In 1960, J.E. Courtois chaired an international meeting of carbohydrate chemists at Gif-sur-Yvette, Paris. Other similar meetings followed, every two years or so, until there was felt a need to form a Steering Committee (in 1965) to oversee such gatherings. The first actual meeting of the Steering Committee took place in 1970 in Paris – a constitution was established and several resolutions passed.
In 1980, Roy L. Whistler proposed that the Steering Committee should be established as a formal body. The particular reason for this proposal was the inauguration of the Whistler Award. Good, but anonymous, friends of Whistler proposed the establishment of a fund for a biennial award to a distinguished carbohydrate chemist; investment and handling of money required a responsible, established body. Such a body was created with the name of the International Carbohydrate Organization (ICO), to take over from the Steering Committee. So far, the only functions of the Organization are the regulating of the biennial Symposia and the presentation of the biennial Award.
The ICO issued guidelines, originally compiled by James N. BeMiller in 1989, for the organization of International Carbohydrate Symposia, and are of considerable assistance to future organizers. The location of Symposia is approved tentatively six years, and definitely four years, in advance. There is no lack of nations willing to organize the Symposia.
Because the number of national representatives had grown considerably, the Organization appeared somewhat unwieldy. It was therefore decided, in Vancouver (1982), to modify the previous constitution by omitting the co-opted members representing the American, British and French carbohydrate groups; only national representatives, past-presidents and other co-opted members remained.
The ICO has been an Associated Organization of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry since 1970 and an Interest Group of the International Union of Biochemistry (and Molecular Biology) since 1982. The ICO originally had no income; the secretaries covered incidental expenses from other sources. In 1996, however, it was decided that each Symposium should provide US$1000 from its funds to the Secretariat.
With the rapid advances in carbohydrate chemistry, interest in carbohydrate meetings had increased and biennial meetings appeared to be insufficient to meet the demand. A new series of meetings, restricted to Europe, started under the name of Eurocarb in Vienna in 1981. These meetings take place biennially in those years in which there is no International Carbohydrate Symposium. Eurocarb is modelled on the International Symposia and is controlled by the European Carbohydrate Organization, representing countries in Europe in which carbohydrate research is carried out.