Our Parent Institutions

The Institution of Engineering and Technology was formed in 2006 by the joining together of the IEE (Institution of Electrical Engineers) and the IIE (Institution of Incorporated Engineers). This Research Guide summarises the history of the IET from its foundation in 1871.

Telegraphy: the new technology

Electric telegraphy reached commercial success in Britain when Cooke and Wheatstone applied electric telegraphy to railways. By 1870 over 2000 men and 500 women were employed by the telegraph companies in the UK, predominantly as telegraph operators, but for the men there was opportunity to become an engineer. The term "engineer" was barely in use in 1870, but the telegraph engineer had to know about electricity, which set him apart from the civil or the mechanical engineer.
Telegraph engineers had the option of joining one or other of the existing Institutions (The Institution of Civil Engineers was founded in 1818 and the Mechanicals in 1847) but by 1870, felt that their profession had attained such a standing that its needs were inadequately met by the other bodies.

The Society of Telegraph Engineers

The Society of Telegraph Engineers (STE) formally came into existence on 17 May 1871 at a meeting held in 2 Westminster Chambers, Victoria Street, London. The prime mover in this endeavour was Major Frank Bolton. He had been made an unattached major as a reward for his services to army signaling in 1868.

At the first meeting Bolton and seven others attended. They appointed a President (Charles William Siemens 1823-1883), two vice-Presidents (Lord Lindsay 1847-1913 and Frank Ives Scudamore 1823-1884), a Council of eleven members, a Treasurer and Librarian, an Honorary Secretary (Frank Bolton) and two Auditors.

The earliest statement of the Society's 'Objects' pronounces that its purpose was for the general advancement of Electrical and Telegraphic Science and for facilitating the exchange of information and ideas among its members.
Qualifications for admission reflected the Society's dual nature as a professional association and a learned society. The professional engineer's route to membership required him to have been educated as a Telegraph Engineer and to have been employed in positions of responsibility for at least five years. An Associate had to be over the age of twenty-one. There were no qualifying examinations until 1913; emphasis was placed instead on experience and positions of responsibility.

In the early days the focus of the Society was on telegraphy alone. However, it was decided that it would need to broaden its scope to include electrical science as this was a concern of every Telegraph Engineer and was not already represented in a separate learned society. The STE grew from strength to strength mainly because engineers required a Society of their own to reflect and represent their needs in a world where new uses for electricity were being rapidly developed.