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RSA History

The RSA was founded in 1754.

Our first meeting was at Rawthmell's coffeehouse in Covent Garden. Just a short walk from where we are today.

In our early years, our focus was awarding prizes to new inventions, ideas and artworks. 

Over time, we've tried lots of things to make the nation better: a national tree planting campaign, promoting girl's schools, running the nation's first public exams, initiating the 'blue plaques' scheme and the use of the Trafalgar Square fourth plinth to exhibit public art.

RSA coffeehouse, our story

Our archive

Preserving our past. Recording our present. Inspiring our future. Search the archive online or get in touch with our archive team.

Arts & Minds

Want to know more? Read RSA historian Anton Howes' new book on the history of the RSA.

Medal showing Prince Albert

Why Royal?

Our Royal Charter was granted in 1847 by Queen Victoria, when Prince Albert was our President, but the Society did not adopt the title ‘Royal’ until 1908. Prince Albert organised the Great Exhibition of 1851 with some of our members, particularly Henry Cole. Our current President is the Princess Royal, having succeeded Prince Phillip in 2011.

Famous Fellows

Many famous names have been RSA members throughout our history. US founding father Benjamin Franklin was an early member. Charles Dickens was a member who became our Vice President. And just to show the range of our membership, both Karl Marx and Adam Smith were members.

Medal showing Benjamin Franklin

Green power

Between 1757 and 1835, the RSA ran a campaign to encourage landowners to plant more trees. Medals were awarded to those who did the most to restore woodland. Over 60 million trees are estimated to have been planted. The scheme was celebrated in an original drawing by Quentin Blake in our coffeehouse, unveiled in 2018.