NASF & AESF Foundation History

Comparing the events of the present with those of March 1909 shows that little has changed when it comes to highs and lows.  On March 4, William Howard Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as the 27th President of the United States.  Ominously, the winds of war began to blow on March 31, as Serbia accepted Austrian control over Bosnia and Herzegovina.  And on the same day, construction began on the RMS Titanic in Belfast.

Despite the mood of the times, an important event in the life of the surface finishing industry took place at the venerable Chelsea Hotel in New York on March 6.  On that date, the precursor of the AESF was born.  At the time, plating was more an art than a science, and most practitioners kept their trade secrets largely to themselves.  Yet a far-sighted New Jersey plating and foundry supervisor, Mr. Charles Henry Proctor, felt that much could be gained by everyone if the platers of the day could meet and exchange experiences.  He felt that there would be benefit for all if a plater was willing to share his answers to a common operating problem with his fellow platers.  It wasn’t a matter of giving away the store.  Rather, experiences common to all could be aired to benefit everyone and advance the industry in the process.

Mr. Proctor managed to convince his colleagues of the merits of working together, and so on the evening of March 6, about two dozen foreman platers gathered at the old Chelsea Hotel in New York City to create a non-profit association dedicated to foster “the advancement of electroplating, metal finishing and allied arts.”

A little over a month later, on April 10, 1909, the National Electro-Platers Association of the United States and Canada (NEPA) was formed in New York, with 60 charter members.  On October 18, 1909, NEPA was incorporated as a non-profit educational association.  The principal reasons for the existence of this technical-educational entity were set out “to:

  • Advance and disseminate knowledge concerning the art of electrodeposition of metals,
  • Maintain a laboratory equipped for research work,
  • Conduct meetings for the purpose of presenting papers on appropriate technical and scientific subjects and
  • Publish technical literature.”

The result of Mr. Proctor’s efforts went far beyond what he could ever have dreamed.  As plating developed from an art to a science, the industry grew, as plated deposits were used for everything from bright, shiny automobile bumpers to the most sophisticated microcircuitry, nanomaterials and in additive manufacturing.

In 1913, NEPA was reorganized to further its mission and grow membership and adopted as its name the American Electroplaters’ Society or AES.  At the 1913 Annual Banquet, the AES constitution and by-laws were adopted and George B. Hogaboom, a NEPA charter member and electroplating foreman at the Scovill Manufacturing Co. in Waterbury, CT was elected the first AES president.  Mr. Hogaboom is best remembered for co-authoring with Dr. William Blum, the electroplater primer still used today entitled The Principles of Electroplating and Electroforming.

By 1985, the AES morphed yet again.  In recognition of the society’s 75th anniversary as well as the changing work environment of membership which had expanded beyond just electroplaters and now consisted of individuals who were involved in all aspects of surface finishing, the society’s name and logo were changed to the American Electroplaters’ and Surface Finishers Society; or more conveniently, the AESF.

With the advent of personal computers, the availability of information online, the diminishing influence of “old timers” and the increase in retirees, there came a diminution in societal attendance at the branch and national meetings.  Falling membership levels accompanied by plummeting income lost as membership dues were lost led to a near bankruptcy of the society by the mid-2000s.  However, a dedicated team of AESF loyalists, who understood the historical significance of the society and the camaraderie of fellow membership, were able to reorganize the society into its current format.  In 2007, AESF was reorganized as the National Association for Surface Finishing or NASF, as it simultaneously merged with the NAMF, the National Association of Metal Finishers and the MFSA, the Metal Finishing Suppliers Association.  Both the NAMF and the MFSA, proud legacy equals to the AESF, were suffering from the same membership ills.  In ensuing years, the NASF and its technical-educational arm, the AESF Foundation, have achieved great success in restoring this combined organization as the leader in the surface finishing industry. 


Needing a medium of its own to further the knowledge of its members, NEPA inaugurated a quarterly magazine in June 1910, the Quarterly Review.  When NEPA became the AES in 1913, the Quarterly Review became the AES official journal, growing to 48 pages with a broad technical scope.  Through the years, transitioning to the Monthly Review (1914), then Plating (1948), and finally Plating & Surface Finishing (1975), the magazine became the premier journal for the surface finishing industry.  It was unique in the field in that it offered wide-ranging content, from peer-reviewed scientific papers to practical how-to-do-it articles and columns, in addition to society matters.  The economic conditions wrought during the Great Recession of 2008-2009 brought an end to its publication.  Yet today, elements of P&SF, including technical articles, continue in a cooperative effort in Gardner publications’ Products Finishing.

Beyond the journal, the society produced numerous technical books, serial research reports and technical proceedings volumes from society meetings and symposia to provide a massive amount of technical literature in the field.  Latest offerings are Advanced Surface Technology by Möller & Nielsen, and a reissue of Theory and Practice of Pulse Plating, by Puippe and Leaman.

Meetings and Symposia

In 1910, NEPA conducted its first Annual Banquet at the old Marlborough Hotel in New York.  It was the forerunner of NASF SUR/FIN, today’s annual Technical Conference and Industry Exposition.  SUR/FIN is the primary conference and trade show dedicated specifically to the surface technology industry.  Leading surface technology companies connect, collaborate and contribute – a forum where relevant issues are addressed, and technologies presented.

Over the years, numerous specialized symposia have also been organized in such areas as Plating in the Electronic Industry, Decorative Plating, Continuous Strip Plating, Solar Energy, as well as critically important EPA joint conferences on pollution control issues.  The annual Washington Forum includes presentations and briefings from national and global experts on pertinent policy, technical, regulatory, and management issues impacting the surface finishing industry, and offers opportunity for attendees to promote the industry through visits with Congressional staff and representatives.


From the inception of the association, interest in scientific research in the electroplating field and its application to industrial practice was of paramount importance.  In the 1910s, cooperative efforts with the then-National Bureau of Standards (NBS), now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), led to many important scientific advancements in the field.  By the 1920s, AES-funded efforts with the NBS dealt with subjects such as “Throwing Power of Chromium Plating,” “Porosity of Chromium Coatings,” and many others.  By mid-century, AES Research Patron and Sponsorship contributions had expanded the research program to support research at numerous industrial and university centers of excellence in surface finishing research, totaling today nearly 125 separate multi-year projects.  In addition, numerous university students at the Graduate level have been introduced to our industry, resulting in numerous careers benefiting the industry.


In the early 1960s, development of the AES Illustrated Lecture series began.  Many surface finishing firms produced texts and slides over the years, which were used extensively by AESF branches, educational institutions and finishing organizations in the presentation of lectures.  These lectures evolved into the development of finishing courses which have become the mainstay in educational efforts in the surface finishing industry.  The NASF and AESF Foundation today offer thoughtfully developed, continually updated technical courses that explore and explain the important basics of metal finishing as well as the latest and most impactful developments in every specialty within the field.

Recognizing the importance of professional credentials, the 1980s saw the development of the Certified Electroplater-Finisher (CEF) and later, Master Surface Finisher (MSF) designations.  They stem from the successful completion of examinations based on the courses developed by the AESF.  These professional development efforts have enhanced the talents of many individuals with careers in our industry.


As surface finishing technology advanced through the latter half of the 20th century, climate, environment and sustainability issues became increasingly important to the industry and its effects on the planet.  Interaction with the EPA and other government agencies, including direct contact of NASF staff and industry participants with congressional offices during the NASF Washington Forum, begun in the 1980s and 90s has been effective in educating and promoting the significance of surface finishing in the world. 

The United States surface finishing industry has proven to be strong and resilient. A highly regulated sector, it has shown tremendous commitment in collaborating with all levels of government to ensure products and the processes they use to produce them are safe to human health and the environment, while still performing to the standards expected by customers and improving the economy’s overall sustainability record by increasing the durability and lifetime of the surface-finished part.