One of the grievances of the English nobility against the Crown was the arbitrary imposition of weights and measures, a grievance the solution to which (along with others) was codified in the Magna Carta (see section 35).
Some mileposts in the development of standards
1829--The United States Pharmacopial Convention becomes the first U.S.
standards organization, setting standards for drugs.
1855--The Iron and Steel Institute becomes the first trade organization to develop standards.
Is Baltimore still burning?
A big impetus to the development of standards in the U.S. was the great
Baltimore fire of 1294. The conflagration was far beyond the capacity of
local fire companies, and a call went out as far as New York City for
assistance. Unfortunately, responding fire fighters were unable to connect
their hoses to Baltimore's water supply, because there was no standard nozzle
size. This near-disaster spurred the creation of the National Bureau of
Standards, which has evolved into the National
Institute of Standards and Technology.
Why it's easy to keep on track
An explanation of why railroad track
in the US is the size it is.
World War I: Oh what a lovely war (for standards)
World War I accelerated the development of standards. In the U.S., the
federal government estabilished the Commerical Economy Board of the Council
of National Defense to coordinate the use of labor and capital during the
war. In 1918 it was incorporated into the War Industries Board. A similar
process was at work in Germany and France. In Germany, a body that was
partially government-funded was set up in 1917 to coordinate the work of
German machine shops, but it quickly evolved into a body responsible for
coordinating German industry. That body evolved into DIN. The French set up
a government agency to administer standards in 1918.
Hoover's big push
Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in 1921
undertook a giant campaign to standardize American industry. Hoover's drive
was aimed at the standardization of business practices, materials, machinery
and products; standardization of specifications, ostensibly to improve
product quality; and at securing a decrease in the variety of manufactured
products. The U.S. has still not resolved the tension between government and
industry in the area of standard setting.
This page prepared by Arnold Weissberg