John Hall Gladstone, the first President of the Physical Society of London.
John Cockcroft, the first president of the merged societies.
The Institute of Physics was formed in 1960 from the merger of the Physical Society, founded as the Physical Society of London in 1874, and the Institute of Physics, founded in 1918.
The Physical Society of London had been officially formed on 14 February 1874 by Frederick Guthrie, following the canvassing of opinion of Fellows of the Royal Society by William Barrett at the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Bradford in 1873, with John Hall Gladstone as its first president. From its beginning, the society held open meetings and demonstrations and published Proceedings of the Physical Society. Meetings were held every two weeks, mainly at Imperial College London. The first Guthrie lecture, now known as the Faraday Medal and Prize, was delivered in 1914.
In the early part of the 20th century, the profession of "physicist" emerged, partly as a result of the increased demand for scientists during World War I. In 1917, following discussions between William Eccles and William Duddell, the Council of the Physical Society, along with the Faraday Society, the
Optical Society, and the
Roentgen Society, started to explore ways of improving the professional status of physicists., and in 1918 the Institute of Physics was created at a meeting of the four societies held at King's College London. In 1919 Sir Richard Glazebrook was elected first president of the institute. and in 1920, the Institute of Physics was incorporated under special license from the Board of Trade. The inaugural meeting of the Institute took place in 1921. As with the Physical Society, dissemination of knowledge was fundamental to the institute, which began publication of the Journal of Scientific Instruments in 1922. The annual Reports on Progress in Physics began in 1934 and is still published today. In 1952, the institute began the "Graduateship" course and examination, which ran until 1984 when the expansion of access to universities removed demand.
In 1932 the Physical Society of London merged with the Optical Society to create the Physical Society. In 1960, the Physical Society and the Institute of Physics merged, creating a single organization with the unwieldy name The Institute of Physics and the Physical Society, with John Cockcroft elected at its first president. The new society combined the learned society tradition of the Physical Society with the professional body tradition of the Institute of Physics. Under the leadership of Thomas E. Nevin an Irish branch of the Institute of Physics was formed in 1964. Upon being granted a royal charter in 1970, the organization was renamed as the Institute of Physics.