The History of SCI

The Society of Chemical Industry was formed in 1881 by prominent scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs of their day, who went on to form the products, processes and companies that propelled society forward.

The importance of chemistry

Chemistry is ubiquitous and underpinning.  Without chemistry, there would be no life.  Without chemistry, there would be no industry.  It is easy to confuse natural chemistry with synthetic chemistry, but they are the same thing.  Understanding chemistry and its uses is vital to enable us to exist without destroying the environment we depend on.   Many people use chemistry without realising it, and do not understand that the solutions to their problems are often chemical in nature.

A brief history of SCI


SCI History Timeline

SCI is a global network of innovators, formed in 1881 by prominent scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs of their day, who went on to form the companies, processes and products that have propelled society forward ever since. At its centre an active community provide a melting pot of ideas that support and grow the scientific sector for the good of society. SCI’s work spans across a diverse range of areas including agrisciences, colloid and surface chemistry, construction materials, electrochemical technology, AI and digitalisation, fine chemicals and innovation.

Our knowledge and innovation network includes leading content on our website, blog, Chemistry and Industry Magazine (C&I), a variety of Journals, and we run over 200 conferences a year online and at our prestigious building in Belgravia.

We foster innovation and accelerate the commercialisation of science, read more about our history here.

1881 – 1902

The Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) was founded on 4 April 1881 at a London meeting presided over by the Society's first President, Sir Henry Roscoe, and a veritable ‘who’s who’ of influential scientists and industrialists of their day, including Ludwig Mond, Sir William Perkin, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell and the ‘father of chemical engineering’, George E Davis.

The Society was created chiefly to foster the meeting of and communication between professionals and companies in the chemical industries. At this first SCI meeting, it was decided, among other matters, that a journal should be started – the journal that would eventually become the Journal of Chemical Technology and Bio-technology– and that geographic sections should be formed to facilitate local meetings.

In 1894, the America Section of SCI (Now SCI America) was founded, followed by SCI Canada in 1902.

1919 – 1923

In 1919, SCI was involved in the foundation of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the organisation responsible for standardisation of nomenclature in chemistry – most notably, the Periodic Table of Elements.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) began life as the Chemical Engineering Group of SCI in 1918, and in 1922 was formally incorporated in its own right.

Likewise, the foundation of SCI’s Food Group in 1932 later led to the establishment of the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST).

In 1923, SCI published the first edition of Chemistry & Industry (C&I), the members’ magazine that focused on important industrial developments, trade reports, correspondence and reviews of books. Almost a century later, C&I is still going strong, and is globally renowned as a leading publication in the chemistry-using industries.


In 1948, SCI launched the Fine Chemicals Group, which remains one of the largest Technical Interest Groups in SCI. The Group focuses on medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, process and development chemistry, colour chemistry, flavour and fragrance chemistry, and general organic chemistry, especially new and important aspects of synthetic chemistry.

Two years later, the Agrisciences Group was formed – another Group that remains highly active today. The Group plays an essential role in bringing together scientists and business people to ensure the global agricultural sector can continue to innovate and operate in an increasingly sustainable way while serving a growing global population.

The start of the 1950s saw the launch of two more titles – the Journal of the Science of Food & Agriculture (1950) and the Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology (1951).

1950 - 1990

In 1955, SCI moved to its current headquarters in Belgrave Square, London. Owned by the Duke of Westminster, along with the rest of Belgravia, the building is part of the Grosvenor Estate. It had recently been commandeered by the Ministry of Defence during World War II, and the former Nazi commander Rudolf Hess is believed to have been interrogated in the building after he fled to Britain late in the war.

The beginning of the 1970s saw the Society expand its publishing portfolio further, with the launch of Pest Management Science in 1970. In 1978, SCI co-founded the European Federation of Biotechnology, and SCI’s Belgrave Square HQ housed the Federation’s UK Regional Branch Office for a number of years.

In 1990, SCI founded the Young Chemists’ Panel, and two years later the Chinese UK Group – both of which have gone from strength to strength in the years since and are still active today.

1995 - 2010

The Materials Chemistry Group was launched in 1995, providing a forum for professionals and academics working in the design and production of materials – an area that has always been at the core of innovation. SCI’s global reach extended further in 1999 with the launch of the Australia International Group, which continues to work closely with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

The 2000s saw the launch of the important Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining (Biofpr) journal, as well as SCI’s Science and Enterprise Group – the first Special Interest Group, focusing on accelerating innovation regardless of region or technical area.

At the start of the 2010s, SCI launched the Environment, Health and Safety Group and relaunched the Food Group. The Society also launched two new journal titles – Greenhouses Gases: Science and Technology and Energy Science and Engineering.           

2015 - 2017

In 2015, SCI launched the Energy Group, addressing the sustainability, security and affordability of energy. The following year, the Formulation Forum was initiated, providing links between key players in formulation.

2016 also saw the foundation of SCI’s Mentoring Scheme, pairing experienced professionals with early career scientists entering industry to support their professional development. SCI’s Bright SCIdea Challenge entrepreneurship competition was launched in 2017 to great success, and has quickly become a key opportunity for students in the UK to develop their business acumen, with the added bonus of cash prizes for the winning team.

The Chemistry Council Innovation Committee was founded in 2017, facilitated chiefly by SCI, bringing government together with a consortium of top executives in the chemistry-using industries to develop industry-wide strategy.

2018 - 2020s

In 2018, the Chemistry Council published the Chemistry Council Strategy, which laid out an ambitious innovation plan for the UK chemistry-using industries to drive the sustainability agenda and increase sector turnover by 50% by 2030. This document led to the 2019 announcement of a £1bln Sector Deal for the industry, with £500m to be funded by UK government.

Most recently, SCI has launched the Mid-Careers Group – serving to support members in the important mid-to-senior level stage of their careers – and the AI and Digitalisation Group, which engages with the challenges and opportunities brought forwards by what has become widely known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

SCI is in the process of significantly improving its digital presence, too, with the launch of SCIBlog, the new website, YouTube channel, webinar series and major membership process improvements.

Members who changed the world

Henry E Armstrong

Henry E Armstrong

Henry Armstrong's work was centred on chemistry education within engineering schools, and through it he came to be recognised as a founding father of chemical engineering. He played an important part in establishing the SCI Process Engineering Group.

Read his full biog

George Beilby

Sir George Beilby

George Beilby was SCI World President in 1898 and contributed greatly to SCI's growth in Scotland. A Beilby Memorial Fund to reward exceptional research was raised in his honour by subscription.

Read his full biog

Lampitt Medal

Leslie Herbert Lampitt

Leslie Lampitt was a founder member of the Food Group, and the Lampitt Medal was initially funded by subscriptions from staff and suppliers to J Lyons and Co, to honour his contribution to SCI.

Read his full biog

William Perkin

Sir William Perkin

Sir William Perkin (1838-1907), created the world's first synthetic dye, mauveine, at the age of 18. The Perkin Medal, which commemorates him, is the highest honour given for outstanding applied chemistry in the US.

Read his full biog