In for a guinea

By Ian Shepherd and Cath O'Driscoll

For such an inclusive club, the original membership fee was very steep: The first subscription fee was set at one guinea, which would be equivalent to nearly £400 nowadays, and more than four times today's fee.

Four grades of membership were agreed at the time (and have since been reviewed): member, associate, student and honorary, with most appointments made on the basis of a review of their 'eligibility' by council. In terms of the Society’s remit, the main objectives were:

  • To foster the meeting of and communication between persons in the chemical industries;
  • To publish the proceedings of meetings and relevant correspondence;
  • To hold general meetings at which the regulation of the affairs of the society be decided; and
  • To acquire and dispose of property in furtherance of the above.

The first headquarters of the newly fledged SCI was established in 1881 at Palace Chambers, Bridge Street, Westminster, and by the time of the Society’s first meeting in June that year it had attracted around 300 members. At this first SCI meeting, it was decided, among other matters, that a Journal should be started – later to become the Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry (JSCI) – and that geographic sections should be formed to facilitate local meetings. This first meeting also set a date for SCI's first annual general meeting (AGM): the second week of July 1882.

All of the details in the agenda for this first AGM are recorded in JSCI volume one, and focused more on the scientific topics of the day than on the organisation and running of the Society. One memorable discourse, for example, on the topic of brewing, by University College London professor Charles Graham, compared the temperatures involved in production of English beers (65°-72°F) and German lagers (35°-40°F), and concluded that lagers generally have less alcohol (3.8-4.9%) than English beers (4.1-8.5%). 'Thus it follows that a German can drink much more of his beer than we can of ours,' Graham noted, adding that 'we cannot use ours for conversational purposes, and in hot weather it is not a safe beverage to quench thirst'.

Appropriately, the first subject group was for chemical engineers, and it was on the initiative of this body that the Institution of Chemical Engineers was formed in 1922. Another major development was the formation of the Food Group in 1932. This later led to the establishment of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, after it was decided a qualification was needed for the field. A subject group for corrosion technology was established in 1951 and subsequently, SCI provided accommodation for the associated professional body, now the Institute of Corrosion.

Members who changed the world

The history of SCI has been largely influenced by the inventors and scientists who came together and founded the Society back in 1881. More information about those notable scientists and inventors can be found here.