The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge

Burlington House, where the Royal Society was based between 1873 and 1967

On November 28, 1660, at Gresham College, London, UK, 12 men, including Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, and Sir Robert Moray decide to found what is later known as the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, a learned society for science, and possibly the oldest such society still in existence.

It is said that everything started with Francis Bacon and his work “New Atlantis“, published in 1624. The Latin novel illustrated the possible future of scientific discoveries and knowledge, which inspired several groups of scientists including philosophers and physicians, who met at several places, often Gresham College in London, to discuss their ideas and achievements. The formation of a “College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning” was announced on 28 November, 1660, which marked the beginning of the Royal Society. The 12 men announced to be meeting every week, which was apporoved by the King. The term Royal Society evolved about two years later, when a Royal Charter was signed with Lord Brouncker serving at its very first president. Soon, Robert Hooke was made responsible for curating the experiments taking place at the society.

At first, Robert Hooke performed the experiments himself and covered various scientific fields, while others translated scientific articles in English. They met usually at Gresham College, but relocated for a while after the Great Fire in 1666. Durign the presidency of Isaac Newton, they received their own institution in Crane Court. In the meantime, the society started gathering books for a small library that rapidly grew. The first two books published were John Evelyn‘s “Sylva” and Robert Hooke’s “Micrographia“. Fellows for the society were elected from the beginning, but there was no official criteria for the elections. Later on in the 1730s, a rule was passed, saying that every elected scientist had to be proposed in a written certificate.

In the 19th century, the Royal Society started giving financial aid to scientists in order to perform their experiments and to most of their research work there. This resulted in a closer relationship between the society and the government, which began establishing a grant system. Still, the Royal Society managed to stay an independent scientific academy. Its present location, the Carlton House Terrace was obtained in 1967 with over 140 staff members.

In the last 350 years, the Royal Society had recruited and supported numerous scientists who contributed to Europe’s scientific development significantly. In the yovisto blog, you might have read for instance that Humphry Davy once reported about the isolation of potassium and sodium from different salts by electrolysis to the Royal Society and that the famous physicist and chemist Michael Faraday was voted into the Society in 1824.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a more detailed explanation on the founding of the Royal Society by Professor Michael Hunter at Gresham College.

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