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Corporate technology: The social origins of the American institute of electrical engineers

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1 Author(s)
A. M. McMahon ; Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers came into being almost one hundred years ago, calling itself in the years before the advent of electronic technologies the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. The AIEE was founded in 1884 by an active group of managers, telegraphic electricians, inventors and manufacturers, and a few professors of physical science. Just over half of the initial leadership were corporation managers and leading inventormanufacturers. From the beginning, the Institute sought to centralize and nationalize electrical knowledge in America. Through the first quarter century, members sought status through educational standards, and struggled with the restrictions of specialization. A study of the original officers and board members indicates that the first generation of electricians and electrical engineers were largely self-taught inventors. Even before their natural demise, these men were displaced by the academically trained electrical engineers; their companies were either absorbed or made useless by the corporations which took control of the industry. Thus in the AIEE itself, the original founders-inventors, telegraph and telephone company officers, and telegraph electricians-soon gave over the reins of the society to the employees of large electrical corporations. The society emerged from the explosive growth of the electrical industry. Electrical technologies, virtually ignored at the Centennial Celebration of 1876, became within ten years the basis for a powerful new industry centered on dramatic advances in electric lighting and power. AIEE was born as a consequence of the needs of modern industrial society. Its drive for professional status was a perfect response to those needs. There could be no opposition from the corporate bureaucracies since professionalism itself was a bureaucratic response to knowledge.

Published in:

Proceedings of the IEEE  (Volume:64 ,  Issue: 9 )