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Our History

A union between science and commerce

NPL was founded in 1900 for "standardising and verifying instruments, for testing materials, and for the determination of physical constants." We are one of the oldest standardising laboratories in the world.

Now an established world-class centre of excellence, we maintain the UK’s primary standards of measurement, while simultaneously delivering innovations to improve prosperity and quality of life for those living in the UK. Almost 120 years since we were first established, we still remain true to our core mission.

Since its establishment, the research work at NPL has included all branches of physics, light, electricity and magnetism, radio communication, engineering, metallurgy, aeronautics and ship design. Some of the world’s most significant innovations have origins at NPL, including radar; packet switching, the forebearer of the internet; the ACE computer; and the caesium atomic clock.

Read our 'History of NPL' booklet

The foundation of NPL

In 1902, HRH The Prince of Wales, the future King George V, used the words that have come to be accepted as the effective, if not formal, objectives:


"I believe that in the National Physical Laboratory we have the first instance of the State taking part in scientific research. The object of the scheme is, I understand, to bring scientific knowledge to bear practically upon our everyday industrial and commercial life; to break down the barrier between theory and practice; to effect a union between science and commerce."

HRH The Prince of Wales  1902


Famous faces

Many of the world’s most renowned scientists have worked at NPL, including Robert Watson-Watt, Donald Davies, Alan Turing and Louis Essen

Famous faces

War heroes

These pages are a tribute to the employees of the National Physical Laboratory who served in the Great War of 1914–1918

War heroes

Bushy House

Bushy House was home to various notable historical figures before being offered to the Royal Society as a site for the National Physical Laboratory

Bushy House

Work with us

Our research and measurement solutions support innovation and product development. We work with companies to deliver business advantage and commercial success.
Contact our Customer services team on +44 20 8943 7070