The IEEE is incorporated in the State of New York, United States. It was formed in 1963 by the merger of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE, founded 1912) and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE, founded 1884). The major interests of the AIEE were wire communications (telegraph and telephony) and light and power systems. The IRE concerned mostly radio engineering, and was formed from two smaller organizations, the Society of Wireless and Telegraph Engineers and the Wireless Institute. With the rise of electronics in the 1930s, electronics engineers usually became members of the IRE, but the applications of electron tube technology became so extensive that the technical boundaries differentiating the IRE and the AIEE became difficult to distinguish. After World War II, the two organizations became increasingly competitive, and in 1961, the leadership of both the IRE and the AIEE resolved to consolidate the two organizations. The two organizations formally merged as the IEEE on January 1, 1963.

IEEE's Constitution defines the purposes of the organization as "scientific and educational, directed toward the advancement of the theory and practice of electrical, electronics, communication and computer engineering, as well as computer science, the allied branches of engineering and the related arts and sciences." In pursuing these goals, the IEEE serves as a major publisher of scientific journals and a conference organizer. It is also a leading developer of industrial standard (having developed over 900 active industry standards) in a broad range of disciplines, including electric power and energy, biomedical technology and healthcare, information technology, information assurance, telecommunications, consumer electronics, transportation, aerospace, and nanotechnology. IEEE develops and participates in educational activities such as accreditation of electrical engineering programs in institutes of higher learning. The IEEE logo is a diamond-shaped design which illustrates the right hand grip rule embedded in Benjamin Franklin's kite. It is properly presented as a master brand with the letter "IEEE" to the right. IEEE also sponsors or cosponsors more than 1000 international technical conferences each year