Stephenson's letter about becoming President


George Stephenson and the birth of IMechE

On 27th Feb 1847 Stephenson writes that he is to become President to a “highly respectable mechanical institution at Birmingham”. He is of course, conveying that he is to be the first President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Bell has written to ask him what honours he has to his name: Stephenson replies that he has no flourishes but is just plain Geo Stephenson. He also tells us, that he has been asked to become a Fellow of the Royal Society and “also of the Civil engineers Society” (Institution of Civil Engineers, ICE) but that he objected because he felt those accolades would be empty additions to his name. A popular story, started we believe by Stephenson’s early biographer Samuel Smiles, is that Stephenson joined IMechE in a funk at having been rejected by ICE for not being a true engineer. It would seem that this is not true, at least if Stephenson himself is to be believed.

A letter had been sent out to potential IMechE members informing them of the formation of the Institution. On 18th Nov 1846, a committee was then set up to draw up rules for a constitution. The backgrounds of the committee members reflect the disciplines the institution was set-up to serve: Richard Peacock, Manchester and Sheffield Railway; James McConnell, railway engineer; Archibald Slate, Birmingham Patent Tube Co; Edward Humphreys, J & G Rennie; William Buckle, James Watt & Co; John Edward Clift, Staffordshire and Birmingham Gas Works; and Edward Cowper, Fox and Henderson.

It was at a meeting on 20 Jan 1847 that Stephenson was asked to be President following a vote on the matter. He was at the meeting and gave an address, he also proposed that the provisional rules be adopted and was seconded by Charles Beyer, co-founder of the firm Beyer-Peacock. He is listed as one of the 70 original members (these are considered to be our founders) and the Institution was officially born at the meeting. The formal minutes start at the next meeting, 20 Feb 1847.

Read the formal minutes of meetings (COU/1).

Archive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers


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