#WEFTECat90 Campaign Displays WEF’s Rich History

December 19, 2017

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The #WEFTECat90 social media campaign explored the history of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and WEFTEC.

The #WEFTECat90 social media campaign explored the history of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and WEFTEC.

Beginning in July, the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) reflected on the rich history of the organization and WEFTEC, its main event, with the #WEFTECat90 social media campaign.

Staff dug deep into WEF’s archives, sifting through photographs, books, newsletters, and other artifacts that help tell the story of WEF and WEFTEC. Post by post, tweet by tweet, WEF’s story was shared through social media for 90 days leading up to WEFTEC 2017.

What’s in a name?

The campaign shared a timeline of events such as the changes in WEF's name throughout the years.

The campaign shared a timeline of events such as the changes in WEF’s name throughout the years.

WEF has experienced many changes since its establishment as the Federation of Sewage Works Associations in 1928. One obvious evolution is the organization’s name, which changed to the Federation of Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association in 1950, then to the Water Pollution Control Federation in 1960, and to WEF in 1991.

While its name underwent various iterations, the organization continued to expand its reach. WEF’s first leaders hoped that the organization would obtain 1000 members in its first decade, but by the mid-1930s, WEF had more than 2400 on the member roster. Only a few years later in 1940, WEF had grown to more than 2800 members and 25 Member Associations. WEF now boasts 35,155 members, representing water quality professionals from around the world.

Growth in breadth and depth of WEFTEC

Other events highlighted include the groundbreaking ceremony in 1985 on WEF's current headquarter building in Alexandria, Va. WEF archive photo.

Other events highlighted include the groundbreaking ceremony in 1985 on WEF’s current headquarter building in Alexandria, Va. WEF archive photo.

On Oct. 16, 1928, the organization’s Board of Control hosted its first meeting in Chicago. This initial meeting of the minds has evolved into WEFTEC, the world’s largest annual water quality event. In 1946, WEFTEC set a record for attendance with 812. Almost 70 years later,  WEFTEC 2015 in Chicago set an all-time attendance record with 25,048 registrants. WEFTEC 2017 had 22,860 registrants and 1011 exhibitors on 28,391 net m2 (305,600 net ft2) of space. That year, WEF returned to Chicago, where the first event was held, for its 90th WEFTEC.

“Commemorating 90 years of accomplishments brought a unique energy to WEFTEC 2017,” said WEF Executive Director Eileen O’Neill. “It was especially touching to return to Chicago, the place where it all began, not only to celebrate the tradition, but also the people, ideas and innovations that will continue to move the sector forward.”

Timeline presents an interesting history

The timeline also notes that the first Operations Challenge competition was held during WEFTEC 1987. WEF archives photo.

The timeline also notes that the first Operations Challenge competition was held during WEFTEC 1987. WEF archives photo.

Uncovering the people and stories from WEF’s history proved as interesting as it was inspiring. Research into WEF’s history and continued growth sheds light on the organization’s role as a catalyst for progress in the water sector. Catch up on many of WEF’s key moments through the WEFTEC at 90 timeline. Some interesting highlights from the timeline include

  • 1931: WEF was primarily formed as an organization to provide a journal for publishing papers on sewage works. Sewage Works Journal evolved into what is now Water Environment Research
  • 1936: Historians give the most credit for WEF’s formation to Charles A. Emerson, who served as president through 1941. Charles A. Emerson enjoyed a decorated career as an engineer, in addition to his many contributions to WEF. 
  • 1955: As the federal government increases activity in water pollution control, the Federation moves its headquarters to Washington, D.C. from Champaign, Ill.
  • 1964: Highlights, WEF’s monthly member newsletter, makes its debut.
  • 1979: During the 1979 annual conference in Houston, member Bertha Lang debuted a fight song for clean water
  • 1985: WEF breaks ground on a new building at 601 Wythe Street, Alexandria, Va.
  • 1987: Operations Challenge makes its debut at the annual conference.
  • 1989: The Loma Prieta earthquake strikes California, shaking San Francisco—the host city of the 1989 annual conference.

WEF says ‘cheers’ to 90 years of serving the water quality community and looks forward to many more. For more details on WEF’s history, browse posts tagged #WEFTECat90 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

— Rahkia Nance and Lori Harrison, WEF Highlights

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