Learned Societies and Professional Societies/Institutions

The foundation and development of learned and professional organisations representing science and technical disciplines is a fascinating study in its own right. Any study of their history identifies many similar issues that characterised the evolution of technical and scientific education. In addition analysis highlights the differences in the way disciplines developed and achieved recognition particularly during the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries. The disciplines in both science and technology were in rapid transition and had to fight to gain recognition and a place in the education system during the 18th and 19th centuries.

I intend to write about the historical development of science education particularly in relationship to that of technical education at a later stage. Before the Industrial Revolution science had little impact on the lives of ordinary people except in areas that involved navigation and the military i.e. war. Science was perceived as exclusive and the domain of the gentry, the enthusiastic rich amateur, the royal courts and the then narrow world of academia. In addition benefactors often supported a number of gifted amateurs financially to undertake their scientific researches. The first scientific learned societies/institutions reflected this fact and as a result were exclusive and elitist and as Armytage (1) so aptly defined the time of their foundation as the aristocratic period.

The Industrial Revolution was driven by gifted and creative individuals most of whom had not attended university and had learnt their skills through direct experience of their respective trades and crafts and in some cases apprenticeship programmes (see biography on this website). For understandable reasons they were prone to be protective of their discoveries, processes and products and seldom shared their ideas. However as the Industrial Revolution gained momentum and pace scientific and technological discoveries blossomed resulting in an increased need for improved communication between individuals and industries. As a result a greater sense on industrial identity gradually developed creating a sense of community, corporatism and spirit across the evolving specialisms in science and technology. This led in turn to the need to establish institutions/societies representing specific areas of scientific, technical and industrial activity. Initially these institutions represented the more general aspects of the activity, discipline or subject but gradually more specialist institutions evolved in the 20th century. These distinct periods are shown below but the list is by no means complete but only illustrates the foundation of many of the key institutions/societies. What distinguishes learned societies is that they represent specific disciplines e.g. statistics, science and amongst other activities organise conferences, seminars and symposia on specialised topics and many operate publishing houses. The majority of professional organisations were and still are independent institutions that promote their disciplines and the specialist knowledge, skills, competences and professional conduct expected of their members. In addition many establish entry standards and encourage the professional status of their respective disciplines. A number accredit university and college programmes involved with their subjects whilst some set their own examinations for the various membership grades. Qualifications to gain entry to certain occupations began in the second half of the 19th century and added much to the status, recognition and development of technical and industrial education and subsequent occupations. For example the Institution of Civil Engineers established examinations in 1897 whilst the Institution of Mechanical Engineering and the Institution of Electrical Engineers introduced examinations in 1912 and 1913 respectively. Many of the institutions work closely with colleges and universities. The number offering examinations have reduced as more universities were established and various qualification reviews and reforms were introduced e.g. the creation of NCVQ. But to provide a scale of provision in 1964 Millerson (2) listed about 160 qualifying organisations with about 80 in science and technology, about 50 in commerce, sociology and law and around 12 in agriculture. There were approximately 120 that conducted their own examinations. Over the years many of the professional institutions have conducted surveys, commissioned inquiries and reports and lobbied governments communicating their concerns about the quality of technical and vocational education and training of people entering their professions.

List of Institutions/Societies and the dates of foundation

The Beginning (The Aristocratic Period)
Date of Foundation Society/Institution: 1660 /The Royal Society 1754. /The  Society for the Encouragement of Arts. 1771/ The Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh. 1783/ The Royal Society of Edinburgh. 1799 /The Royal Institution of Great Britain. 1804/ The Royal Horticultural Society. 1831/ The British Association for the Advancement of Science.

General/Specialist-Professional Periods
Date of Foundation Society/Institution:  1717/ Institution of Royal Engineers.1788/ Linnean Society of London. 1807/ Geological Society of London. 1818 / The Institute of Civil Engineers. 1819 / The Royal Microscopic Society. 1820/ Royal Astronomical Society. 1826/ Zoological Society. 1830/ Royal Geographical Society. 1834/ The Institute of Building, The Royal Institute of Architects, Royal Statistical Society, Society of Engineering. 1838/ The Royal Agricultural Society of England. 1841/ The Chemical Society, Royal Pharmaceutical Society. 1847/ The 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!). 1854/ Society of Engineers (Incorporated the Civil and Mechanical Engineers’ Society (f.1859) in 1910). 1855/ Geologists’ Associated.1860/ The Institution of Naval Architects. 1863/ The Institution of Gas Engineers (Now known as Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers. 1865/ London Mathematical Society. 1866/ The Royal Aeronautical Society (Incorporated the Institution of Aeronautical Engineers (f.1919) and the Helicopter Association of GB (f.1945) in 1960).

1869/ The Iron and Steel Institute (Now known as Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining). 1871/ The Institution of Electrical Engineers (grow out of the Society of Telegraph Engineers renamed the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians in 1850 and became the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1888 and merged in 2006 with the Institute of Incorporated Engineers to become Institution of Engineering and Technology, Mathematical Society. 1873/ The Institution of Municipal Engineers.1874/ The Society for Analytical Chemistry, The Physical Society (Now known as the Institute of Physics). 1876 /The Royal Society of Health. 1877/ The Institute of Chemistry, Agricultural Engineers Association. 1881/ The Society of the Chemical Industry. 1883/ Edinburgh Mathematical Society. 1886/ The Institute of Brewing. 1887/ Association for the Promotion of Technical Education. 1889/ The Institute of Marine Engineers (Now known as Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology), The Institution of Mining Engineers. 1892/ The Institution of Mining and Metallurgy. 1895/ The Institute of Sanitary Engineers (Now known as Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management), Institute of Engineers- in- Charge (Initially named the Institute of Parochial Engineers). 1896/ The Water-works Institute (Became the Institution of Water Engineers in 1911). 1897/ The Institution of Heating and Ventilation Engineers (Now known as the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers). 1899/ Institute of Refrigeration (Initially named the Cold Storage and Ice Association).

1900/ The Ceramic Society. 1901/ The British Standards Institution (Became the British Standards Institution in 1930), British Academy. 1903/ The Faraday Society. 1904/ The Institute of British Foundrymen, Association of applied Biologists. 1906/ The Institution of Automobile Engineers ,The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, Institute of Commerce.  1907/ British Association of Chemists. 1908/ The Institute of Metals ,The Institution of Structural Engineers. 1909/ Illuminating Engineering Society. 1910/ Textiles Institute.1911/ The Junior Institution of Locomotive Engineers, Biochemical Society. 1912/ Institution of Railway Signal Engineers, Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology. 1913/ The Institute of Petroleum, Institute of Personel Management. 1914/ Association of Supervising Engineers. 1916/ The Society of British Aircraft Constructors, Society of Glass Technology. 1917/ The Institute of Quarrying. 1918/ The Institute of Physics (Formerly the Physical Society), Institution of Fire Engineers. 1919/ The Institute of Transport, Institute of Engineering Inspection (Initially named Technical Inspection Association. 1920/ The Institution of the Motor Industry, Society of Radiographers, Society of Consulting Marine and Ship Surveyors. 1921/ The Institution of Production Engineers, The Institution of Rubber Industry. 1922/ The Institution of Chemical Engineers. 1923/ The Institute of Welding/Welding (Institute), Institution of Lighting Engineers, Institution of Royal Engineers. 1925/ The British Institute of Radio Engineers, The Textile Institute. 1927 /The Institute of Fuel (Now known as the Energy Institute), The British Boot and Shoe Institution. 1930/ The Institution of Highway Engineers (Now known as Institution of Highways and Transportation). 1931/ The Institute of Housing, The Plastics Institute. 1934/ Faculty of Radiologists. 1937/ Institute of Export. 1938/ Institution of Agricultural Engineers,Engineers Guild. 1939/ Faculty of Radiographers, Institute of Automobile Assessors. 1943/ Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management. 1944/ Institute of Measurement and Control. 1945/ Institution of Engineering Designers, Society of Operations Engineers, Institution of Water Officers, Institution of Metallurgists. 1946/ Institution of Plant Engineers, Faculty of Builders. 1947/ Society of Cosmetic Chemists. 1948/ British Institute of Management (Incorporated the Institute of Industrial Administration (f.1919) in 1951). 1949/ Institute of Statisticians, Hotel and Catering Institute. 1950/ The Institute of Biology. 1954/ British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing. 1957/ British Computer Society. 1958/ The Institution of Nuclear Engineers. 1959/ Society of Environmental Engineers, Institute of Nuclear Engineers, British Academy of Forensic Science. 1960/ Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. 1961/ Institute of Printing (Merged with Association of Printing Technologists (f.1956) in 1962).1962/ British Nucleur Energy Society. 1964/ Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.1965/ Institute of Highway. Incorporated Engineers. 1971/ Institution of Environmental Sciences. 1974/ The Institute of Acoustics. 1976/ Institute of Building Services Engineering, Royal Academy of Engineering. 1980/ The 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). 1998/ College of Teachers (Was the College of Preceptors). 1999/ Institute of Logistics and Transport. 2001/ Institute of Leadership and Management. 2002/ Institute of Materilas, Minerals and Mining. 2003/ Energy Institute. 2006/ Institution of Engineering and Technology (Successor to Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers)


  1. Armytage. W.H.G. ‘A Social History of Engineering.’ Faber 1961.
  2. Millerson.G. ‘The Qualifying Associations: a study in professionalism.’ RKP. 1964.

December 2010.

Print Friendly