Our history

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is one of the world's most respected professional engineering associations. Since we were formed more than 200 years ago, we have attracted some of the most famous and influential civil engineers in history.

Telford's Menai Suspension Bridge connecting Anglesey to mainland Wales
Telford's Menai Suspension Bridge connecting Anglesey to mainland Wales

In 1818, a small group of young engineers met in a London coffee shop and founded the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), the world’s first professional engineering body.

They had hoped that lots of engineers from different engineering backgrounds would join the institution. However, civil engineering hadn't really become an official profession yet, and before the 18th century most engineers were in the armed forces.

Thomas Telford, first President of ICE
Thomas Telford - ICE's first President

After two years of struggling to attract new members, ICE asked Thomas Telford to become its first President. His appointment in 1820 not only gave ICE a major boost, it also played a huge part in shaping who we are today.

Telford designed and built all types of infrastructure; from churches to castles, canals to harbours, tunnels to bridges. He was also given the nickname ‘the Colossus of Roads’ because his designs were used to construct all major British highways (during his lifetime he built over 1,000 miles of roads).

Using his political and social connections, Telford helped to bring in many new members, from the UK and overseas. But his most important role was getting ICE's Royal Charter in 1828. Our charter (updated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975), gives us our status as the leading institution for the civil engineering profession.

Since our small beginnings, ICE has become home to many of history's greatest engineers as past presidents and members, and more than 200 years later, we have over 95,000 members around the world.

Historical archives

ICE archives contain records relating to the ICE from its formation to the present, including details of all past members. Our archives also include records relating to famous engineers from the past, including James Brindley, John Smeaton, Thomas Telford, the Rennies, as well as world famous structures such as Brunel's Thames Tunnel or the Panama Canal.

Access to the archives

Provided you arrange an appointment beforehand, our archives are open to the public. If you're interested in visiting, then please contact our Archivist, Carol Morgan:

e: [email protected]
t: +44 (0)207 665 2043

The archives are open between 9:30am and 4:30pm Monday to Friday.

Download a copy of our Guide to the Archives

ICE One Great George Street virtual history tour

Take a virtual stroll around ICE's London headquarters, One Great George Street, with our online, 360° tour.

Learn all about the iconic building, its history, past presidents, artefacts, rooms, and much more, by hovering over tags as you explore.

Discover interesting facts like the first building ICE owned, where they were located, along with how ICE settled on One Great George Street.

Explore our image library

ICE's library is home to one of the world's largest collections of civil engineering materials. We've also built up a huge collection of images chronicling the history of civil engineering. From sketches of some of the most famous structures in the UK and abroad, to portraits of famous civil engineers. Many of these images are available for free, whilst we also provide access to high resolution versions on a per request basis.

Visit our image library

Images from ICE's image library