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IEEE Southeastern Michigan Section History

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IEEE Section Anniversary: A Historical Perspective

January 28, 1996 is the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Michigan section of AIEE, the forerunner of the Southeastern Michigan Section of IEEE (IEEE/SEM). The section has roots stemming from a number of founding professional organizations. The chronology of the section follows from noting that 1996 is also the:

  • 112th anniversary of the founding of AIEE (the first organization in the chronology which led to IEEE),
  • 84th anniversary of the founding of IRE,
  • 70th anniversary of the founding of the Detroit section of IRE,
  • 50th anniversary of the founding of the Vehicular Radio Group of IRE,
  • 33rd anniversary of the merger of AIEE and IRE into IEEE, and
  • 33rd anniversary of the formation of the IEEE/SEM Section


The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) origins began with the founding of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) in New York City in 1884 by a group of electrical inventors and entrepreneurs. At the time, telegraph lines were strung across the land and under the sea to link peoples and nations; the telephone, less than a decade old, was already revolutionizing the patters of communications. Thomas Edison's electric light invented only five years earlier, was being installed in just about every industrial, commercial, and residential application.


Three students earned bachelor degrees in electrical engineering from the Physics Department at the University of Michigan in 1890. The degrees were the first such degrees awarded in the state of Michigan. By 1895, the number of students studying electrical engineering, primarily in the area of electrical machinery, had grown to the extent that the Department of Electrical Engineering was founded at the University of Michigan.


The Michigan Section of AIEE was founded on January 29, 1911. Electrical engineers in the section practiced in the power areas of generators, transformers, switchgear, cables, and transmission lines. Utility engineers, primarily from Detroit Edison , Consumers Power , and Michigan Bell Telephone were heavily represented in the membership and leadership.


The emergence of the dramatic new technology of radio, with its equally profound consequences for mankind, led to the founding of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) in 1912. IRE became the lead organization for technology which evolved into electronics, with the resulting invention of television, radar, control systems, and computers.
The use of two-way radios was first demonstrated in Detroit police cars in 1925. The following year on May 22, 1926, the Detroit Section of IRE was founded. Radio and electronics engineers in the Detroit Section practiced in the areas of telegraphy, radio, electron theory, radio astronomy, and electron microscopy. There was also heavy representation by members of academia in the Detroit Section of IRE.


The diverse technical fields in both electrical engineering and electronics engineering resulted in both AIEE and IRE forming specialized technical groups. One of these technical groups was the Vehicular Radio Group, founded in 1946. This group is the predecessor of the IEEE Vehicular Technology Society .


The Detroit Sections of IRE and AIEE were recognized by the national organizations as being among the more active sections. Each section had hosted several national conventions and many smaller technical conferences in Detroit. Several local officers went on to leadership roles at the national levels in AIEE and IRE.


The field of electronics engineering grew, and by the end of World War II, equaled power and communication engineering in scope and membership. Increasingly, the common interests of electrical and electronics engineers drew them closer together. On the national level, as well as the local section level, AIEE and IRE co-sponsored more and more joint technical programs. Talks on a merger of the two organizations began and the merger of the two international organizations was formulated and agreed to at the 1961 AIEE Fall General Meeting, held here in Detroit ( about Detroit , city website ). The AIEE and IRE national organizations merged in 1963 to form a new technical engineering society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) .


Following the 1961 AIEE Fall General Meeting, the officers of the Detroit Sections of AIEE and IRE held several discussions to iron out many potential problems in order to make the new union a success. The two sections merged to form the Southeastern Michigan Section of the IEEE (IEEE/SEM) on June 1, 1963. The first year of the merger was a time of obvious change, and there was a great deal of concern about the manner in which the two sections would come together. Despite the somewhat diverse interests of the two sections, the transition was carried out in a spirit of cooperation, and concerns proved to be unfounded.


The technical groups in the two local sections were combined, resulting in eight technical groups within IEEE/SEM. Five of the groups came from the former IRE and three from the former AIEE. The technical groups were:

  • Computer Group
  • Aerospace and Electronics Group
  • Power Group
  • Industry and General Applications Group
  • Communications Technology Group,
  • Vehicular Technology Group,
  • Automatic Control and Information Theory Group, and
  • Trident (AP, ED, MTT) Group


The incoming AIEE section chair became the first IEEE/SEM chair. The incoming IRE section chair became the first IEEE/SEM vice chair and assumed the chair position the following year. An executive committee was formed which consisted of four officers, eight administrative members, and the junior past chair. An advisory committee was formed; it included the chair and vice chair of all the active committees and technical groups and the executive committee. There were sixty-eight members on the advisory committee. There were over 200 active committee members out of a section membership of 2,200 during the first year.


A meeting was held in early 1963 to plan the year's activities. During the first year of the merger, six section meeting and forty-five technical group meetings were held. The IEEE/SEM Education Committee conducted several tutorial symposia in Detroit and Jackson that were successful and produced income for the section.


IRE published Crosstalk, a monthly newsletter at the time of the merger. The newsletter was in the form of a magazine. AIEE published a monthly announcement called the Michigan Section Newsletter. It was felt that a professional looking publication was desirable, and a magazine type publication called the Michigan Section IEEE News was initiated. The cost of the newsletter was subsidized by the income from symposia conducted by the IEEE/SEM Education Committee and income from advertisers listed in the business directory of the publication. Some of the original advertisers were Engel-Klaes Co., Osborne Transformer Corporation , George R. Peters Associates , George R. Peters Associates , Myron Zucker Inc. , and The Satullo Company . IEEE/SEM held a contest in 1970 for the purpose of renaming the newsletter. Wavelengths was selected as the winning entry and the January 1971 issue was the first issue published under the new name.


The history of the IEEE/SEM since 1963 has been one of demonstrated activism and volunteerism on both the national and local levels of IEEE. Numerous technical conferences have been hosted and co-sponsored, including:

  • 1966 First National Conference on Automobile Electrical and Electronic Equipment
  • 1968 International Power Generation Conference
  • 1969 Industry and General Applications Group Annual Meeting
  • 1970 Annual Vehicular Technology Conference
  • 1974 The World Energy Conference
  • 1974 Convergence (also held every two years in Detroit following the original conference)
  • 1991 Industry Applications Society Annual Meeting
  • 1991 VNIS Conference


The activism of IEEE/SEM has extended to involvement in the broader engineering, professional and scientific community. Past issues of Wavelengths illustrate the involvement of IEEE/SEM and its members in programs with the Engineering Society of Detroit (ESD) , and especially the ESD Affiliate Council , the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers , National Engineers Week , and the Science and Engineering Fair of Metropolitan Detroit .
IEEE/SEM has also been creative in trying to service the needs of its members at various times throughout its history. With the amending of the IEEE Constitution in 1972 to add matters of professional concern, IEEE/SEM created the position of Director of Professional Activities to concentrate on the professional as well as technical needs of its members. The section has reorganized its structure of directors to be more responsive to the needs of the technical society chapters, student branches, and individual members.


IEEE/SEM presented a half-hour program in 1974 on WTVS/Channel 56 . It was a panel discussion on "Nuclear, Solar, and Windmill Energy Sources as a Solution to the Energy Crunch." In 1983 and 1984, IEEE/SEM co-sponsored with the IEEE Columbus, Ohio Section a new regional, high-technology electronics show and convention called OHMCON. During the 1981-82 section business year, IEEE/SEM operated a telephone news line and job posting system. An electronic bulletin board was operated during 1987-99 using a computer system purchased with funds from IEEE Region 4.


The section revitalized the format of Wavelengths in 1988-89 under an active new editor. The section adopted a new format for the IEEE/SEM Fall 1990 Meeting that included parallel technical society meetings that preceded a general section meeting; the new format stimulated the interest and attendance of section members and guests. In 1992, under the leadership of the Director of Professional Activities, the section jointly co-sponsored several technical job fairs in Southeastern Michigan with job-fair producers in order to advance the employment needs of the members.
The Section Geography


The boundaries of IEEE/SEM encompasses the counties of Clinton , Eaton , Ingham , Jackson , Livingston , Macomb , Oakland ( about Oakland ) , St. Clair , Washtenaw , and Wayne in Michigan, and the county of Essex in Ontario, Canada. IEEE/SEM has grown from 2,200 members in 1963 to approximately 2,500 members in 1973 and over 4,000 members in 1996. the section has student branches at ten universities in southeastern Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. There are nine chapters that represent fourteen IEEE technical societies. IEEE/SEM has over forty section officers, directors, and chapter officers.


The Section Volunteers Today


IEEE/SEM has a great deal to offer its members, both technically and professionally. Members through service with IEEE/SEM can contribute to fellow members and play a role in the development of the section. Members may volunteer to work with a committee, attend technical meetings, assist with program activities, serve as an editor with Wavelengths, solicit funds for various programs, and seek election to an office. The section sponsors technical and professional programs that provide each member with the opportunity to participate and learn about the new technologies and network with peers in the electrical, electronics, and computer engineering profession. Members interested in volunteering should contact the chapter chair or one of the executive committee members.
I wish to acknowledge the contributions of Mr. Frank Klaes to the content of this article. Frank was the first chair of IEEE/SEM when AIEE and IRE merged in 1963. Frank's firm, Engel-Klaes Co. has been an advertiser in Wavelengths from the beginning. Thanks, Frank, for your support and assistance!


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By Don Bramlett, IEEE/SEM Advisor
This article originally appeared in the January 1996 issue of Wavelengths newsletter.