Over nearly a century, we've been improving the lives of people everywhere with our science. We've listed a brief history here, but you can find more extensive information in our CSIROpedia.
World War I origins
In 1916, the Australian Government established the Advisory Council of Science and Industry as the first step towards a 'national laboratory'. By 1920, this had evolved into the Institute for Science and Industry under an Act of the Federal Parliament. In 1926, this Act was revised to form the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The headquarters of all three institutions were established in a commonwealth government property at 314 Albert Street East Melbourne (pictured). The first research investment by the Advisory Council was 250 pounds in the 1915/16 financial year in partnership with the Queensland and New South Wales Governments to explore control measures for the prickly pear pest that was invading millions of acres of agricultural land in eastern Australia.
The primary purpose of the Advisory Council of Science and Industry, the Institute of Science and Industry and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) remained consistent and this purpose continues largely unchanged in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to this day. That is, to initiate and conduct scientific research to assist in the development of the primary and secondary industries of Australia: farming, mining and manufacturing being the focus in the early years. By the end of its first full year of operations in 1927, the CSIR had 53 staff located in all six Australian states.
During the 1930s and 1940s, research was conducted in the fields of:
- animal pests and diseases
- plant pests and diseases
- fuel problems, especially liquid fuels
- preservation of foodstuffs, especially cold storage
- forest products.
The onset of World War II (1939-45), saw the Council conducting research to assist the Australian Defence Forces, in areas such as radar.
After World War II ended, CSIR research expanded to include areas such as:
- building materials
- wool textiles
- atmospheric physics
- physical metallurgy
- assessment of land resources.
In 1949, CSIR ceased all defence work for the military and was renamed CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
Over the following decades, we've expanded our activities to almost every field of primary, secondary and tertiary industry, including the environment, human nutrition, conservation, urban and rural planning, and water.
In 2014 we simplified our operations, making it easier to do business with industry and maximising the impact of our science. We now operate through three lines of business:
- Impact science: Business units with focus on the biggest challenges facing the nation:
- National Collections and Marine Infrastructure: We manage infrastructure and biological collections for the benefit of research and industry.
- CSIRO Services: Commercial, customer-centric products and services for industry, government and the community, including education, publishing, infrastructure technologies, Small and Medium Enterprise engagement and CSIRO Futures.
We continued to provide Australians with world-class scientific facilities:
- New research vessel the RV Investigator launched, supporting Australia’s atmospheric, oceanographic, biological and geosciences research and making a regional contribution to international research
- First radio signals received on the antenna built in Western Australia to be part of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope
- Construction completed on the unique Biosecure Immunology Laboratory in Victoria to develop new treatments for highly infectious viruses such as influenza and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
We developed new and innovative solutions to benefit people everywhere:
- partnered with St Vincent's Hospital and Victorian biotech company Anatomics to carry out world-first surgery to implant a titanium-printed heel bone into a Melbourne man
- brought the idea of an Australian dentist to life by developing a 3D-printable device to tackle sleep apnoea
- Improved the recovery of heart attack patients with a new smartphone app.
And we released more world-first research to tackle the challenges of the future:
- unveiled the most comprehensive digital maps of Australian soils and landscapes yet produced
- published crucial reports about Australia’s biosecurity vulnerabilities, pollution from marine debris, and threats to cybersecurity
- used solar energy to generate hot and pressurised 'supercritical' steam, at the highest temperatures ever achieved in the world outside of fossil fuel sources.
We'll continue to shape the future by using our science to solve real issues and make a difference to industry, people and the planet.