International Standards and Conformity Assessment for all electrical, electronic and related technologies
Main title

SI Zone

International System of Units


Founding of the IEC

Rt. Hon. Lord Kelvin
First IEC President
Physicist and inventor

The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) saw its beginnings at the International Electrical Congress in St. Louis in 1904. It had been recommended "that steps should be taken to secure the cooperation of the technical societies of the world by the appointment of a representative Commission to consider the question of standardization of the Nomenclature and Ratings of Electrical Apparatus and Machinery" [1].


A preliminary meeting, chaired by A. Siemens, was held on 26 and 27 June 1906 in London under the auspices of the British Institution of Electrical Engineers.


Of the 16 participating countries, three came from outside Europe: America (as it was listed at that time), Canada and Japan. The delegates were appointed by their national institutions, provided that they already existed; otherwise, they were appointed by their governments.


Colonel Crompton, a mechanical engineer, inventor and skilled organizer, played an important part in setting up the organization.


On 27 June 1906, the official birthday of the Commission, the eminent physicist Lord Kelvin was elected its first President; Colonel Crompton was appointed Honorary Secretary.


Colonel Crompton

Colonel Crompton
First IEC Honorary

Le Maistre

Charles Le Maistre
First IEC General

Further results of the first meeting:

  • the Rules of the Commission were approved;
  • the name of the Commission was amended to read International Electrotechnical (instead of Electrical) Commission;
  • Ch. Le Maistre became the first General Secretary;
  • the office of IEC was in London.
  • In the course of time, a much wider interest had developed in creating a coherent system of units for electricity; the unit of electrical nature was now under discussion [2]. Two "commissions" of the IEC were therefore created:
  • Electric units and standards;
  • Nomenclature and characteristics of electrical machines and apparatus.

It is interesting to note that the IEC was thus constituted within the same timeframe as the national bodies. This fact underlines both the high priority given to the electrotechnical standards and the close cooperation between national and international efforts.


Work on quantities and units

From the date of their creation, these commissions acted separately. The first commission on electric units and standards met in London in 1908. It dealt with the units and their physical representation.

The representatives of the national institutions or governments at this conference adopted a set of fundamental units, defined as decimal multiples of the corresponding electromagnetic CGS units, and another one forming a system to represent the fundamental units that was sufficiently close to the fundamental units to serve for purposes of measurement.

These international units were based on the “international ohm”, defined in terms of a column of mercury, and the “international ampere”, defined in terms of the deposition of silver by an electric current.

The IEC also began its work on terminology in 1908, in the first Technical Committee (TC 1) to be appointed. Its title was the “Advisory Committee on Nomenclature”.


Unfortunately, the Second World War interrupted the work of the IEC. But, at its first post-war meeting held in Paris in July 1950, the question of the choice of a fourth unit was finaly settled by recommending the ampere.



[1] Winckler, R., 1994. Electrotechnical Standardization in Europe. CENELEC, Brussels.

[2] IEC Publication 164, 1964. Recommendations in the field of quantities and units used in electricity. IEC, Geneva.