In 1904/1905 Luther Halsey Gulick organized an Academy of Physical Education to bring together those who were doing original scientific work in physical training and to help promote such work. Early leaders met annually at Gulick’s camp at Lake Sebago, Maine to discuss an agreed-upon topic important to the developing field of physical education. With no constitution and no election to membership, this "academy" discontinued its meeting during World War I.
In 1926 five men, whose names distinguish the history of American physical education, met in New York City to initiate action which led to the founding of the present American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education. It was decided to add five new members to the group each year until the number reached thirty and then officially charter the organization. The five original members were Clark W. Hetherington, champion of developmental play and educational athletics, often called "the modern philosopher of physical education" R. Tait McKenzie, physician, scholar, and sculptor, who created the Academy medallion, the Gulick Medal and many pieces of sport art; William Burdick, city recreation specialist and administrator; Thomas A. Storey, physician, health educator, and first State Supervisor (New York 1916) of physical education; Jay B. Nash, philosopher of recreation and advocate of the development of the "whole person" through creative leisure. Hetherington, McKenzie and Storey had been members of Gulick’s earlier "academy," and Hetherington, who is usually credited with conceiving of the idea of founding the current Academy, was designated Fellow Number One and served as the temporary president during the five organizational years, 1926-1930.
Set forth in the 1930 Constitution, the purpose of the Academy was "to advance knowledge in the field of physical education, to uplift its standards, and uphold its honor," by electing to Fellowship men and women who have made significant contributions; by making such trust funds as may exist available for research, by encouraging promising students to enter the field; by recognizing work of high merit; by disseminating professional information at home and in foreign countries, and by assisting in the enactment of legislation favorable to physical education."
In June 1932 AAPE President McKenzie related the Academy’s founding to the needs met by founding the English Royal Society and the Academic Francaise in the 17th century. Whereas it had been possible for one person to become familiar with the whole range of 17th century knowledge, the growth of knowledge by the end of the 19th century made specialization necessary. Comparable specialized "Academics" (e.g. the American Academy of Science, the American Academy of Medicine) also were founded at this time, McKenzie visualized the Academy as part of an international movement to improve physical education and bring its benefits to all the peoples of the world.
As a plastic surgeon and educator himself, McKenzie’s vision may have been influenced by his experience from the Great War and the consequent movement toward unification through efforts to join the working knowledge of physical educators with the greater picture of educating policy makers and the masses to the need for in-depth and on-going study of the field of physical education. The Academy’s original purpose encompassed issues in regard to not only individual personal health programs but national educational standards, and scientific programs of study and fellowship.
This purpose expanded in 1945 when the Academy worked with the American Medical Association and was commissioned by the U.S. Government to review and to serve, "as ’watchdog’ on matters of legislation and related issues where the Academy might play a part in helping to bring national policies and practices in line with the best thinking in the field of health and physical education." Its duties included R.O.T.C. recommendations and military preparedness. Early interaction and guidelines from AAPE committees and congresses set the legislative framework for many veteran’s programs, such as those within the Y.M.C.A.
Distinguished Academy members such as Mabel Lee, were prominent figures in the co-operation, understanding and the on-going progression of women’s athletics and physical education. Discussions, papers, and Annual Meetings of the Academy structured national awareness of the existence of a common lineage of physical knowledge which could benefit both sexes.
From its beginnings, the AAPE was instrumental in global strategies for heightened educational, scientific and legislative awareness in respect to physical education issues and ramifications. Not the least of these issues was the internal struggle within academic arenas of the 1960’s and 1970’s to grapple with the widening future of scientific and technological advancements. In step with the demands of a broadening base of skills and knowledge, the American Academy of Physical Education, in January 1993, broadened its scope and purpose to become the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical education. Dedicated to educational concerns and scientific advancements in the field, the AAKPE, continues through its members, awards, newsletters and publications to serve, promote and enhance the direction of physical education issues, nationally and internationally.