To fully understand the nature of industrial engineering (IE) as a profession, it is important to review its historical development. It has been suggested that perhaps Leonardo da Vinci was the first Industrial Engineer, because there is evidence that he applied science to the analysis of human work, by examining rate at which a man could shovel dirt around the year 1500. Others state that the IE profession grew from Charles Babbage’s study of factory operations and specifically his work on the manufacture of straight pins in 1832 . However, it has been generally argued that these early efforts, while valuable, were merely observational and did not attempt to engineer the jobs studied or increase overall output.
Most analysts agree that the IE profession grew out of application of science to the design of work and production systems that started in the 1880’s. The pioneers who led that effort were Frederick W. Taylor (shown at right, the so-called "Father of Scientific Management") who initiated the field of work measurement, Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian Gilbreth (immortalized in the 1948 book and 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen), who perfected methods improvement, and Henry Gantt who pioneered the field of project management. The term "Industrial Engineering" can be traced to James Gunn, in The Engineering Magazine in 1901 when he suggested that a profession and curriculum of IE be established and organized similarly to that of electrical and mechanical engineering.
The first course in Industrial Engineering can be traced to one called Factory Economics offered in the Mechanical Engineering department at the University of Kansas in the 1901-02 term. The first formal IE degree program was established in 1908-09 by Hugo Deimer at Penn State University as a modified version of the mechanical engineering curriculum.
The American Institute of Industrial Engineers, now known as the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), was founded in 1948. Today there are over 100 IE degree programs in the US alone.
Speed Scientific School was established in September 1924 as a result of an endowment from the James Breckenridge Speed Foundation. It is now known as the J.B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville . There were initial programs that led to the Bachelor of Science in four designated branches of engineering: chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical. There is an almost unbroken trail of industrial engineering courses from the mechanical engineering program of the 1920's to the industrial engineering program of today. ME 26, mechanical handling of materials, was introduced in the 1926 bulletin and was a required course in the curriculum. ME 24, Industrial Engineering, became a requirement in the 1927 bulletin. Engineering 432, Principles of Engineering Economy, (now IE 370) became a senior year requirement for all four engineering programs in 1939. After a short absence during the 1940's the industrial engineering course re-appeared as ME 462-Industrial Management in 1943. This was replaced by ME 534- Industrial Operations Analyses, in 1960. In 1968, the course was relabeled as ME 434, and other graduate courses were introduced including ME 681-Operations Management and Capacity Decision Systems, ME 682-Product Planning and Work Systems Design, ME 683-Operations Planning and Control, ME 684-Advanced Topics in Operations Research, and ME 685-Advanced Industrial Dynamics. These were eventually dropped in 1970 and replaced by counterparts when the five-year Master of Engineering in Engineering Management degree was announced in the 1971 catalog. This new interdisciplinary program required a four-unit program of study with 23 units of program electives. Each year after, the program gained structure. By 1973 there were 16 units of required coursework and 24 by 1975. The program became Engineering Management/Industrial Engineering in the 1976 catalog. A Department of EM/IE was established and the MEng with specialization in IE degree was approved in 1977. The Department of Industrial Engineering was officially named in 1981. By August 1982 nine MEngIE degrees had been awarded. In 1987 the IE Department received approval to establish a PhD in IE. Today, the department offers five degree programs, BSIE, MEngIE, MSIE, PhD, and MEngEM, and graduates approximately 100 students per year.