"the Mechanics' Institution of Carlisle"
American and Australian soldiers in the reading room of the Ballarat Mechanics Institute, Victoria, Australia 1942
Public DomainAmerican and Australian soldiers in the reading room of the Ballarat Mechanics Institute, Victoria, Australia 1942 - Credit: Victorian Museum

Mechanics' Institutes were educational establishments formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men. They were often funded by local industrialists, hoping to reap the benefit of more knowledgeable and skilled employees. The Mechanics' Institutes provided working men with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking.

The world's first Mechanics' Institute was established in Edinburgh in October 1821, as the School of Arts of Edinburgh, and provided technical education for working people and professionals, revolutionising access to education in science and technology for ordinary people.  A second Institute followed in Glasgow in 1823, and the concept was soon replicated in England, Australia, Canada and the United States.