Posted by Ancestry Team on May 30, 2014 in Collections, United Kingdom

More than 170,000 electrical engineer records are published online today – shedding light on some of history’s ‘brightest sparks’.

Digitised by Ancestry the UK Electrical Engineer Records 1871-1930* includes members of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) across the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


The IET was originally founded in 1871 as the Society of Telegraph Engineers, later changing its name to the Institution of Electrical Engineers before finally becoming the Institution of Engineering and Technology. The Institute boasts some of the world’s most famous electrical engineers, responsible for the creation of the telegraph, telephone and the revolution of the distribution of electrical power.

Among the thousands of names listed in the collection, many esteemed engineers appear, including those behind inventions ranging from light bulbs to tide predictor devices and even a rather ominously named ‘death beam’. These include:


  • Nikola Tesla – Serbian-American inventor Tesla was the man behind the first ever radio transmission. He also claimed to have created a ‘death beam’ capable of bringing down enemy planes from a distance of 250 miles.
  • Sir Joseph Swan – A pioneer of the electric lighting industry, Swan is famed for inventing an incandescent light bulb and his home in Gateshead was one of the very first in the world to be lit in this way. Swan became a member of the IET in 1881 and was President from 1898-1899.
  • Sir William Thomson – Later named Baron Kelvin of Largs, Thomson made a huge contribution to the study of thermodynamics, electrodynamics, hydrodynamics and geophysics, and was awarded a knighthood for his role in the successful laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable. Most notably, his tide prediction device was used to theorise the revolution of the earth and explain why ocean tides occurred. Thomson was President of the IET in 1874,1889 and 1907.
  • Sir Frederick Henry Royce – Royce is best known for founding the Rolls-Royce car company with business associate Charles Stewart Rolls in 1904. After the outbreak of WWI, Royce designed engines for aeroplanes, with his 200hp model later credited as having made a significant contribution to the British war effort.


Other notable names that feature within the collection include Colonel R E B Crompton – an early pioneer of electric lighting and Sir William Crookes – a British born engineer who not only discovered the element thallium but was well noted for his research into cathode rays (a stream of electrons contained in a vacuum tube).

The records also reveal that some of these talented engineers waited until a little later in life to become official members. Eminent scientist and priest the Right Reverend Gerald Molloy is the oldest engineer listed in the records and best known for his work on lightening conductors. He was admitted to the IET on April 5, 1900, at the age of 65.

The IET is the largest professional engineering society in Europe and one of Britain’s oldest professional bodies. The collection includes members from across the Commonwealth, detailing each engineer’s name, residence, age, prior education and job history, date of admission, application year and membership type.



  • Miriam Silverman, Senior Content Manager, from “People often talk about having that elusive ‘light-bulb moment’ and this collection boasts the engineer who can claim the very first. From death rays to electric telegraphs, the records are not only a valuable tool for those looking to find out more about some of history’s ‘brightest sparks’ but anybody looking to trace an ancestor who may have been a member of this prestigious organisation.”
  • Anne Locker, IET Library and Archives Manager: “We are delighted that that this wonderful resource for family and social history is now more easily accessible to researchers and the wider public.”

Start searching this collection and other UK Engineer Records here.


* These collections are available to members as well as those who have a World Deluxe membership on Ancestry.