IEEE Fellow Grade History

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History of the Fellow grade in AIEE, IRE, and IEEE

The grade of Fellow first appeared in the AIEE constitution of 1912. In that year, the AIEE revised its membership structure and established the grade of Fellow for those engineers who had demonstrated outstanding proficiency and had achieved distinction in their profession. Potential Fellows had to be at least thirty-two years of age, with a minimum of ten years experience. When the IRE established its Fellow grade in 1914, the requirements were clearly modeled on those of the AIEE. Much of the wording in the relevant sections of the IRE constitution is identical to the corresponding wording in the AIEE constitution.

For the first several years after the establishment of the Fellow grade, both the AIEE and the IRE allowed Members to make direct application for transfer to Fellow. In both cases, applications had to be accompanied by references from five existing Fellows, and required the approval of the Board of Directors. In 1939, the IRE modified its procedure to make admission or transfer to the Fellow grade possible only by direct invitation of the Board of Directors, a policy it maintained until the merger in 1963. In 1938, the AIEE modified its constitution to provide that "Applications to the grade of Fellow shall result only from a proposal of five Members or Fellows." In 1951, the AIEE prohibited applications for Fellow grade altogether, and adopted a policy of direct invitation similar to that of the IRE.

As noted above, numerous electrical engineers were members of both the AIEE and the IRE, and many of these became Fellows of both organizations. When the two institutes merged in 1963, all AIEE and IRE Fellows automatically became Fellows of the IEEE. In 1942, the IRE had begun to issue citations to new Fellows, briefly describing their accomplishments. The AIEE followed suit in 1952, and the IEEE continued the practice after the merger.

A list of IEEE Fellows up to 1984 can be found in the publication A Century of Honors, and the IEEE Fellows Directory contains a chronological list going back from the present to 1960, as well as an alphabetical list of current fellows.

AIEE Honorary Members

The AIEE established Honorary Membership at its founding in 1884, and first awarded the grade to Sir William Preece that same year. While the AIEE did not initially define the the qualifications for Honorary Membership, the grade was clearly reserved for those with truly great accomplishments. In its first ten years, the honor went to such men as Cyrus Field , William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), and Hermann von Hemholz. In 1901, the Institute stipulated in its constitution that Honorary Members were to be chosen "from among those who have rendered acknowledged eminent service to electrical engineering or its allied sciences." In 1957, AIEE broadened the definition by making eligible those who had "rendered meritorious service to mankind in engineering or other allied fields." During the seventy-nine years that the AIEE existed as an independent organization, it elected a total of 49 men as Honorary Members, the last two being Philip Sporn and Allen B. DuMont in 1961.

The first constitution of the Institute of Radio Engineers provided that persons who had "rendered acknowledged eminent service to the art or science of radio transmission" could be elected Honorary Members. The IRE never awarded the grade, however, and all reference to Honorary Members was dropped from its constitution in 1931.

When the AIEE and IRE merged in 1963, provision for Honorary Members was made in the bylaws of the new Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, but no new Honorary Members were elected until 1981. In that year, the requirements were changed so that only non-IEEE members were elegible.