A Brief History of IEEE

IEEE, an association dedicated to the fostering of technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity, is the world’s largest technical professional society. It is designed to serve professionals involved in all aspects of the electrical, electronic and computing fields and related areas of science and technology that underlie modern civilization. IEEE’s roots, however, go back to 1884 when electricity was just beginning to become a major force in society. There was one major established electrical industry, the telegraph, which — beginning in the 1840s — had come to connect the world with a communications system faster than the speed of transportation. A second major area had only barely gotten underway — electric power and light, originating in Thomas Edison’s inventions and his pioneering Pearl Street Station in New York.

Foundation of the AIEE

In the spring of 1884, a small group of individuals in the electrical professions met in New York. They formed a new organization to support professionals in their nascent field and to aid them in their efforts to apply innovation for the betterment of humanity — the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, or AIEE for short. That October the AIEE held its first technical meeting in Philadelphia. Many early leaders, such as founding President Norvin Green of Western Union, came from telegraphy. Others, such as Thomas Edison, came from power, while Alexander Graham Bell represented the newer telephone industry. As electric power spread rapidly across the land — enhanced by innovations such as Nikola Tesla’s AC Induction Motor, long distance AC transmission and large-scale power plants, and commercialized by industries such as Westinghouse and General Electric — the AIEE became increasingly focused on electrical power and its ability to change people’s lives through the unprecedented products and services it could deliver. There was a secondary focus on wired communication, both the telegraph and the telephone. Through technical meetings, publications, and promotion of standards, the AIEE led the growth of the electrical engineering profession, while through local sections and student branches, it brought its benefits to engineers in widespread places.

Foundation of the IRE

A new industry arose beginning with Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless telegraphy experiments at the turn of the century. What was originally called “wireless” became radio with the electrical amplification possibilities inherent in the vacuum tubes which evolved from John Fleming’s diode and Lee de Forest’s triode. With the new industry came a new society in 1912, the Institute of Radio Engineers. The IRE was modeled on the AIEE, but was devoted to radio, and then increasingly to electronics. It, too, furthered its profession by linking its members through publications, standards and conferences, and encouraging them to advance their industries by promoting innovation and excellence in the emerging new products and services.

The Societies Converge and Merge

Through the help of leadership from the two societies, and with the applications of its members’ innovations to industry, electricity wove its way — decade by decade — more deeply into every corner of life — television, radar, transistors, computers. Increasingly, the interests of the societies overlapped. Membership in both societies grew, but beginning in the 1940s, the IRE grew faster and in 1957 became the larger group. On 1 January 1963, The AIEE and the IRE merged to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE. At its formation, the IEEE had 150,000 members, 140,000 of whom were in the United States.

Growth and Globalization

Over the decades that followed, with IEEE’s continued leadership, the societal roles of the technologies under its aegis continued to spread across the world, and reach into more and more areas of people’s lives. The professional groups and technical boards of the predecessor institutions evolved into IEEE Societies. By the early 21st Century, IEEE served its members and their interests with 38 societies; 130 journals, transactions and magazines; more 300 conferences annually; and 900 active standards. Since that time, computers evolved from massive mainframes to desktop appliances to portable devices, all part of a global network connected by satellites and then by fiber optics. IEEE’s fields of interest expanded well beyond electrical/electronic engineering and computing into areas such as micro- and nanotechnology, ultrasonics, bioengineering, robotics, electronic materials, and many others. Electronics became ubiquitous — from jet cockpits to industrial robots to medical imaging. As technologies and the industries that developed them increasingly transcended national boundaries, IEEE kept pace, becoming a truly global institution which used the innovations of the practitioners it represented in order to enhance its own excellence in delivering products and services to members, industries, and the public at large. Publications and educational programs were delivered online, as were member services such as renewal and elections. By 2008, IEEE had 375,000 members in 160 countries, with 43 percent outside of the country where it was founded a century and a quarter before. Through its worldwide network of geographical units, publications, web services, and conferences, IEEE remains the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology.

Learn more at the IEEE History Center

IEEE Milestones of Innovation

IEEE has helped enable modern day innovations from international space programs and advanced vehicular technology to broadcast television, x-rays, and the microwave oven. Other IEEE milestones include:

Benjamin Franklin’s Work in London, 1757-1775
London, England Dedication: 31 March 2003 – IEEE UKRI Section

Benjamin Franklin, American electrician, printer, and diplomat, spent many years on Craven Street. He lived at No. 7 between 1772 and 1775 and at No. 36 from 1757-1762 and again from 1764-1772. During these years, Franklin popularized the study of electricity, performed experiments, and served as an advisor on lightning conductors.

First Intelligible Voice Transmission over Electric Wire, 1876
Boston, MA, Dedication: 10 March 2006

The first transmission of intelligible speech over electrical wires took place on 10 March 1876. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell called out to his assistant Thomas Watson, “Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you.”  This transmission took place in their attic laboratory located in a building near here at 5 Exeter Place.

Popov’s Contribution to the Development of Wireless Communication, 1895
St. Petersburg, Russia.  IEEE Russia (Northwest) Section, Dedication: May 2005

On 7 May 1895, A. S. Popov demonstrated the possibility of transmitting and receiving short, continuous signals over a distance up to 64 meters by means of electromagnetic waves with the help of a special portable device responding to electrical oscillation which was a significant contribution to the development of wireless communication.

Early Developments in Remote-Control, 1901
IEEE Spain Section, Dedication: 15 March 2007

In 1901, the Spanish engineer, Leonardo Torres-Quevedo began the development of a system, which he called Telekine, which was able to do “mechanical movements at a distance.” The system was a way of testing dirigible balloons of his own creation without risking human lives.  In 1902 and 1903 he requested some patents for the system. With the Telekine, Torres-Quevedo laid down modern wireless remote-control operation principles.

One-Way Police Radio Communication, 1928
Detroit, MI Dedicated May 1987 – IEEE Southeastern Michigan Section

At this site on April 7, 1928 the Detroit Police Department commenced regular one-way radio communication with its patrol cars. Developed by personnel of the department’s radio bureau, the system was the product of seven years of experimentation under the direction of police commissioner, William P. Rutledge. Their work proved the practicality of land-mobile radio for police work and led to its adoption throughout the country.

Westinghouse “Atom Smasher,” 1937
Forest Hills, PA. Dedicated May 1985 – IEEE Pittsburgh Section

The five million volt van de Graaff generator represents the first large-scale program in nuclear physics established in industry. Constructed by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1937, it made possible precise measurements of nuclear reactions and provided valuable research experience for the company’s pioneering work in nuclear power.

Monochrome-Compatible Electronic Color Television, 1946-1953
Princeton, NJ, 29 Dedicated November 2001, IEEE Princeton/Central New Jersey Section

On this site between 1946 and 1950 the research staff of RCA Laboratories invented the world’s first electronic, monochrome-compatible, color television system. They worked with other engineers in the industry for three years to develop a national analog standard based on this system, which lasted until the transition to digital broadcasting.

Pioneering Work on the Quartz Electronic Wristwatch, 1962-1967
Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Dedicated 28 September 2002, IEEE Switzerland Section

A key milestone in development of the quartz electronic wristwatch in Switzerland was the creation in 1962 of the Centre  Electronique  Horloger of Neuchâtel. The Centre produced the first prototypes incorporating dedicated integrated circuits that set new timekeeping performance records at the International Chronometric Competition held at this observatory in 1967. Since then quartz watches, with hundreds of millions of units produced, became an extremely successful electronic system.

Pioneering Work on Electronic Calculators, 1964-1973
Tenri City, Nara Prefecture , Japan, Dedication: December 2005

A Sharp Corporation project team designed and produced several families of electronic calculators on the basis of all-transistor (1964), bipolar and MOS integrated circuit (1967), MOS Large Scale Integration (1969) and CMOS-LSI/Liquid Crystal Display (1973). The integration of CMOS-LSI and LCD devices onto a single glass substrate yielded battery-powered calculators. These achievements made possible the widespread personal use of hand-held calculators

Development of VHS, a World Standard for Home Video Recording, 1976
Tokyo, Japan, Dedication: 11 October 2006

At the Yokohama Plant of Victor Company of Japan, Limited, a team of engineers headed by Shizuo Takano and Yuma Shiraishi developed VHS (Video Home System) format. They looked ahead to the need for home video tape recorders and embodied their idea in unique inventions. The first model JVC HR-3300 was announced on 9 September 1976. Their basic design with subsequent improvement gained wide customer acceptance. VHS became the world standard for home video tape recorders.

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