The IEEE and its predecessors, the AIEE (American Institute of Electrical Engineers) and the IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers), date to 1884.
From its earliest origins, the IEEE has advanced the theory and application of electrotechnology and allied sciences, served as a catalyst for technological innovation and supported the needs of its members through a wide variety of programs and services.
19th Century Growth
The last quarter of the nineteenth century was marked by a tremendous growth in electrical technology. By the early 1880s,
- Telegraph wires crisscrossed the United States.
Europe and America were connected by underwater cable.
Arc lights were in use in several cities.
Thomas Edison's Pearl Street Station was supplying power for incandescent lights in New York.
There were numerous firms manufacturing electrical equipment. the telephone was growing in importance as a communication tool.
This growth in the technology and the planning for an international Electrical Exhibition to be held by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia prompted twenty-five of America's most prominent electrical engineers, including Thomas Edison, Elihu Thomson and Edwin Houston, to issue a call for the formation of a society to promote their burgeoning discipline. On 13 May 1884, the AIEE was born in New York and quickly gained recognition as a representative for American electrical engineers.
AIEE -- Wire Communications, Light and Power
From the beginning, the major interests of the AIEE were, wire communications and light and power systems. An early and active participant in the development of electrical industry standards, the Institute laid the foundations for all work on electrical standards done in the United States. During its first three decades, the AIEE confronted and resolved such internal concerns as locating permanent headquarters for the organization, providing mechanisms for contact with a far-flung membership and with students, and fostering new technical interests through committees that were established to meet the challenge of increasing specialization. By 1912, however, the interests and needs of those specializing in the expanding field of radio could no longer be satisfied by periodic technical committee meetings in their local areas.
The IRE -- Wireless Communications
Two largely local organizations -- the Society of Wireless and Telegraph Engineers and the Wireless Institute -- merged to form an international society for scientists and engineers involved in the development of wireless communications -- the Institute of Radio Engineers.
Many of the original members of the IRE were members of the AIEE and both organizations continued to have members in common until they merged to form the IEEE in 1963. The structural development and general activities of the IRE were similar to those of the AIEE.
Specialized segments were gathered into professional groups under a governing body.
Geographical units and student branches were formed.
Meetings and publications facilitated the creation of an extensive literature and the exchange of knowledge.
Membership grades were established.
Standards development became a major effort.
The nature of radio technology meant that the interests of the IRE went beyond national boundaries. Therefore, the new organization sought and attracted members from many countries and eventually established units in several areas throughout the world. From the beginning the 'Proceedings of the IRE' regularly published papers from authors outside the United States.
In the 1930's, electronics became part of the vocabulary of electrical engineering. Electronics engineers tended to become members of the IRE, but the applications of electron tube technology became so extensive that the technical boundaries differentiating the IRE and the AIEE became difficult to distinguish. After World War II, the two organizations became increasingly competitive. Problems of overlap and duplication of efforts arose, only partially resolved by joint committees and meetings.
AIEE, IRE Merge to form IEEE
In 1961, the leadership of both the IRE and the AIEE resolved to seek an end to these difficulties through consolidation. The next year a merger plan was formulated and approved and became effective on 1 January 1963.