The California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) established a course of study in meteorology in 1933. It was intimately tied to the upsurge of activity in commercial and military aviation that occurred in the period between the world wars. The tragic crash of the airship U.S.S. Akron provided the stimulus for including meteorology as a subprogram in the aeronautics department at Cal Tech. Theodore von Kármán, head of the department and director of the school's Guggenheim Aeronautics Laboratory, masterminded the design of the program and geared it toward the solution of practical problems using the principles of dynamic meteorology. One of his doctoral students, Irving Krick, was groomed to develop the program.

Robert Millikan, head of the institute, fostered an approach to science that encouraged the faculty to consult and work with industry. In this environment, Krick established links with aviation, motion picture studios, and public utilities that would set the stage for the research thrust in meteorology. The program was primarily designed for training at the master's degree level, and a significant number of the graduates became entrepreneurs in meteorology. Based on letters of reminiscence and oral histories from some of these consulting meteorologists, it has been concluded that the Millikan/von Karman philosophy of science played an important part in directing the meteorologists into the private sector.

Following World War II, Lee DuBridge replaced Millikan as head of the institute. DuBridge's efforts were directed toward making the small elite school scientifically competitive in the changed conditions of a postwar world. In this climate, the merging of private business with academic work fell into disfavor. Without champions such as Millikan and von Karman, the meteorology program was unable to survive.

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