After a break for Christmas and New Year we are back with a series of posts that will take you through key moments of the Institution’s history and of developments in engineering, an item at a time.
Where it all began:
First meeting of the Council of Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 20 Feb 1847.
Held at Queen’s Hotel, Birmingham the meeting confirmed Council appointments and that our first President would be George Stephenson. As this title page shows, rules and appointments made were circulated to 200 inaugural members: the Institution having been formally founded a month earlier, 27 Jan, at the Hotel. The first members paid £5 for the first year and £3 thereafter (in 1850 £5 would have the same spending worth as £292.65 in 2005). A membership condition was that each person had to present at least one paper a year or pay a fine of £1 to the Library (sadly for us this rule was never enforced and was formally expunged in 1855!).
There are many stories as to why the Institution was founded. A favourite being, in 1846 a group of railway engineers stood observing railway trials at the Lickey Incline, Blackwell on the Bristol-Birmingham line. Rain started to pour so the men huddled in a hut and begun a heated discussion on a refusal by Institution of Civil Engineers to admit George Stephenson as a member unless he write “a probationary essay as proof of his capacity as an engineer” (Samuel Smiles). This was considered as a great affront to the ‘Father of the Railways’ and to mechanical engineering by all concerned. Thus they resolved to establish their own Institution:
To enable Mechanics and Engineers engaged in the different Manufactories, Railways and other Establishments in the Kingdom to meet and correspond, and by a mutual exchange of ideas respecting improvements in the various branches of Mechanical Science, to increase their knowledge and give an impulse to Inventions likely to be useful to the World.