The Knowledge Society

The professional organisations of today were founded tn the growth of societies dedicated to the advancement of knowledge in previous centuries, as our resident historian Dick Evans explains

The foundation and development of learned and professional organisations representing science and technical disciplines is a fascinating story in its own right, but a study of their history also identifies many similarities with the evolution of technical and scientific education. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, both science and technology were in rapid transition and these disciplines had to fight hard to gain recognition and a place in the education system

Before the Industrial Revolution science had little impact on the lives of ordinary people except in areas that involved navigation and war. Science was perceived as the exclusive domain of the gentry, the enthusiastic rich amateur, royal courts and the then narrow world of academia. These benefactors often supported gifted amateurs financially to undertake scientific research. The first scientific learned societies and institutions reflected this exclusive, elitist status, and grew up in a time aptly known as the ‘aristocratic period’ (see table below).

Practical skills.

The Industrial Revolution was driven by gifted, creative individuals. Most of them had never attended university and learned their skills through direct experience of their respective trades and crafts – and in some cases though apprenticeships. For understandable reasons they were prone to be protective of their discoveries, and seldom shared their ideas.

But as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum, scientific and technological discoveries blossomed and there was an increased need for improved communication between individuals and industries. As a result, a greater sense of industrial identity gradually developed, creating a new spirit of community – almost ‘corporateness’ – across the evolving specialisms in science and technology. This in turn led to the establishment of institutions and societies representing specific areas of technical and industrial activity. Initially these institutions represented the more general aspects of their discipline but more specialist institutions gradually evolved, becoming the norm in the twentieth century.

The growth of professionalism

The majority of professional organisations were – and still are – independent institutions, promoting their disciplines and the specialist knowledge, skills, competences and professional conduct expected of their members. Many set entry standards and encourage professional status. Some accredit university and college programmes whilst others set their own examinations for the various membership grades.

Qualifications to gain entry to certain occupations began in the second half of the nineteenth century and added much to the status and recognition of technical and industrial education. The Institution of Civil Engineers was one of the first to establish examinations in 1897, whilst the Institution of Mechanical Engineering and the Institution of Electrical Engineers followed in 1912 and 1913 respectively. As more universities were established and various qualification reviews and reforms were introduced,professional societies formed closer ties. By the middle of the last century, over 150 organisations offered professional qualifications, including 80 in science and technology, 50 in commerce, sociology and law and 12 in agriculture.

Over the years professional institutions have conducted surveys, commissioned inquiries and reports and lobbied governments communicating their concerns about the quality of the education and training of people entering their professions. The tables below show the development periods.

The ‘Aristocratic Period’

Date of FoundationSociety / lnstitution
1660The Royal Society
1754The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts
1771The Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh
1783The Royal Society of Edinburgh
1799The Royal Institution of Great Britain
1804The Royal Horticultural Society
1831The British Association for the Advancement of Science

The Nineteenth Century

Date of FoundationSociety / Institution
1818The Institute of Civil Engineers
1819The Royal Microscopic Society
1834The Institute of Building
The Royal Institute of Architects
Royal Statistical Society
Society of Engineering
1838The Royal Agricultural Society of England
1841The Chemical Society
1847The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (First president George Stephenson who was instrumental in establishing the Institution following the refusal by the Institute of Civil Engineers to admit him without submitting an essay to satisfy his competence!)
1860The Institution of Naval Architects
1863The Institution of Gas Engineers (Now known as Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers
1865London Mathematical Society
1866The Royal Aeronautical Society
1869The Iron and Steel Institute (Now known as Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining)
1871The Institution of Electrical Engineers (grow out of the Society of Telegraph Engineers) Merged in 2006 with the Institute of Incorporated Engineers to become Institution of Engineering and Technology
1873The Institution of Municipal Engineers
1874The Society for Analytical Chemistry
The Physical Society (Now known as the Institute of Physics)
1876The Royal Society of Health
1877The Institute of Chemistry
1881The Society of the Chemical Industry
1883Edinburgh Mathematical Society
1886The Institute of Brewing
1887Association for the Promotion of Technical Education
1889The Institute of Marine Engineers (Now known as Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology)
The Institution of Mining Engineers
1892The Institution of Mining and Metallurgy
1895The Institute of Sanitary Engineers (Now known as Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management)
1896The Water-works Institute (Became the Institution of Water Engineers in 1911)
1897The Institution of Heating and Ventilation Engineers (Now known as the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers)

The Twentieth Century

Date of FoundationSociety / Institution
1900The Ceramic Society
The Institute of Refrigeration
1901The British Standards Institution (Became the British Standards Institution in 1930)
1903The Faraday Society
1904The Institute of British Foundrymen
1906The Institution of Automobile Engineers
The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering
1908The Institute of Metals
The Institution of Structural Engineers
1909Illuminating Engineering Society
1911The Junior Institution of Locomotive Engineers
1912/13Institution of Railway Signal Engineers
1913The Institute of Petroleum
1914Association of Supervising Engineers
1916The Society of British Aircraft Constructors
1917The Institute of Quarrying
1918The Institute of Physics (Formerly the Physical Society)
Institution of Fire Engineers
1919The Institute of Transport
1920The Institution of the Motor Industry
1921The Institution of Production Engineers
The Institution of Rubber Industry
1922The Institution of Chemical Engineers
1923The Institute of Welding/Welding Institute
Institution of Lighting Engineers
Institution of Royal Engineers
1925The British Institute of Radio Engineers
The Textile Institute
1927The Institute of Fuel (Now known as the Energy Institute)
The British Boot and Shoe Institution
1930The Institution of Highway Engineers (Now known as Institution of Highways and Transportation)
1931The Institute of Housing
The Plastics Institute
1938Institution of Agricultural Engineers
1943Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management
1944Institute of Measurement and Control
1945Institution of Engineering Designers
Society of Operations Engineers
lnstitution of Water Officers
1950The Institute of Biology
1954British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing
1957British Computer Society
1958The Institution of Nuclear Engineers
1959Society of Environmental Engineers
Institute of Nuclear Engineers
1960Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine
1965Institute of Highway Incorporated Engineers
1974The Institute of Acoustics
1980The Royal Society of Chemistry (previously four separate societies, namely The Chemical Society, The Society of Analytical Chemistry, The Royal Institute of Chemistry and The Faraday Society)
2006Institution of Engineering and Technology (Successor to Institute of Electrical Engineers and the institution of Incorporated Engineers)
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