The International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, founded in Marshall, Michigan on May 8th, 1863, was, in part, a response to working conditions on the railroads of North America. In the early years of the railway, engineers worked in conditions that were always dirty, often physically demanding and occasionally dangerous to life and limb. The Brotherhood was founded to improve those conditions.

The first Canadian chapter of the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was formed in Toronto, 1865. At the time, labour unions were outlawed in Canada. On 18 April, 1872, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald introduced a bill in Canadian Parliament to legalize trade unions. Two months later, on June 14th, Parliament passed the Trade Union Act, legalizing labour unions.

In 2004, the BLE became the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), a division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).