IEEE, an association dedicated to advancing innovation and technological 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 the related areas of science and technology which underlie modern civilization.
IEEE’s roots, however, go back to 1884 when electricity was just beginning to become a major force in society, when there was only one established electrical industry, the telegraph. Beginning in the 1840s, the telegraph finally connected the world with a reliable communications system faster than the speed of transportation. Soon afterwards, a second electrical innovation would quickly leave an indelible mark on the world, electric power and light, disputably invented by Thomas Edison and his colleagues.
Foundation of the AIEE
To meet the growing needs of the fledgling electronics industry, a small group of electrical professionals met in New York in the Spring of 1884. They formed the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE for short), an organization designed to support professionals in the nascent field and to aid them in their efforts to apply innovation for the betterment of humanity. That October, the AIEE held its first technical meeting in Philadelphia, Pa. Many early leaders, such as founding President Norvin Green of Western Union, came from telegraphy, while others, such as Thomas Edison, came from power, with Alexander Graham Bell representing the new telephone industry.
As electric power spread rapidly across the land—enhanced by innovators including Nikola Tesla—new corporations, such as such as Westinghouse and General Electric, commercialized electronics. The AIEE became increasingly focused on electrical power and its ability to change people’s lives, but maintained a secondary focus on wired communications, including both the telegraph and the telephone. Through technical meetings, publications, and promotion of standards, the organization led the growth of the electrical engineering profession, while local sections and student chapters brought the benefits of shared knowledge to engineers throughout the world.
Radio, Radio! Foundation of the IRE
At the turn of the century, Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless telegraphy experiments marked the establishing of a new industry. What was originally called “wireless” soon became radio, as John Fleming’s diode and Lee de Forest’s triode vacuum tubes made electrical amplification possible. With the new industry came a new society, the Institute of Radio Engineers, founded in 1912. The IRE was modeled after the AIEE, but was devoted to radio and then increasingly to electronics. Similarly, it furthered the new profession by linking its members to publications, standards and conferences, and encouraged innovation and excellence in the emerging industry.
The Formation of the IEEE
Guided by dedicated leadership and its members’ innovations to industry, the two organizations made major contributions to their respective fields. However, as progress marched onwards, they overlapped more and more. Membership in both societies grew, but beginning in the 1940s, the IRE started to faster and became the larger group in 1957. However, by this time, the point was moot. Due to their shared interests, the AIEE and the IRE merged on 1 January 1963, to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or the IEEE, an organization which continues to drive innovation to this day.
Growth and Globalization
Over the decades that followed, IEEE’s continued supporting innovation around the world, helping develop electronics and new technologies. The professional groups and technical boards of the predecessor institutions each contributed their expertise and evolved into leaner, more focused societies within the IEEE. By the early 21st Century, the organization served members and their interests with 38 societies; 130 journals, transactions and magazines; more than 300 conferences annually; and 900 active standards.
Throughout the lifetime of the IEEE, computers have evolved from massive mainframes to desktop appliances to portable devices which are all part of a global network connected by satellites and fiber optics. With the advent of new technologies, IEEE’s fields of interest have expanded to include micro and nanotechnology, ultrasonics, bioengineering, robotics, electronic materials, and many others. The organization has become a truly global institution which spurs on new advances throughout the world. IEEE now has over 425,000 members in 160 countries, more than a quarter of whom are students. Through its worldwide network of geographical chapters, publications, web services, and conferences, the IEEE remains one of the world’s brightest professional associations.