The word system in its meaning here, has a long history which can be traced back to Plato (Philebus), Aristotle (Politics) and Euclid (Elements). It had meant "total", "crowd" or "union" in even more ancient times, as it derives from the verb sunìstemi, uniting, putting together.
In the 19th century the first to develop the concept of a "system" in the natural sciences was the French physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot who studied thermodynamics. In 1824 he studied what he called the working substance (system), i.e. typically a body of water vapor, in steam engines, in regards to the system's ability to do work when heat is applied to it. The working substance could be put in contact with either a boiler, a cold reservoir (a stream of cold water), or a piston (to which the working body could do work by pushing on it). In 1850, the German physicist Rudolf Clausius generalized this picture to include the concept of the surroundings and began to use the term "working body" when referring to the system.
One of the pioneers of the general systems theory was the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy. In 1945 he introduced models, principles, and laws that apply to generalized systems or their subclasses, irrespective of their particular kind, the nature of their component elements, and the relation or 'forces' between them.