Our History

Preamble to the Tau Beta Pi Constitution

The Tau Beta Pi Association was founded at Lehigh University in 1885 by Edward Higginson Williams Jr., to mark in a fitting manner those who have conferred honor upon their Alma Mater by distinguished scholarship and exemplary character as students in engineering, or by their attainments as alumni in the field of engineering, and to foster a spirit of liberal culture in engineering colleges.

Our Badge

The official badge of the Association is a watch key in the form of the bent of a trestle, engraved on the reverse side with the member's last name, chapter, and class. The colors of the Association are seal brown and white. The official quarterly magazine is The Bent of Tau Beta Pi. The name of the Association, its badge, and the title of its magazine are registered in the United States Patent Office. The creed of Tau Beta Pi, adopted in 1991, is Integrity and Excellence in Engineering.

The word key describes the insignia of many organizations. It comes from the fact that it was first designed, in the late eighteenth century, to include a pocket watch winding feature, hence key. The bottom stem, added to the basic insignia, had a tapered square hole fitting the common sizes of watch-winding shafts. The top stem and ring were added so the key could be worn as a pendant from a chain, rather than as a pin or badge, thus easily used to wind watches. When the 'stem-winder' watch was introduced in the late nineteenth century, it replaced the key-winder, however the insignia key remained, although with a vestigial hole now round for manufacturing ease and economy.


Timeline of Historical Events

First Member

June 15, 1885

Tau Beta Pi Founded in 1885 at Lehigh University

Dr. Edward H. Williams Jr., a professor at Lehigh, saw the need and created an honor society to recognize technical men for superior scholarship and exemplary character. On June 15, 1885, the first member of Tau Beta Pi was initiated. He was Irving A. Heikes, valedictorian of the Lehigh class of 1885, and he assisted in organizing the Pennsylvania Alpha Chapter, Tau Beta Pi's first student chapter.

First Convention


First Convention held in Cleveland, Ohio

At Michigan State College, the Michigan Alpha Chapter was born in 1892, and Purdue's Indiana Alpha followed in 1893. There were now enough chapters to hold a Convention, and on May 28, 1895, the first Convention was held in Cleveland.

First Cover


First issue of The Bent quarterly magazine

The Bent of Tau Beta Pi was first published by the Pennsylvania Alpha Chapter in April of 1906. A subscription cost one dollar per year. Today, the magazine is available in both paper and digital versions and total paid circulation exceeds 88,000 copies per issue. Annual subscriptions are $10 and a lifetime subscription is $95 for paper and $45 for electronic.



Headquarters moved to the University of Tennessee

In 1907, Tau Beta Pi's first Secretary of the Association, R.C. Matthews, moved the national Headquarters to the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he was an instructor. In 1963, the staff moved into a suite of offices designed for Tau Beta Pi in the Nathan W. Dougherty Engineering Building and are located there today.



Fellowship Program established

The 1928 Convention adopted the Fellowship Program to finance, for a select group of members chosen for merit and need, a year of graduate study at the college of their choice. Fellows with stipends receive $10,000 for their advanced study with a total of 1,736 Fellowships and more than $8 million in stipends given since the program began. Tau Beta Pi was the first honor society to establish such a program which aspires to advance engineering education and the profession.

Womens Badge


Women recognized by Women's Badge

In 1936, Tau Beta Pi began to formally recognize outstanding women in the field of engineering. Katharine Cleveland, of Kentucky Alpha, was the first to wear the Women's Badge.



Women Given Full Membership Status

Though there were women scholastically eligible for membership in Tau Beta PI as early as 1903, it was not until 1969 that they were offered full membership. Katharine Cleveland Harelson, the first recipient of the Women's Badge, was initiated into full membership on April 18, 1969.



Merger of Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Tau

Until 1974, there were two general engineering honor societies in the United States, Sigma Tau and Tau Beta Pi. Sigma Tau was founded in 1904 at the University of Nebraska, and in 1973, had 34 chapters and 40,000 members. The 1973 Convention of Tau Beta Pi approved the merger of the two organizations. Now engineering excellence was recognized by a single, strong organization and the merger suddenly increased the number of chapters to 172.



Tau Beta Pi Celebrates One Hundred Years

As Tau Beta Pi celebrated its one hundredth birthday in 1985, it had grown to 192 collegiate chapters and more than 296,000 members. The Convention returned to Lehigh for the dedication of a Tau Beta Pi Centennial Conference Room in Packard Laboratory. Famed writer Isaac Asimov and Lee Iacocca, then chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, each spoke to crowds of 700 people at the Centennial Symposium and the Second Century Awards Banquet.

Engineering Futures


Award-winning Engineering Futures Program Established

Engineering Futures has grown to serve as many as 4,000 engineering students each year. The curriculum, taught both virtually and on campus by Tau Beta Pi volunteers, prepares engineering students for their careers by teaching interpersonal skills, teamwork development, problem solving, and presentation skills.

TBP Scholar


Tau Beta Pi Launches Scholarship Program

The Tau Beta Pi Scholarship Program was established with five of nine awards named in honor of former Secretary Treasurer Emeritus Bob Nagel. Given to members for their senior year of full-time study, the $2,000 scholarships are funded by gifts from alumni and corporations, the largest being a $4.3 million bequest from LeRoy Record of Kansas Alpha. Tau Beta Pi awards approximately 250 scholarships each year.

Texas A&M Qatar


International Honor Society

The first international initiation occured at Texas A&M University at Qatar.

TBP Scholar TBP Scholar


First International Chapters Installed

The United Arab Emirates Alpha (UAE Alpha) at the American University of Sharjah was installed as the 262nd Tau Beta Pi Chapter on March 3, 2024. The Qatar Alpha Chapter at Texas A&M University at Qatar, operating since 2011 as a sub-chapter unit of Texas Delta at Texas A&M, was installed on March 5, 2024 as the 263rd Chapter.

Condensed Historical Video

This video briefly highlights key dates and events in Tau Beta Pi's 130+ year history.

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