we can assume, competitors) who worked together to create an organization under the direst of circumstances.

It’s easy to forget these many years later, but STLE was born at the height of World War II. Our founding fathers initially gathered at a series of informal meetings in 1942 at the Union League Club of Chicago where one of the members was a lubricant executive named Walter D. Hodson. The society’s bylaws reportedly were drafted the night bombings launched on Berlin. Three months after the society was chartered, Allied forces invaded Normandy. 

The organizational skills of Hodson and the other founders were so high that our society essentially sprang to life fully formed and in adult shape. It took years for our programs and activities to get up to full speed, of course, but the society’s basic concept and structure—local sections, awards, education, membership, governance, technical and administrative committees, publications—all were put into place more than 70 years ago. The only critical STLE program missing was certification, which the society wouldn’t get to until the early 1990s. 

When they established the society’s charter, STLE’s founding fathers made accumulating and disseminating lubrication-related research a key priority.
© Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean

In addition to their organizational skills, you have to admire the vision of Hodson and the other lubrication execs. They organized their new society around five key objectives. Note how relevant these 75-year-old founding principles are to everything STLE does today:

1.) To advance the knowledge and application of lubrication science. 
2.) To study and develop theories, practices and techniques related to lubrication.
3.) To accumulate and disseminate lubrication-related research.
4.) To increase best practices related to lubrication. 
5.) To increase recognition of the importance of applied lubrication science. 

More than 1,500 lubrication professionals will attend STLE’s 75th Anniversary annual meeting in Chicago in May 2020. The society’s first meeting, also in Chicago, attracted 379 attendees in 1946.

You’ll hear more about STLE’s 75th anniversary during the next 15 months as events unspool. To get things started, I’d like to share some interesting facts about STLE’s birth and history that I found in the course of my research. 

ASLE’s first president was C.E. Pritchard, who served from 1944-1946. Walter Hodson, the Union League Club member who spearheaded the initial meetings and is often referred to as the father of STLE, never served as its president. He was, however, the first recipient of the National Award, the society’s highest technical honor. 
The first seven local sections were created in 1945. In order of their charters, they were Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia. 
The first ASLE annual meeting was held in Chicago in 1946 and attracted 379 attendees. Ten years later in the same city, the meeting would draw more than 1,400 lubrication professionals. 
Although it abandoned the structure when becoming more international, STLE’s board originally included regional vice presidents who reported on seven North American sections: Atlantic, Central, Midwest, Northeast, South, West and Canada. 
Lubrication Engineering launched in 1945 as a quarterly journal featuring “applied-type papers and articles.” ASLE Transactions followed in 1958 as a quarterly journal dedicated to publishing papers delivered at the society’s annual meeting. ASLE Transactions changed its name to Tribology Transactions in 1988, and Lubrication Engineering was replaced by TLT in 2003. 
ASLE officially began honoring its technical people and volunteers in 1948 with an awards program so well-conceived that it remains largely intact. Most of the key awards we bestow today—the International Award, the P.M. Ku Award, the Capt. Alfred E. Hunt Memorial Award, the Wilbur Deutsch Memorial Award, the Al Sonntag Award, the Edmond E. Bisson Award and the Walter D. Hodson Award—were created 71 years ago. 
The formal name change to the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers occurred in 1987 to recognize the organization’s international scope and increased focus on tribology research.

The work STLE members perform benefits the world every second of the day. 
© Can Stock Photo / aremac

It’s amazing to think of what STLE has accomplished these past 75 years—the careers it has supported, the companies it has strengthened and the impact our volunteers continue to have on the world every second of the day. STLE’s focus on the future is what has propelled us through these many years and keeps us relevant decade after decade. 

Chartered in 1945, STLE Chicago was the society's first local section. The group was named STLE Outstanding Large Section in 2018.

Anniversaries, however, are a good time for organizations to look back, and in this case we can reflect on the ingenuity and commitment made by a handful of dedicated volunteers 75 years ago. Then, like today, our organization was led by groups of individuals with vision, enthusiasm and a willingness to give of themselves for the betterment of all. 

Thank you, STLE founding fathers! And a happy 75th STLE anniversary to everyone. 

STLE 75th Anniversary Team

David K. Scheetz (chair)
ExxonMobil Lubricants and Specialties

Robert Baker
King Industries

Lynn Billings
Petro-Canada Lubricants Inc.

Robert Bruce
GE Aircraft Engines

Pat Brutto
Faith-Full MWF Consulting

Rob Heverly
Vanderbilt Chemicals

Maureen Hunter
King Industries

Patrick Kilbane
ALS Tribology

Piet Lugt
SKF Research and Technology Development

Ashlie Martini
University of California-Merced

Jack McKenna
Sea-Land Chemical Co.

Ken Pelczarski
Pelichem Associates

Wayne Ward
U.S. Air Force
Dave Scheetz retired in 2017 after nearly 40 years as an engineer in the lubricants industry, most recently with ExxonMobil Lubricants and Specialties. He was STLE’s 2009-2010 president and is a recipient of the society’s P.M. Ku Award for volunteerism.