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IEEE New York Section History

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A Brief History

The original By-laws of the New York Section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers were adopted at an Organization Meeting of the Section on December 10, 1919.

That would then be the official beginning of the present New York Section (NYS) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

On April 15, 1884, a group of 30 prominent engineers, electricians, inventors and manufacturers answered a call and met at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Headquarters in New York City to plan a new Society. And so the first general meeting of the new American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) was held on May 13th. Mr. Norvin Green, President of Western Union Telegraph Company, became the first President of AIEE. He served in this capacity for three years. One of his six vice-presidents was Thomas A. Edison.

In the first years AIEE was very much a New York organization. The early meetings were held in various locations throughout New York City until the AIEE accepted an invitation from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to share their home at 12 West 31st Street.

In 1907 these two Societies were joined by the missing engineers in a new building, the Engineering Societies Building at 33 West 39th Street, constructed especially for them through the generosity of Mr. Andrew Carnegie. The Building remained the Institute’s home until the current United Engineering Center (UEC) was built on East 47th Street in the early 1960’s.

In 1902 the first local sections of AIEE were authorized with Ithaca, NY, and Chicago being the first.

Our own New York Section was organized in 1919 and its first set of By-laws adopted on December 10, 1919. The Section had technical and geographical Divisions, rather than Chapters as at present, such as, but no limited to:

  • Basic Sciences Division
  • New Jersey Division
  • Communications Division
  • Power and Industrial Division
  • Hudson Valley Division

In this same time period the Instate of Radio Engineers (IRE) was also founded in New York.

In 1907 the Society of Wireless Telegraph Engineers (SWTE) was begun and in 1909 The Wireless Institute (TWI) was organized. Unfortunately they both floundered in 1911 and 1912. So on May 14, 19112, members of both organizations met in Columbia University’s Fayerweather Hall to merge and form the IRE. This new organization was also a New York organization in its early years - just as AIEE.

The offices of the IRE were always in New York - at first in the quarters of its officers and then a series of rented spaces in mid-manhattan. In 1946 the IRE finally purchased property at 1 East 79th St.

Thus the early histories of both the AIEE, NYS and the IRE, NYS are the early histories of their respective Institutes. In each case the Institute was the Section and the Section was the Institute.

The period following AIEE’s founding was one of slow but constant growth in the electrical engineering field throughout the country. Communications was still the outstanding electrical interest of the institute - although lighting power and electric traction were pushing for position.

The Institute continued to hold meeting in New York with occasional excursions elsewhere.

AIEE President Charles P. Steinmetz (1901-02) pointed out the need for growth. His term included meetings on lighting, telephony, electric railways and education; a Waldorf Astoria banquet for the “distinguished Italian space telegraph expert, Guglielmo Marconi”, and a convention at Great Burington, Mass. At that some convention, Stienmetz’s successor, Charles F. Scott, told of his plans for establishing Sections and Branches.

In 1902 the Minneapolis Section was founded - but no attempt was made to form the NYS until 17 years later (1919). There was a very good reason;- since continuing monthly national meetings were held in New York, it made “local” meetings unnecessary, since much the same people would be involved and the “New York Section” had an excellent home in the new Engineering Societies Building donated by Andrew Carnegie.

Because of the World War (it wasn’t WW I until WW II) in this 1913-1920 period, confusing times were created for electrical engineers. The AIEE sponsored the formation of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), the Association of Iron and Steel Electrical Engineers (AISEE) and the American Society of Chemical Engineers (ASChE).

In 1912, as stated above, the SWTE and TWI merged to become the IRE. This then was the progenitor of the IRE NYS.

Shortly after the end of the war in 1918, the AIEE NYS was established in 1919. AIEE President Calvert Townley (1919-1920) headed an organization meeting of the Section; which elected Mr. Farley Osgood of New Jersey as its temporary chairman. But since the national monthly meetings continued to be held in New York for a long time thereafter, the Section was operated by the Staff and Board of Directors, leaving little for the Section officers to do except fill in a program in case a national monthly meeting was to be held outside of New York. With the creation of districts in the AIEE, District 3 had only the New York Section to administer. So, practically, the Section and the District were about the same, and, as a result, in general, the NYS Chairman later became a District or national officer.

Radio became very popular in the 1920’s but post-war expansion of power and telephone systems utilized most of the electrical engineers. AIEE had joint meetings with the other Founder Societies’ Sections. But, while IRE was still the baby of the metropolitan area, meeting in a classroom on Columbia University’s campus, and the AIEE NYS turned out members by the hundreds, filling the auditorium at the Engineering Societies Building, the biggest joint meeting of the year was with the IRE Section on “Radio Telegraphy” with Senator Marconi as the honored guest, making it the heaviest attendance of the 1922 year for both Sections.

Both the AIEE and IRE Sections were still largely New York - Centered. Although the AIEE was now covering the nation geographically while IRE had begun developing strong sections such as Rochester and Washington, DC The AIEE NYS led all the Founder Societies and its IRE competition by being the first to give birth to a strong and lasting professional technical group - the Power Group - formed in 1929 - and still flourishing.

Student Branch activity entered the picture starting in the 1914-1919 period with Brooklyn Poly being formed in 1916, followed by Cooper Union, CCNY, Rutgers, NYU, Stevens, NCE, Pratt, Columbia and Manhattan during the next 20 years.

Following the 1929 “Crash” and the Depression that followed, both the AIEE and IRE Sections lost membership and attendance at meetings. Both Sections, however, continued to expand their horizons and the Basic Science Technology Group was organized in the AIEE in 1939 under the leadership of Ernst Weber, who became IRE President in 1959 (and IEEE’s first President in 1963).

The Depression may have been a “blessing”(?) in disguise for the Institute because the young engineers who couldn’t afford money for amusements, enrolled in educational courses sponsored by the technical or professional groups. This situation resulted in unexpectedly larger audiences. As a result, the organizations of the Sections ere strengthened. Cadres of good workers were developed and potential officer material easily attainable. Funds to operate the Sections were now available and both New York Sections became strong geographic centers for the national growing Societies of the AIEE and IRE and each Section recovered its lost membership.

The first five years of the 1940’s were War years. The Sections lost members to the Armed Forces. Programs were curtailed and many papers were restricted. While some activity continued, many interesting energy developments where now top secret. There were no inspection trips and few social affairs.

In spite of the war - like atmosphere, growth could not be held back. Even though the AIEE NYS was organized in 1919, the Board of Directors didn’t see fit to grant it full independence until 1944 with Mr. Lloyd Espenschied as its first chairman. IRE “zones” were established in Boonton, Newark and Fort Monmouth. In the AIEE NYS the war - born New Jersey Activities Committee grew apace.

And in that same year, 1944, the IRE Board established its NYS.

The new IRE NYS prospered as did the older, more established AIEE Section. Both Sections continued their excellent joint relations. They formed the New York Technical Societies Council and jointly supported a committee to welcome veterans returning to the profession.

The war brought a new word to both Institutes - electronics! Both Institutes added larger numbers of members interested in all phases of electrical engineering and individual specialties. The memberships in both Institutes increased tremendously.

In the IRE Long Island organized itself into a subsection in October 1947 and later petitioned to separate from the NYS. The IRE Monmouth Subsection, on the other hand, didn’t want to leave the NYS. The Schenectady Section splitoff from the NYS as did the Syracuse Section in 1949.

In this same period, while Poughkeepsie wanted its independence from the AIEE NYS, the NYS temporarily acquired Puerto Rico as a geographic division.

In the 1950’s AIEE and IRE both had about the same metropolitan territory divided into subsections or divisions. AIEE’s New Jersey Division refused to be divorced from the New York Section as did IRE’s New Jersey Division in the beginning. A Later IRE’s New Jersey Division set up housekeeping for itself. Monmouth was invited to join Philadelphia but chose to stay with North Jersey.

There were meetings in both Institutes on Color TV, Transistor Circuitry, Solid State Physics, Missiles and Photography. Professional groups and Technical divisions multiplied and expanded.

As both Sections entered the merger period in 1963 of the AIEE and IRE into the IEEE, a solid record of cooperation and accomplishment was evident.

After 54 years in the Engineering Societies Building, the new IEEE Headquarters was moved to the United Engineering Center Building (UEC) on East 47th St. Donald Fink, a former IRE President (1958) became the first IEEE General Manager. At the New York Metropolitan Section level, membership was spun off to North Jersey, Long Island, Monmouth and Hudson Valley Sections. During the first IEEE year, New York Section had two co-chairmen - Amos Joel (AIEE) and Elias Schutzman (IRE). The new NYS was restructured into Operations and Activities with a vice-chairman over each.

For 1964-1965, Hartley Grim became the Chairman of the largest Section of the Institute with six Divisions, 13 Group Chapters and 450 committee members.

Unfortunately, in spite of a very high level of activities, there was a decline in meeting attendance as well as an increase in Monitor losses imperiling the financial health of the Section. New Section By-laws were drafted. Divisions became Groups and later some Groups became Societies within the IEEE.

IEEE NYS’s Chairman Dr. Haroun Mahrous started the 1970’s when he opened the New York Section Executive Committee meeting on June 11, 1969.

That first meeting was scheduled to be at the IEEE Headquarters on East 47th St. But had to be moved to the ATT Building at 195 Broadway because a minor fire in the air conditioning system force the closing of the Headquarters for the day.

The 1970’s saw the oil embargo, high fuel costs, and high transportation costs. Big cars became a glut and small cars were in demand. Costs of products sky-rocketed; unemployment rose, and, paradoxically, so did inflation. Conservation became [important] in every home - light were dimmed and thermostats lowered. Electric and gas demands went down and utilities were forced to tighten up all over - austerity programs were the order of the day. Construction programs were slowed down or halted or even canceled. Some utilities had lay-offs. And, coupled with all this, there was the Three Mile Island incident which put the nuclear generation program in a bad light. Everyone had been looking for some way to salvage decreasing power demands. But this negative effect put more reliance on high cost fuels. With all this IEEE membership and attendance at meetings and courses declined.

But since all things must pass - escalation slowed down, unemployment declined - people started buying more new cars and using them more. More lights went on and burned brighter - thermostats crept up - some of it due to increased efficiencies and lessened wasteful practices.

In the ‘70’s the three Metropolitan Sections - New York, Long Island and Northern New Jersey - formed a Metropolitan Sections Advisory Committee (later committee changed to Council), METSAC, for the purpose of cooperation, cross-pollination of ideas, and avoiding conflicts of interests.

Then in 1977 the Region 1 Executive Committee wanted to breakup METSAC by splitting Northern New Jersey out of Region 1, but all three Sections objected. In fact the Princeton and Jersey Shore Sections expressed desires to join METSAC, which they eventually did.

Emphasis had been placed on a combined Tri-Section publication. So in 1972 a Tri-Section Newsletter was published.

There had been annual conventions - NEREM in Boston and INTERCON in New York. In 1975 they were merged to form ELECTRO with meetings alternating annually between Boston and the; New York area.

The annual Fellows Award Dinner Dance of the New York Section is the social; highlight of the year and enjoys national recognition.

In June 1977 Alex Gruenwald became our New York Section Chairman and later Region 1 Director in 1984.

In retrospect “P&I” has had and still has the best Annual Fall outings (Picnic) in the entire Institute. And who can forget some of our inspection trips like: Being aboard the USS Essayons as it dredged New York Harbor; Viewing the USS Nautilus at General Dynamics in Groton Conn; Going on an inspection trip to Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania aboard our private railroad car; Visiting the numerous cable plants and Going backstage at Radio City and the Metropolitan Opera House.

Much water has passed under the bridge since our beginning on December 10, 1919, and when we were granted our “independence” in 1944.

We did learn; we did travel; we did enjoy a lot.

We now have the Tappan Zee Subsection, (formally known as the Westchester Subsection), 17 Activities Chairmen, 11 Chapter Chairmen (plus a few open spots), and four joint Chapters administered by the Long Island Section. Our Monitor is thriving, albeit our circulation is down because of the generally, constantly declining membership. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Remember that the Depression after the 1929 “Crash” resulted in increased interest in our programs. -It could happen again!

This information was previously published in the December 1994 issue of the New York Sections newsletter, The IEEE Monitor, and was based on information provided by Morris Hooven, Past AIEE President and AIEE NYS Chairman, Vince McDonough, Past IEEE NYS Chairman, and Frank Farinella, Past IEEE NYS Chairman

Further Reading 

Link to Section Homepage

Link to Region 1 Homepage

IEEE Geographic Unit Organizing Document - New York

IEEE Region 1 Newsletter - New York Section Update Fall 2008

IEEE Region 1 Newsletter - New York Section Update Spring 2009

The Moniter - October 2012 (NY Section Newsletter)

Archive of Moniter Issues 1998 - 2010