The History of Tau Beta Pi National

Tau Beta Pi was founded in 1885 by professor Edward H. Williams, Jr. to “mark in a fitting manner those who have conferred honor upon their alma mater by distinguished scholarship and exemplarly character as undergraduates in the field of engineering, or by their attainments as alumni in the field of engineering, and to foster a spirit of liberal culture in engineering colleges”. 

Tau Beta Pi is the only honor society to represent the profession of engineering as a whole.  The society is also the nation’s second oldest honor society, superseded by the liberal arts and sciences honor society Phi Beta Kappa founded in 1776.  The society was founded at Lehigh University by Dr. Edward H. Williams, Jr., head of the mining department at Lehigh University, to recognize those in engineering that displayed exemplary character and academic achievement in a similar manner as Phi Beta Kappa did for those in the liberal arts and sciences.

Dr. Williams conceived the organization, named it, developed its governmental structure, wrote its constitution, designed its badge and certificate, established membership requirements, and planned all details for Tau Beta Pi’s operation.  After developing the entire organization, Dr. Williams invited the valedictorian of Lehigh University’s engineering class, Irving Andrew Heikes, in the spring of 1885.  Mr. Heikes as well as two other students of Lehigh University accepted the invitation and in the Fall of 1885 began initiating eligible candidates of the class of 1886. 

Alpha of Pennsylvania, located at Lehigh University, remained the only chapter until 1892, when Alpha of Michigan was founded at Michigan State University.  The society has since grown to more than 240 chapters across the nation and a total membership of more than 500,000.  For more information on the Tau Beta Pi Association, please see the Tau Beta Pi History packet under the Forms section of this webpage.


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