In a London coffee house on a winter's day in 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers was founded by a small group of idealistic young men. Today, ICE has over 80,000 members across the world. But, despite the tremendous advances in technology and the growth of the engineering profession, ICE has the same purpose as it did when it was founded nearly two centuries ago...
Prior to the eighteenth century engineers in Europe had been almost exclusively military men. Although civil engineering work had been carried out before that time, there was no identifiable profession. In the UK, John Smeaton and some of his colleagues formed the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers 1771, a group of leaders of the profession who met informally over dinner. Although there was some early evidence of more technical meetings and a library of sorts was built up, the rather restricted membership and informal nature of the Society meant it was incapable of meeting all the needs of a fast growing profession.
The foundation of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1818 was an inevitable result of the development of the profession, and the professional element distinguished it from other societies. What it failed to be was a great success. In 1820, to give the Society new impetus Thomas Telford accepted the role of President. Telford was one of the leading civil engineers of the time, and after the death of John Rennie in 1821, probably the leading engineer in the Empire. Telford had political and society contacts and knew many of the profession personally. He regularly introduced new members, some from overseas, to meetings, and most important of all, in 1828, was successful in obtaining for the Institution its Royal Charter, which gave it status as the leader of the profession.
In 1894 a new home for ICE was built in the heart of London´s Westminster. At the same time, membership levels were increasing by around 5,000 people a year. ICE is still based in London but today has offices throughout the UK and the rest of the world, from Novosibirsk to Hong Kong. With many of history's greatest engineers as past presidents and members, ICE has seen the growth and development of the profession. Looking towards the future, ICE now provides a focal point for the exchange of ideas and learning... exactly what it was set up to do.