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Why was the IEC created?

Before the IEC was formed, scientists and engineers struggled with chaos as they tried to collaborate on emerging discoveries in the electrical industry. Their challenge became painfully clear during the set up of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition’s Palace of Electricity in St. Louis, Missouri, USA (The Exposition was something like a world’s fair, but it was organized to celebrate America’s 1803 purchase of the Louisiana Territories from France). Each participating country brought exhibits requiring different amounts and types of electrical power.

Bringing order out of chaos

Several late-19th century meetings of the International Electrical Congress had already generated lengthy discussions about the need for standard terminology and units of measure. By the time the Congress convened in St. Louis concurrently with the Exposition, delegates had at least decided to replace the term “horsepower” with “kilowatt,” but had yet to reach a common definition of units.


On 15 September 1904, delegates to the International Electrical Congress in St. Louis, USA, adopted a report that included the following words:


"…steps should be taken to secure the co-operation of the technical societies of the world, by the appointment of a representative Commission to consider the question of the standardization of the nomenclature and ratings of electrical apparatus and machinery."

1906 – The founding of the Commission

The IEC was officially founded in June 1906 in London, England, where its Central Office was set up.


Part of the mandate given by the St. Louis conference was to achieve international agreement on vocabulary and symbols, which were judged essential. Together with the rating of electrical machines, these were the first three topics for study by the Commission.


The events, personalities and leadership that accompanied the IEC, and the many technological innovations over the last century make for a fascinating story. More…