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CHAPTER 46

BUREAU OF STANDARDS 1. Mission

The primary function of the bureau is to establish and maintain standards of quantitative measurement, usually termed "weights and measures.” 1 It is the custodian of the standards in possession of the government. It constructs standards, when necessary, and calibrates them. It is required to compare the measuring apparatus used in scientific investigation, and in engineering, manufacturing, commerce, and education, with standards established and maintained in Washington. Congress also authorized the bureau to conduct scientific investigations for the solution of problems arising in connection with the development of standards, and for the determination of “physical constants and the properties of materials”; i. e., atomic weight, density, viscosity, melting and boiling points, conductivity, and the like.

It should be noted that the bureau does not determine what shall be the units of measurement; that is the function of Congress. But, once the unit is determined, it is the bureau's duty to acquire or construct an actual physical standard corresponding to the unit prescribed by law, with which all measuring apparatus may be compared. Nor does the bureau “establish” standards of quality, performance, or practice or the physical constants in the sense that they become legally enforceable in the courts. These standards, or rather standard specifications, may be used by the public, and tests and comparisons made with them. They are intended to be permanent when determined and could be made the basis of contract, but otherwise no one would be obliged to conform to them.

The services of the bureau are rendered primarily to the government, and secondarily to the public at large. The bureau compares with its own standards the standards and measuring instruments used by various branches of the federal government, the governments of states and cities, scientific laboratories, educational institutions, industrial and commercial establishments, and individual citizens. For a small fee (except in the cases of national and state governments and institutions), it assists these organizations and individuals in fixing standards and explaining their use, in determining precision standards for scientific work, or master standards for manufacturing, engineering, and building construction. It serves in an advisory capacity state and municipal authorities charged with the enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations relating to weights and meas

ures.

2. History

The necessity for establishing and maintaining standards of weights and measures with which to compare the measuring instruments used in commerce, industry, and science was well understood by the founders of this republic. In

1 Act March 3, 1901 (31 Stat. 1449 (Comp. St. $ 921 et seq.]).

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deed, it was as well recognized as the need for a common standard of money. For this reason it was provided in the Constitution that the federal government should have power to fix the standard of weights and measures. Washington in his first three messages to Congress recommended that action be taken to give effect to this provision. Jefferson and Madison also urged that standards be established, and at the instance of the latter, John Quincy Adams, as Secretary of State, made a report in 1821 which became a classic in weights and measures literature.

It was, however, not until 1830 that positive action was taken. In that year Congress, by joint resolution, directed that an examination be made of the weights and measures used at the most important custom offices. As the result oi wide differences found to exist, the Secretary of the Treasury ordered a standard pound and a standard yard to be established, and copies distributed to the various custom houses.4

These official standards were intrusted to the custody of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey (later the Coast and Geodetic Survey), who acted as head of the Office of the Standard Weights and Measures. It is perhaps significant that the re-establishment of the Coast Survey in 1832 is almost coincident with the establishment of the Weights and Measures Office. Until 1901 the duties of this office were to keep the already established standards, to which were added in 18665 a set of metric standards, to furnish copies to the state governments under the provisions of Act of June 14, 1836,6 to correct and adjust these standards, and on request to compare measuring apparatus with the standard. The modesty of the establishment is indicated by the fact that as late as 1900 the appropriation for the "Office of Construction of Standard Weights and Measures," as it was then called, amounted to $10,010 and provided for a staff of seven persons.

The inability of this small and inadequately equipped office to perform the service demanded by the industrial, commercial, and scientific institutions of the country led to the establishment, by the Act of March 3, 1901,1 of the National Bureau of Standards. The service was separated from the Coast and Geodetic Survey, and remained an independent bureau in the Department of the Treasury, until it was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903, and became the Bureau of Standards. When the Department of Commerce and Labor was divided in 1913, the Bureau of Standards remained with the Department of Commerce.

Since 1901 the activities of the bureau have been greatly extended. Especially since the beginning of the World War has Congress added to the scope of the work of standardizing weights and measures. It now includes the development of standards and methods of measurement, not only of physical quantities, including light, heat, power, etc., but also of qualities of materials and services, of the performance of machinery, and of industrial practices. From humble beginnings the bureau has become in the past decade a great scientific laboratory, employing 800 persons and spending $1,500,000 annually.

1 Act March 3, 1901 (31 Stat. 1449 (Comp. St. $ 921 et seq.]).
2 Const. U. S. art. 1, § 8, subpar. 5.
3 May 29, 1830 (Journal of the Senate, 21st Cong., 1st Sess. p. 342).
4 See Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909, p. 1198.
5 Act July 28, 1866 (14 Stat. 339 [Comp. St. $8 889S, SS99]).

65 Stat. 133. See, also, Res. March 3, 1881 (21 Stat. 521 [Comp. St. § 8900]), and Act July 11, 1888 (25 Stat. 270).

7 Act Feb. 14, 1903 (32 Stat. 826 [Comp. St. § 857]). See Appropriation Act March 18, 1904 (33 Stat. 139).

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3. Standards of Practice and Performance

The development of this class of standards was made necessary primarily by the practice which grew up in Washington of submitting samples of materials purchased for government use to the Bureau of Standards to be tested. This practice was encouraged both by the bureau and by Congress, and of late years appropriations have been made specifically for this purpose. Obviously, such tests could be made only by determining and establishing, at any rate for the purposes of the government, definite specifications as standards with which the articles purchased could be compared. These became the standards of quality, i. e., strength, durability, color, etc., as applied to materials such as rubber, leather, and textile goods, paper, furniture, etc.; standards of performance, i. e., rate and quality of output, serviceability, etc., as applied to machinery, technical and scientific apparatus, vehicles, etc.; and standards of practice, i. e., safety, economy, convenience, quality, etc., as applied to services or the operation of utilities.

4. "Fundamental" and "Reference" Standards

The standards which the bureau maintains may be further classified in two groups, viz.: (a) “Fundamental,” as opposed to "derived”; and (b) “reference," as opposed to "working.” A fundamental standard is one based on quantities of the kind which it measures; e. g., the yard, the pound, the meter, etc. A derived standard is one based on quantities other than of the kind which it measures; e. g., the horse power, the ampere, the foot pound, the volt, etc. A reference standard is one that is preserved under conditions of maximum constancy; it is obviously little used. A working standard is one that is preserved under conditions designed to secure the maximum constancy consistent with the necessity of using it frequently for tests and comparisons.

5. Organization and Activities; Administrative Head ·

The Director is the administrative head, and in his absence the Assistant Director. The administrative head is advised by several committees, the most important being that of the division chiefs, meeting biweekly. Other committees are Personnel, Space, Publication, Safety, and Entertainment. The Director is chairman of the Federal Specification Board and supervises the Construction Division.

6. Same; Office Division

The Assistant Director is chief of the Office Division and is charged with supervision over the activities of the various administrative sections; approves requisitions for office supplies and equipment; confers with members of the scientific staff in planning and preparing reports for publication; and prepares reports for the printer. General office correspondence is submitted to him for approval. The administrative sections under him are:

(1) Finance Section handles accounts of the bureau; prepares pay rolls; audits and approves vouchers for materials, equipment, supplies, and travel; prepares financial statements and annual estimates.

(2) Personnel Section arranges for interviews with candidates for appointment under bureau and civil service requirements, and for their examination; cooperates with respective division and section chiefs in passing upon qualifications of candidates; maintains all personnel records; is responsible for routine work in connection with removals; and drafts organization charts and graphic statements regarding personnel and salaries.

(3) Property, Stores, and Transportation Section receives, examines, stores, issues, and accounts for supplies, equipment, and materials purchased; packs and makes shipments; maintains records of nonexpendable property; and maintains the automobile and truck service.

(4) Mails and Files Section handles incoming and outgoing mail and telegrams, and maintains the telephone and elevator services.

(5) The Library contains 28,000 volumes of scientific and technical literature and 650 periodicals.

(6) Purchase Section handles the business of obtaining bids for the purchase of supplies and equipment; prepares purchase orders or formal contracts; when such purchases are received the section checks them against the record of orders; and prepares the forms necessary to make proper accounting charges on travel authorizations.

(7) The Information Section answers requests for information on the bureau's work by letter, telephone, or personal interviews, and receives and cares for visitors. It prepares reports dealing with the general work of the bureau, and has general charge of the distribution of the bureau's publications, mailing of announcements of new publications, etc. It transmits the requests for tests to the laboratories, prepares the bills for the fees for tests and accounts for the cash received, releases the test reports on receipt of the fees; maintains files of test records, and compiles statistics of tests. 7. Same; Scientific and Technical Divisions in General

The Scientific and Technical Divisions include those divisions of the bureau which are engaged in the functional work for which the bureau was created. The activities of each of these divisions fall into two classes: The scientific or technical investigation, and the incidental administration. The scientific work varies with the nature of the problems assigned, while the administrative work is about the same, and is conducted by the division chief, under the general superintendence of the Bureau Director. The division chief, in turn, delegates routine administrative duties to section chiefs. The divisional administration consists chiefly in planning and supervising investigations and tests carried on by the sections and in maintaining necessary records; allocation of tasks to the sections; assignment of personnel and laboratory space as well as equipment necessary therefor. The divisional chief receives reports of section activities and individual investigators and reviews them before they are transmitted; his office conducts the general correspondence of the division, confers with visitors, and maintains files of records. Sectional administration similarly attends to such matters in relation to the section. All the divisions, except those of Simplified Practice and Housing, are established at the extensive plant on Connecticut avenue, in the neighborhood of the National Zoological Park.

8. Same; Simplified Practice Division

The Division of Simplified Practice is under the immediate supervision of the Secretary of Commerce, and is co-operative with manufacturers in the deletion of little-used and unnecessary sizes and varieties of commodities in commerce.

9. Same; Housing Division

The Housing Division is under the direct supervision of the Secretary of Commerce, and is concerned with all problems involved in better and more economical housing, such as building codes, building procedure, zoning laws, and the like.

10. Same; Federal Specification Board

The government makes purchases amounting to about $260,000,000 annually. The Federal Specification Board and its representatives in interested departments are charged with the duty of writing specifications for these purchases and to test the articles so purchased for compliance to specifications.

11. Same; Weights and Measures Division

The Weights and Measures Division is intrusted with the custody of the national prototype standards of length and mass, and is concerned largely with the comparison of working standards with these reference standards. It prepares the specifications for standardizing weights and measures, and determines "tolerances” or limits of variation from standard allowable in using standards; designs, constructs, and works out improvements in apparatus for recording measurements of length, mass, time, area, volume, density, and pressure; conducts researches to define more accurately the values of certain of the "physical constants" which are derived from measurements of length and mass; calibrates weighing and measuring apparatus by comparison with the reference standards; and co-operates with state and local governments in maintaining standards and enforcing laws regulating weights and measures. There are nine sections:

(1) The Length Section deals with length-measuring apparatus. It tests and calibrates, not only yard bars, meter bars, etc., but also gauges, level rods, polariscope tubes, geodetic tapes, sieves, etc.

(2) The Mass Section tests weight and precision balances, and makes accurate weighings for other units of the bureau. It conducts investigations on celluloid and similar materials to determine their capacity to absorb water.

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