In 1875, the meteorologist and telegraphy pioneer Sir Francis Ronalds bequeathed his library of rare books to the Society of Telegraph Engineers, an organisation that had been founded in 1871. The collection was given in trust, and one of the conditions set out in the trust deed was:
“…that the said Society of Telegraph Engineers shall use their best endeavours to procure themselves to be incorporated by Royal Charter or by some other ways or means to the end and intent that the said Society shall be more firmly established and have a more permanent constitution than it at present possesses and in particular it is agreed that such endeavours shall be made as soon as practicable and at any rate within a period of five years…"
Ronalds Library Trust Deed, 1875.
The Society had thought about applying for a Royal Charter as early as 1873, but the proposals were shelved due to cost. In 1880, to meet the conditions of the Ronalds Trust, the Society applied again. This was not approved – and according to the author of the first history of the IEE, Rollo Appleyard, “the reply was received with relief by those by those best able to weigh the responsibilities; for the costs would have been a burden, and the time for a Royal Charter was not yet.” The 1880 application had been opposed by the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the young Society was not in an ideal position to either fund or fight for its charter.