A Brief History of the RSC

The Chemical Society

The growth of the Royal Society of Chemistry has mirrored the growth in importance of chemistry in the world, with the entry of more people into the profession of chemistry, but its origins lie in the first half of the nineteenth century and the formation of the Chemical Society of London in 1841. The creation of the Chemical Society was sparked by an increasing interest in scientific matters. One of its aims was to hold meetings "...for the communication and discussion of discoveries and observations, an account of which shall be published by the Society in the form of Proceedings or Transactions". The importance of the Chemical Society, and of the developing science of chemistry, was recognised seven years later with the award of a Royal Charter. Under the Charter, the Chemical Society's role extended beyond the advancement of the science of chemistry to encompass the proper development of the applications of chemistry, both in industry and in the community. 

From the Chemical Society's earliest days, its membership included many eminent chemists from overseas and, in 1861, the distinguished German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann was elected President, having been a Foreign Member of the Chemical Society since 1845. 

Over the years, the expanding activities of the Chemical Society continued to centre on the science and application of chemistry, and it grew to become a leading publisher and information-provider in the field of chemistry. 

The Society for Analytical Chemistry

The chemical industry grew rapidly during the nineteenth century. In the UK, developments in the alkali industry, in explosives, in agriculture, and in other fields of chemistry produced a growing need for analytical chemists. Many of these chemists had little or no training in chemistry and their lack of expertise led to a danger of contamination of substances in areas such as food, water supplies and medicine. 

Parliament passed an Act to try to improve the situation. But insufficient knowledge of the science, coupled with a shortage of analytical chemists, prevented these legal measures from overcoming the problems. It was in order to improve the science of analytical chemistry that a new body, The Society of Public Analysts, was formed in 1874. It subsequently became The Society for Analytical Chemistry. 

The Royal Institute of Chemistry

Pressures from within the Chemical Society to respond to the need for properly qualified chemists led to the formation in 1877 of another new body, the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain, which subsequently became the Royal Institute of Chemistry. Its role was to focus on qualifications and professional status with its main aims being to work towards the advancement of the profession of chemistry and to ensure that consulting and analytical chemists were thoroughly and properly qualified in chemistry and its application. 

The Institute awarded its own qualifications of Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry (FIC) and Associate of the Institute of Chemistry (AIC). The Fellowship came to be seen as the hallmark of professional competence, and the Associateship as the badge of sound general training. 

In 1885, the Institute received its first Royal Charter *, which clearly recognised the importance of qualifications. The Charter stated that: 

". . . it is a matter of increasing importance to government departments, corporate bodies and others requiring the assistance of persons competent to practise in analytical chemistry and to advise in technological Chemistry that such persons should be properly trained and that their qualifications should be attested by Certificates of competency granted by a scientific body possessing sufficient status . . ." 

The Institute's Royal Charter went beyond an insistence on thorough professional qualifications. it also laid down strict ethical standards, which members of the Institute had to uphold: 

". . . the said Institute was not established for the purpose of gain nor do the members thereof derive or seek any pecuniary profits from their membership but aims at the elevation of the profession of Consulting and Analytical Chemistry and the promotion of the efficiency and usefulness of persons practising the same by compelling the observance of strict rules of membership and by setting up a high standard of scientific and practical proficiency." 

For over three-quarters of a century, the Institute and the Chemical Society developed in their separate but complementary roles. The former, as a professional and qualifying body, grew to have a qualified membership of nearly 30,000. The latter, as a learned body, concentrated on the science of chemistry and built up a successful publishing operation. 

In 1975, the Institute was awarded a Supplemental Charter which permitted its Fellows and Members to use the Designation "Chartered Chemist (CChem)". 

Amalgamation and Unification

In 1972, the Chemical Society and the Royal Institute of Chemistry, together with the Faraday Society and the Society for Analytical Chemistry, took the first steps towards merger. After a five-year period of official amalgamation, involving close cooperation and interaction between the various bodies, the merger was completed. In 1980, the four separate bodies became The Royal Society of Chemistry, with a new Royal Charter and the dual role of learned society and professional body. At its inception the Society had a combined membership of 34,000 in the UK and a further 8,000 abroad. 

The RSC Today

A century and a half on from its beginnings, the Royal Society of Chemistry today has a global membership of over 47,500, and the longest continuous tradition of any chemical society in the world. It is the sole heir and successor to four well known and long-established bodies: 

  • The Chemical Society (founded in 1841)
  • The Society for Analytical Chemistry (founded in 1874)
  • The Royal Institute of Chemistry (founded in 1877)
  • The Faraday Society (founded in 1903) 

The Royal Society of Chemistry fulfils the roles previously undertaken by all four of these bodies. In accordance with its first Royal Charter, granted in 1848, the RSC continues to pursue the aims of the advancement of chemistry as a science, the dissemination of chemical knowledge, and the development of chemical applications. However, over the years its responsibilities have broadened and its activities have become more extensive. 

Today the RSC's work spans a wide range of activities connected with the science and profession of chemistry. It is actively involved in the spheres of education, qualifications and professional conduct. It runs conferences and meetings at both national and local level. It is a major publisher, and is internationally regarded as a provider of chemical databases. In all its work, the RSC is objective and impartial, and it fulfils a role independent of government, trade associations and trade unions. It is recognised throughout the world as an authoritative voice of chemistry and chemists. 

For many years, the RSC has been involved in chemistry at an international level, and currently holds the Secretariat of the European Communities Chemistry Council and of the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the headquarters of the RSC (or Chemical Society as it was known until 1980) have been at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, built early in the eighteenth century by the third Earl of Burlington. The RSC now has another base on the Cambridge Science Park, in Thomas Graham House, which was officially opened in 1989 by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.