An Abridged History of SAE

In the early 1900s there were dozens of automobile manufacturers in the United States, and many more worldwide. Many of these manufacturers and automobile parts companies joined trade groups that met their needs for promoting business and raising public awareness of this new form of transportation. A need for patent protection, common technical design problems, and the development of engineering standards was quickly emerging, however, and many engineers in the automobile business expressed a desire to have "free exchange of ideas" in order to expand their individual technical knowledge base.

Two magazine men of that era: Peter Heldt of The Horseless Age, and Horace Swetland of The Automobile were tireless advocates of the concepts that forged the creation of SAE. Heldt wrote an editorial in June of 1902 in which he said, "Now there is a noticeable tendency for automobile manufacturers to follow certain accepted lines of construction, technical questions constantly arise which seek solution from the cooperation of the technical men connected with the industry. These questions could best be dealt with by a technical society. The field of activity for this society would be the purely technical side of automobiles."

Likewise, Horace Swetland used his editorial pen to become the defacto voice of the automobile engineer of that day, and he became an original SAE officer. Swetland was a man who would leave an indelible mark on the path of SAE history. A mere 27 months after Heldt's editorial the Society of Automobile Engineers was born. Headquartered in a New York City office, four officers and five managing officers volunteered their time and energy to the cause. In that inaugural year of 1905 Andrew Riker served as president, and an up-and-coming engineering talent named Henry Ford served as the society's first vice president. The initial membership figure tallied 30 engineers. Annual dues were set at US$10. Over the first 10 years SAE membership grew steadily, and the young society added full-time staff and began to publish a technical journal and a comprehensive compilation of technical papers, previously called SAE Transactions, which still exist today in the form of SAE International's Journals.

By 1916 the Society of Automobile Engineers membership had grown to 1,800. At the annual meeting that year representatives from the American Society of Aeronautic Engineers, the Society of Tractor Engineers, as well as representatives from the power boating industry made a pitch to SAE for oversight of technical standards in their industries. Aeronautics was a fledgling industry at that time, and few could have been expected to know the essential role it would take in world history in a very short time. Early supporters of the concept of a society to represent aeronautical engineers were Thomas Edison, Glenn Curtiss, Glenn Martin, and Orville Wright.

Out of that fateful meeting in 1916 came a new organization with new horizons. This was to be a new society representing engineers in all types of mobility-related professions. SAE member Elmer Sperry actually created the term "automotive" from Greek autos (self), and Latin motivus (of motion) origins to represent any form of self powered vehicle. The Society of Automobile Engineers became the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the most important chapter in the SAE saga was underway.

Charles Kettering, one of the most famous automotive engineers in history, patented the automobile self-starter in 1911. Kettering also presided over SAE during World War I, and thanks to his work and that of his successor, Charles Manly, SAE membership passed 5,000 by 1920. Manly emphasized the importance of developing SAE's local member activities - called Sections. SAE standards development programs played pivotal roles in the efforts of the Allied military during both World Wars, and the chronology for important technological advances in automobile and aircraft history track side-by-side with the SAE standards that launched them. Standards development in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial/heavy duty vehicle communities is still a vital part of SAE's service to these industries and to humanity.

After the Second World War, the society's emphasis expanded slightly - from a predominantly standards centered organization to a broader-based information exchange organization. SAE elected its first tractor engineer as president - C. Erwin Frudden - in 1947. In the postwar era the SAE Annual Meeting evolved into a major exhibit and educational event now known as the SAE World Congress. Throughout the decade of the 1950s SAE membership grew at a dizzying pace, to more than 18,000. SAE Conferences and Exhibits began to proliferate and take a much higher profile as the society approached its 50th anniversary.

In 1960 SAE president Harry Cheesbrough said, "automotive engineering knows no boundaries". While SAE had always been international in scope, these words were a call to action for the organization to match words and deeds. A tour of Europe solidified relationships begun in the 1950s through an ongoing cooperative relationship with FISITA. Today SAE has cooperative agreements with organizations in Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Australasia, and India, to name just a few.

In 1973 the organization's rapid growth and need for staff and space led to a move to its current headquarters campus in Warrendale, PA, outside Pittsburgh. SAE offices had moved six times during its 58 years in Manhattan, and the availability of land and a capable workforce promised the stability the organization's leadership were seeking. Western Pennsylvania also provided a site not closely affiliated with a hub of one of the major constituent groups - aerospace, off-highway/heavy duty vehicles, trucks, busses, or passenger cars from which its core membership is derived. Pittsburgh at that time was, however, the home to the headquarters of a large number of companies that were key material and technical suppliers to mobility industries. Companies like Alcoa, US Steel, and Westinghouse, among others, were key players in the worldwide mobility community.

By 1980 membership had grown to more than 35,000. The SAE 75th Anniversary celebration brought recognition from political and industry leaders from around the world. During the 1980s SAE established an electronic publishing activity that now produces dozens of interactive CD-ROM and web-based products, and offers thousands of downloadable standards and technical papers which allow users around the globe nearly instantaneous access to important technical information.

For the next two decades the society, like the industries and individuals it serves, became larger, more global, more diverse, and more electronic. SAE now creates and manages more aerospace and ground vehicle standards than any other entity in the world. In 1996 the society elected its first African-American president, Claude Verbal of General Motors. In 2000, SAE named its first female president, Dr. Rodica Baranescu of Navistar International. Baranescu was also born and educated in Romania. In 2002, SAE elected its first Indian president, Dr. S. M. Shahed of Honeywell Corporation's Garrett Engine Boosting Systems Division.

SAE International serves its primary constituents in many ways. Through its globally-recognized magazines, Automotive Engineering International, Aerospace Engineering, and Off Highway Engineering, SAE keeps the mobility community informed on the latest developments in the field. Subscription to one of these magazines is one of the many benefits of SAE membership. SAE's broad array of technical, historical, and statistical publications are distributed to customers in more than 65 countries annually. SAE's Training and Professional Development capabilities have been expanded in the past 20 years - we now produce more than 450 separate professional development events every year.

During the 1990s, SAE International announced the formation of SAE Brasil, an affiliate society with over 1,500 members and an annual World Congress event of its own. SAE opened four geographic sections on the Indian sub-continent, and it also established new sections in China, Russia, Romania, and Egypt, to name a few. In 2002, SAE India was formally established as an official affiliate of SAE International. As non-North American membership approaches 25%, the SAE International website has become a focal point of commerce and information exchange.

One of the society's key roles has been encouraging and supporting the development of capable practitioners in the many mobility communities we serve. In an effort to promote science and mathematics literacy, and to help ensure that industries will have a qualified and more diverse pool of candidates entering the workforce, the SAE Foundation raises funds to support the development and distribution of two education curricula for grades 4 through 8. Research has shown that these are the years in which children are losing interest in the mathematics and science they later need as a foundation to go into collegiate engineering programs. The original curriculum, A World In Motion, was developed in 1990 as a physical science supplement for grades four, five, and six. The original A World In Motion has undergone a revision updating the curriculum to include more timely material. A World In Motion, Challenge II has been developed to meet the needs of students in grades seven and eight.

Once students attend university-level engineering programs, SAE presents 12 different Collegiate Design Competitions - events that put classroom training into action by challenging students to design, build, and test the performance of a real vehicle in a competitive environment. SAE Collegiate Design competitions draw more than 4,500 students from 500 universities on six continents. Formula SAE, SAE Mini Baja, and SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge are a few examples of these exciting competitions.