Institution of Mechanical Engineers
From Graces Guide
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) is the British engineering society concerned with mechanical engineering.
'To be the natural professional home for all involved in Mechanical Engineering'
1847 The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was founded in Birmingham by the railway pioneer George Stephenson and others.
1846 The events that lead to the formation of the IMechE began in the early autumn of 1846. A discussion between six or seven men, not all of whom were engineers, ended with the decision to try and gain support for an institution for "mechanics and engineers".
At the opening of the present headquarters in Birdcage Walk in 1899 a commemorative pamphlet was issued to members stating that the meeting took place in a house in Cecil Street, Manchester at the house of a Charles Beyer, the manager of Sharp Brothers locomotive works. Although Beyer was very much involved in the formation of the IMechE, it is more likely that the meeting was no more than a conversation among friends.
More probably, the venue of the discussion that led to the first meeting was the Lickey Incline near Bromsgrove on the Birmingham and Bristol Railway. James McConnell was until 1846, locomotive superintendent of this line, known earlier as the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. It appears that McConnell had invited several engineers to view locomotive trials at Lickey, where there is a 1 in 37 gradient. It remains one of the steepest parts of the British railway network today.
More than a decade later Samuel Smiles, in his biography of George Stephenson suggested that the IMechE was formed out of a sense of justifiable rage. Smiles wrote that the engineers present at the Lickey Incline were angry that Stephenson, the most famous mechanical engineer of the age had been refused membership to the Institution of Civil Engineers, unless he sent in "a probationary essay as proof of his capacity as an engineer". According to Smiles, Stephenson declined to submit to this indignity and as such the other engineers decided to form their own institution, that would not only include Stephenson, but put him at their head.
In the 1950s after the centenary of the IMechE had made the story public, engineers at the Institution of Civil Engineers checked their records and found that although there had been a definite coolness between Stephenson and some prominent members of the ICE (Stephenson retained a distaste for London based consulting engineers compared to "practical Northerners") there is no evidence that he ever applied for membership or that if he did, it was refused. The story appears to have been invented by Smiles some years after Stephenson's death perhaps as an illustration of the hardships faced by the early engineering establishment or to provide some drama to his work.
As well as McConnel and Beyer, Richard Peacock, superintendent of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway and later a member of parliament was present at the meeting at Lickey along with George Selby and Archibald Slate from the Birmingham tube company and Charles Geach, a Birmingham Banker. The result of the meeting was a letter, that was sent to all the prominent engineers across Britain. It read: "To enable Mechanics and Engineers engaged in the different Manufactories, Railways and other Establishments in the Kingdom, to meet and correspond, and by mutual interchange of the 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. We hope to have the pleasure of seeing you at a Meeting of Promoters of the above on Wednesday 7th October at 2pm at the Queens Hotel, Birmingham"
The letter was signed by McConnell, Beyer and Slate and also by Edward Humphreys of the firm Rennie's in London. Although not present at the meeting the use of his name gave the endorsement of a London Engineer, to add to the Birmingham and Manchester men, and Rennie's was an illustrious name to attach to the new institution.
On the 7th of October the meeting was held. The preliminaries appear not to have taken too long. The four signatories of the letter, plus Peacock, William Buckle from Boulton and Watt, John Edward Clift and Edward Alfred Cowper were elected to form the committee and draft the rules, with McConnell as Chairman and Slate as honorary Secretary. The meeting however was followed by a dinner. The list of toasts, beginning with Victoria of the United Kingdom and the Prince consort and including a toast to the Institution of Civil Engineers, to the memory of James Watt, to George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson, to Brunel and the health of McConnell and Slate as well as others suggest that the evening slid into genial, less than sober, sentimentality.