Records of International Correspondence Schools (ICS) Ltd, 1890-, distance learning organisation, Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Reference Library books, 1905-1923;
  • Student course materials, c1950-1989;
  • Minutes, 1902-1999;
  • Registers of members, 1902-1983;
  • Directors attendance book, 1970-1975;
  • Legal records, 1912-1989;
  • Financial records, 1958-1982;
  • Advertising material, c1950-c1980;
  • Photographs and illustrations, early 20th century;
  • Artefacts, 1890-2009.

The collection does not contain any records of individual students’ study.

Administrative / Biographical History

International Correspondence Schools (ICS) Ltd was founded in 1890 through the efforts of Thomas J Foster, the publisher of the Colliery Engineer and Metal Miner, a mining journal published in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Aiming to increase safety for miners by providing training and education in addition to what was taught in apprenticeships, Foster initially began a question and answer column in the journal. Due to demand this developed into correspondence courses in coal mining. Within eight years over 190,000 students had enrolled in courses for subjects including another forty engineering trades, ornamental design, commercial education and "English Branches". The International Textbook Company incorporated the school in late 1894 and by early 1895, the school was officially known as the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania or ICS for short. By 1910 enrolments had reached one million, by 1930 four million, and by the Second World War (1939-1945) it had been contracted by the US War Department to develop their training manuals. The existence of a well functioning postal service was a key element in the success of the company, and students were offered the option of payment by instalment plans.

One of the main tenets of the ICS philosophy was that the student learns "by what he does and not by what the teacher does", with the content of the course materials presented in a way that could be quickly and easily understood. As noted by James D Watkinson: "The simplicity and stress on building a comprehensive base of knowledge before moving on made ICS very attractive to those who had little formal education". Examinations were designed to test understanding of the texts and additional individual guidance could be given by letter if required. ICS created its own specially prepared "Instruction and Question Papers", which provided exactly the information the student needed and questioned them only on that material.

The system also allowed students to study at their own pace, in the subjects which fitted their needs. It was recognized that many students whilst looking to forward their careers were not in a position to attend a college or school, and many had to keep working whilst studying. In 1908 ICS stated: "Our courses are all prepared from a utilitarian standpoint; that is, it is always kept in view that the reason the student is taking one of our courses is that he desires to put the knowledge obtained into immediate practical use. We are not aiming to train the mind, but to give the student such information regarding the principles, theory, and practice as he can use with the position he is aiming to fill".

From early on the organisation's intention was to cooperate with other educational establishments, industries, businesses, government agencies, labour organisations and trade associations to supplement and enhance their training programmes. By 1906 it had contracts to instruct employees of 164 railroads in the USA, with other industries such as steel and coal-mining also referring students. That ICS met the necessary standards set by accreditation bodies was seen as important both for the students and the general public to have confidence in the quality of teaching.

ICS was divided into groups, or schools, in 1907 in the USA there were over 370 courses offered under thirty-one schools. By 1968 this had been restructured into twelve, each with its own instructors, technical writers, and director responsible for the educational materials and services offered. Staff members were responsible to the director and trained in the subject area and in the independent study method, whilst authors of course texts were qualified through both education and experience. The schools were: Architecture and the Building Trades; Art; Automobiles; Business; Civil engineering; Electrical and electronics engineering; High School (including Creative Writing and Languages); Machine Shop Practice; Mathematics; Mechanical Engineering; Science and Chemical Engineering and Textiles. Courses were offered at apprentice and college level.

The company was incorporated in the UK in 1902 with offices being leased in London. Then operating as a subsidiary of the International Textbook Company it later became a subsidiary of the Intertext Group Ltd. As of 1908 the company had not undertaken any business, and it was decided to restructure. The first company was liquidated, and a new company was registered under the same name in 1909. Other subsidiary companies were created over the next few years including ICS (Colonial) Ltd in 1913, the name being changed to ICS (Overseas) Ltd in 1937 and The Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences in 1916, later changed in 1960 to The Institute of Domestic Arts Ltd in 1960. By 1922 the subsidiary of ICS (Colonial) Ltd ICS (Australasia) PTY Ltd was operating which in turn had a fully owned New Zealand subsidiary ICS (New Zealand) Ltd.

In 1967 the company Parkgate Schools Ltd London was incorporated, changing name to ICS Ltd the same year. ICS moved to Scotland in the 1960s, and in 1977 agreed a 21 year lease for 8 Elliot Place, Glasgow from Glasgow City Council. In 1982 the company underwent a corporate structural reorganization which saw Intertext Group Ltd, ICS (Overseas) Ltd and The School of Accountancy (SOA) Ltd being incorporated into one company as International Correspondence Schools (ICS) Ltd.

ICS Ltd acquired Trans-World Educational Services Ltd in 1987, a company based in Jersey previously known as the Anglo-Jersey Correspondence College and Jersey Correspondence College which had been undergoing financial difficulties, some of these attributed to the high postal rates in Jersey. In 2013 the company was sold to Clyde Educational Ltd and continues to operate as ICS Learn, now using modern online technology to deliver their courses. The USA branch has been known as Penn Foster Career School since 2006 and is not connected to ICS Learn.


Arranged chronologically within record series.

Access Information

Access to certain records within this collection is restricted in accordance with data protection legislation as they contain information about potentially living individuals. Please email Archives and Special Collections for advice:

Acquisition Information

Long-term deposit : ICS : 18 Jul 2013 : ACCN 3777

Other Finding Aids

See also University of Glasgow Collections

Digital file level list available in the searchroom

Alternative Form Available

Includes some published material.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Applications for permission to quote should be sent to Archives and Special Collections, please email:

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard ASC procedures.

Custodial History

International Correspondence Schools (ICS) Ltd


No further materials are expected for this collection.

Related Material

International Correspondence Schools of Scranton Collection

Location of Originals

This material is original