STANDARDISATION - STANDARDISING MODERNITIES
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To consider the modern
age without attending to the standardisation of producing and consuming
is to miss developments which went beyond work and warfare to penetrate
family life, science and the arts.
According to the founding General-Secretary of the Australian
Commonwealth Engineering Standards Association in 1928 “[t]here is
practically no phase of life untouched by the present waste of time and
Hence, the drive to eliminate it affected every experience.
standardisation as synonymous with modernisation could involve fewer
opportunities for error than will the neglect of its impact.
Redressing the want of attention paid to standardization in most
accounts of Modernism in the arts must not erase the countervailing
tendencies. Those retarding forces were stronger in Australia than in
German or the U.S. of A. The task is to track the advance of
standardization while accounting for delays and lacunae in its
application. Opponents feared the costs, resented the challenge to
professional and managerial prerogatives or trade skills. In addition,
the resistance gathered support from people whose lives had not been
touched by standardization of the economy. That movement threatened
their sense of self, to provoke reactions against the squashing of
individualism by another stock phrase of the time - “the machine
Interlocks in practice
for domestic life, materials, production and the sales efforts.
Plenty of gaps and
obstacles, yet standardization became a net tightening over all aspects.
Generated an ideology of its own kind and its opposite.
through phases. Their effects
overlapped more as the pace of its application increased and percolated
around the globe. Looking
back three millennia, this essay sketches the origins of standard
measures in currencies, land and time. These three strands were drawn
towards each other through their connections with the pricing of labour.
The industrial revolution increased the precision essential for
scientific testing which contributed to the interchangeability integral
to mass production. The competition for world markets, including by war,
stimulated government support for the standardizing and simplifying of
production through national standards associations. From the 1920s,
corporations extended the procedures they were developing for production
to the realm of marketing.
The sketch of these
developments leads onto four
inter-dependent elements in the drive to sustain the rate of
profit-taking through standardisation: price-fixing; the disciplining of
labour-times, often through piece-rates; cost accounting; and brand
labeling. The operations of that quartet of business practices are then
enriched by case studies of the standardisation of the colouring agents
used by printers and decorators respectively. The
account then proceeds from the standardization of colours for inks
and paints to the setting-up of Colour Councils to channel consumer
The survey concludes
with the unease caused by standardization as an agent in the contraction
of individualism during the machine age of monopolizing capitals. In a
revolt against the masses, critics doubted that standardization could
preserve standards of quality?. The analysis is rounded off by noticing
how Modernist painters responded during the Second World War. Attempts
to escape by transforming
it, whether by spiritualising the machine, or escaping its discipline in
the dream-world of Surrealism.
Conclude with what?????
conflicting needs. They could profit from multiplying the variety in
consumer items only by contracting the variants in their production
equipment. That standardization of manufacture kept the differences in
the commodities for mass consumption superficial. As a result, as much
effort went towards standardising consumer preferences as had gone into
the standardization of manufacturing processes. Both those marketing
strategies will be examined below in regard to the use of colour as a
goods and consumer items
The elimination of
waste in the manufacture of consumer goods took flight in the 1920s
under the rubric “simplification”. It soon became a branch of
standardization in practice and in speech. The distinction did little to
convert the public and pundits from their fears about uniformity.
Each firm hoped that
its standard would become the industry standard, in short, that it would
become the monopoly supplier, as happened to Bell telephone. Less
ambitiously, managers believed that, by preserving distinctions, they
could bind existing customers to them. Oligopolisation of the chemical
and automotive industries contributed as much to national standards as
did the reports of any standardisation agency. (IBM, Intel and Microsoft
pursued this marketing stratagem into the present.)
All forms of money,
whether shells or credit cards, expedite the exchange of commodities. In
1857, Marx depicted London
with shops whose show cases display all the riches of the world, Indian
shawls, American revolvers, Chinese porcelain, Parisian corsets, furs
from Russia and spices from the tropics, but all of these worldly things
bear odious, white paper labels with Arabic numerals and then
laconic symbols £. s. d. This is how commodities are presented in
Capitalism could never
have existed if a pair of sandals had had to be swapped for a sack of
corn. Without some standard against which the value of all commodities
could be measured, commerce would have remained shorter, if less nasty
and brutish. Money, therefore, had to be the first commodity to be
standardised so that it could serve as a universal equivalent for every
other commodity. The medium for these exchanges has usually been a
precious metal, gold being the least vulnerable to wear-and-tear. Magna
Carta of 1215 specified the amount of gold in coins, later known as
sovereigns (or a Louis). Although debasing the currency bordered on high
treason, kings were never averse to swindling their subjects in this
to the gold standard for international commerce and domestic solvency
both expressed its power and helped to protect its manufacturers and
enrich its financiers in the City of London.
Unsettled by the Baring Bank crisis of 1889, and then by the bi-metallist
revolts in the United States during the 1890s. ??????
Britain left the gold standard in order to finance the Great War,
returned in 1925, abandoning it again in 1932, never to return.
Just before Britain
returned to the Gold Standard in 1925,
the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Reginald
McKenna, argued that its “moral effect” was the most potent of
all its “great and striking advantages” because “[a] nation will
think better of itself, will almost regard itself as more honest, if its
currency is convertible into gold”.
Australian commentators once more
contrasted the ethical imperative that guaranteed that a Britisher would
always pay his debts with the shonky dealings by the United States.
This surrender of the
value of the currency was as great an affront to public morals as was
the Labor government’s flirtation with deficit financing during 1931.
By sapping the fibre of the nation, inflation devalued more than the
currency. Any failure to balance budgets was denounced as a moral
failing just as repudiation of public debt was a character flaw.
Experts debated these
financial questions in terms of confidence” and “debasement”. The
instability of the monetary standard shook the confidence of consumers
in the quality and value of the commodities for which gold was supposed
to provide a universal equivalent.
As U. S. Treasury Secretary in 1902, the Chicago banker Lyman Gage had encouraged the transformation of the Office of Weights and Measures into the Bureau of Standards. Gage extended his faith in the ethical dimension of the Gold Standard to the moral benefits from accuracy in science. Against the prevalence of “looseness” in methods, ideas and spirit, Gage praised an “absolute standard, to which fidelity in all relations of life affected by that standard is required”.
The Gold Standard came
and went several times before it disappeared around 1971.
Inflation during the
Great War, and the German example of hyper-inflation in 1923, which
ruined most of the middling classes, solidified the orthodox fear of
inflation even during the deflationary cycle of the 1930s.
From the mid-1940s
until 1971, the U.S. dollar provided the standard for all the trade in
the capitalist orbit. Washington was supposed to keep a quantity of gold
in proportion to the volume of its dollars in circulation. This fiction
lost all credibility in the late 1960s as the U. S. Imperium attempted
to pay for its war against the Indo-Chinese by passing devalued money
off onto its trading partners in Europe and Japan. The sellers of oil
got some of their back pay in 1973??????
Since then, the U.S.
has operated on an entirely fiat currency, supported by its Military
clout and its share of the world trade. The ghost of gold haunts
financial markets whenever the real economy is threatened. The
“barbarous relic” remains the currency of flight.
The value of a precious
metal is determined on the same basis as applies to the zillions of
commodities for which it acts as a substitute, namely, the cost of
producing the socially-necessary labour-power that goes into their
The standardising of
those commodities interacted with the standardising of units of labour
power to reduce the unit cost of producing every one of them.
To explain why capital
needed industrial standards in terms of labour costs etc????
Every attempt to measure the passage of time has set up a standard
against the rhythms of nature. Reform of the Julian calendar has not
Attempts at ten-day
weeks in the French Revolution
Spread of time zones
And work times from
Eighteenth century onwards
Factories all had to
start and finish at the same time unlike farming
As markets spread
Proclaiming a standard
time zones did not put it into effect. In 1912, the clocks within
Melbourne’s Flinders Street station varied by ninety seconds.
Electricity promised uniformity but even today it has not been achieved.
Crucial to the
discipline of labour and the standardisation of the value of the labour-power
expended in the production of other commodities.
In 1913, an Australian
trade journal for engineers explained the invention of Micro-Motion
Study as combining a
response to the boon of the “Eight-Hour Day” and to shorter
working weeks, down to around forty-four hours by the 1920s. If the
length of the working week were reduced with no cut in wages, then the
employer tried to pass the cost on – possible in contracts for public
works. In general, the purchaser of labour power had to reclaim its
increased cost by intensifying its application.
????? Magnus Alexander recognized that the scientific management of
Frederick Taylor had married the elimination of waste in materials to
the discipline of the application of labour power. The one could not
proceed without the other. 
WAR The results from
standardised tests for aptitude and intelligence to service conscription
for the European War supplied a data base that businesses used
afterwards. The promoters of such testing complained that their research
was “much handicapped by the idea that this is a new dodge to put
labor in its place and reduce wages”.
Distances are easier to calculate than area surveys based on one of
those lengths as a base line. The boundaries to landed property needed
to be established for the owner to garner the wealth that labour could
add to nature. The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded estates according to
measures of how many people the soil could support. A “hide”, for
example, could sustain one farm labourer. These ??? established the
rudiments for a labour theory of value. Set measures for areas gained
importance in 1538 for the sale of church demesnes. At that time, the
English adopted the “rod” [16 and half feet] to calculate the area [two square rods] that one
person could work in a day.
Rough determinations would suffice, more or less, until land became
another commodity in nineteenth century.
Standard measures for
land could not establish their boundaries. The tools for precise surveys
included the longitude?????
Theodolite very poor
surveys until geo-positioning
want of exact measurement or expeditious conveyancing never impeded the
expropriation of land by force, as happened during the Enclosures or the
occupation of the New Worlds.
A pre-condition for the
spread of mass production was to standardise the equipment on which the commodities were made. In a
simple example, the lasts on which shoe-makers cut to size had to be
But also standardize
the machines that made the machines that made the consumption goods
In the era of tools,
each tradesman adjusted his grip to his implements and fashioned them to
suit his hands.
To bring one’s own carpentry tools was a mark of pride, a remnant of
independence. As production
moved away from tools, By contrast, for machines to be uniform in
operation they had to be uniform in design. Under this rule, the actions
of the operatives shed their individual characteristics. Managers tried
to make even the most skilled operatives into another exchangeable part.
Eli Whitney’s cotton
gin in 1793 turned fabrics
into the first cheap commodity. Another of the earliest instances of
standardisation for large-scale manufacturing came after 1798 when he
produced rifles with interchangeable parts. Whitney directed their
production so that, as he said, they were “as much like each other as
the successive impressions of a copper-plate engraving”
– a comparison to delight Walter Benjamin.
Whitney has been more acclaimed than Le Blanc because generations of
U.S. engineer-entrepreneurs carried his methods into an “American
system” for all commodities, notably,
canned food, sewing-machines, typewriters, bicycles, cameras and
Whitney over praised
Small arms continued to
lead the way. The U.S. annexation of Mexican territory of Greater Texas
in 1844-46 underwrote the success of Samuel Colt. By 1853, his armoury
in Connecticut was the pinnacle of “large-scale precision
On the eve of the
Crimean War in 1854, the British copied the “American system” by
setting up a small-arms factory at Enfield. Every week, its workers
performed 700 operations with interchangeable parts to produce 2,000
In America, the Civil War
accelerated the use of automatic lathes for the mass production of
by C M Spencer’s and cylindrical cams????
Robert A. Howard has
shown that complete interchangeability in small arms was too costly for
the manufacturer aiming at private sales, which was by far the larger
share of the market. Revolvers are still hand-filed and assembled. Colt
relied on machines to produce the parts but was never after perfect
interchangeability. Government orders were different because of their
size, purpose and a preparedness to pay a premium.
forth rounds of standardization. Germany set up the
Physikalische-Technische-Reichsanstalt after the victory over France had
sealed the unification of the German States under Prussian leadership in
1871; Britain’s Royal Society established the National Physical
Laboratory at Teddington in time to investigate the interchange shell
fuses in he Boer war. The National Bureau of Standards in Washington
followed the Spanish-American War of 1898. In 1917, the German
government would set up Normenausschuss
der deutschen Industrie (an Institute of Standards). Management guru
Peter Drucker noted that the “first conscious and systematic
application of management principles was not in a business” but for
the reorganization of the U.S. Army in 1901 by Secretary of War, Elihu
Meanwhile, F. W. Taylor
was installing chains of command and regularising the pattern of work at
the Watertown arsenal.
Just as the “American
System” reduced the labour time and the skills needed to manufacture
arms, so did mass production alter the balance of forces on the
battlefield. In 1862, a naval engineer advised Lincoln that “Such is
the inferiority of the Southern States in a mechanical point of view,
that … if you apply our mechanical resources to the fullest extent,
you can destroy the enemy without enlisting another man”.
The equalization of those resources among the rival imperialist powers
delayed the delabourisation of warfare for another hundred years.
Governments backed their weaponry with universal conscription. The
dangers from arming the populace were obvious in Russia in 1917.
Armaments alone would
never have established a market for machinery large enough to install
the “American system”. Before 1840, machines were custom made, often
in-house. No firm specialized in their production. Those that began to
do so began as adjuncts to textile houses which produced for other
textile manufacturers. Some applied the operating principles of those
machines to the construction of machines to make other commodities. For
instance, the turret lathes devised for Colt revolvers were adapted for
sewing machines. Rosenberg referred to this way of enlarging the market
as “technological convergence”. By passing the principles and
operating principles from small arms and textiles to railways and later
to bicycles and typewriters, the machine-making firms did not need
access to the world’s market in order to obtain economies of scale for
the production of production goods. The integration from birth smoothed
the path to standardization, and oligopolies.
Once threads were no
longer cut by hand but by engineers needed to standardise the making of
the self-acting lathes with change gears as well as what they turned
Calls went out for an
industry-wide thread with the same number of turns per inch. In 1841,
the PLACE engineer Joseph
Whitworth proposed standard designs for screw threads.
even more to “rigorous measurement”, dismissing the attempt to
distinguish between a “bare sixteenth” and a “full
thirty-second” as meaningless. His machine for
end-measuring to one-millionth of an inch assured the majority of
machinists of as much accuracy as they needed, down to one
ten-thousandth of an inch. In addition, by 1890, every machinist had the
micrometer calipers needed for precision at the bench. Workshops applied
these devices to standarised drawings. The next leap forward … The
handicraft manufacture of slip gauge blocks established the exact
measurement of dimensions. By 1918, the U. S. Bureau of Standards had
developed a mechanical means for their production, replacing the
patience and skills of the Swedish craftsmen around ????
Johansson. By all these means, machinists and engineers had reduced
average variations from one-sixteenth of an inch down to five
Such precision depended on the calculations that Europeans had been teaching themselves in order to service their trading, which had led, in 1478, to the printing at Treviso of a primer on arithmetic. The spread of standardization needed the system of decimal geometric progressions that was developed after 1880.[41
The standardisation of
thread tracks on bolts paralleled both the transformation of the labour
process and the extension of market areas. Prior to Maudsley’s lathe,
a craftsman would sell the product of his workers to trades-people whom
he knew within the distance he could walk or perhaps ride. He managed
his operatives so as to get all of them to match the best production
time for each unit by his most skilled turner. Maudslay could send
batches of his nuts and bolts to people whom he would never see.
The craftsmen had to compete against Maudslay’s lower costs. They
either went out of business or purchased one of his machines. Its owner
then had to match the labour time of all his operatives to that for
makers of screws anywhere that he faced competition from firms with the
latest equipment. The universal labour time had been slashed as the zone
for the sale of its products had expanded.
extended interchangeableness to British dependencies. His standard was
not so welcome in the U.S. of A. In1864, the Philadelphia industrialist
and engineer, William Sellers (18 – 1905) proposed a simpler design
standard. His version against “the attention of engineers is
constantly directed to so perfect machine tools as to utilize unskilled
The U.S. Navy’s adoption of his method in 1868 underpinned acceptance
across the United States..
NOT The machine allowed
for nine pre-determined operations but a degree of skill was needed only
to set it up. The American System won out, partly to get cheaper labour
and partly because the United States was short of craftsmen.
In 1928, the General
Secretary of the Australian Standards Association thought that the screw
thread was not “a happy illustration”.
The U.S. of A. and the U.K. did not standardise their screw threads
until after 1948. That tardiness cost the Allies a billion U.S. dollars
in the second world war.
Charlie Chaplin’s Modern
Times (19 ) has bequeathed an image of the “American System as a
production line along which each worker repeats one tiny task. In fact,
behind that particularization ran a long chain of standardised
materials, practices and machinery. Ford’s T-model depended on the
“heavy-duty, precision, high-production-rate grinding machine”
introduced by Charles H. Norton in 1900. His crankshaft grinder “could
do in 15 minutes” what had taken a craftsman five hours.
To maintain a uniform finish, the grinders required an abrasive of
unvarying quality which artificial corundum supplied.
A synthetic could be standardised in a way that natural emery could not.
Many discussants of “Fordism” have failed to appreciate this
interlock by attending too closely to the labour process. Even there,
they have concentrated on the extreme division of labour to the neglect
of the savings that industrialists derived from continuous flow.
Standard measures were
of greatest importance to the makers of the machines, known as
machine-tools, that made other machines.
The era of confidential
standards ended in order to ensure that “the cost of machine tools
Despite the advance of
interchangeable production before 1900, firms maintained their own rules
about the limits and fits of
their machinery. One of the first tasks of the British Standards
Institution was to survey engineering shops to establish a set of
standards, published in 1906.
Germany and the U.S. of A. produced their own handbooks. Despite this advance, the “assessment of performance” remained
“a matter of subjective judgement on the part of machine-tool
manufacturers and users until the 1920s”. Mass production depended on
the unvarying position of cutting devices. That entirely required
machines to check and control alignments. The permissible errors were
standardised during the 1930s.
Cheaper manufacture depended on increasing the quantity of uniform
products as illustrated. Iron rails tethered market areas to each other.
Rolling stock, for
example, couplings had to be repaired hundreds of kilometers from the
place where they were made, perhaps an ocean away.
An 1884 report by the
General Manager of the South Australian railways, Henry Coathupe Mais,
sa pp found that, in the
U.K. and U.S., each rail company had its own sections of rail, shaped as
differently, a later standardiser quipped, as “Ladies’ dresses”,
and with “as much reason”.
The six Australian
colonies had three different rail gauges. Other differences compounded
the Australian situation. For instance, to supply the market for wheel
tyres, in 1923, the Commonwealth Steel Products Co. at Newcastle had
Electricity was as
essential to the expansion of capital as Lenin proclaimed it would be in
the building of communism. Safety and economy required standardisation,
which its novelty should have allowed.
Industry and public officials had discussed uniform wiring for years
before reaching an agreement in 1923.
All bayonet light bulbs fitted all baynet sockets. The voltages,
however, varied between capital cities, and even within Melbourne.
Hence, bulbs and motors were not interchangeable across the continent.
Suppliers had to match twenty voltages.
In 1901, British
engineers formed their own Standards Association.
WHERE These overlaps
provided support for the others. For example, Germany industrialists
benefited from their nation’s physical laboratory, (Physikalische-Technische
Reichsanstalt). The U.S. of A. established a Bureau of Standards in
1902, inside the new Department of Commerce and Labor. By 1916, the
Bureau’s integration of the research needs of industry and government
contributed to the war effort and then to the extension of
standardization to consumer goods in the 1920s.
USA Federated American
Engineering Societies, ??? Herbert Hoover, report on Waste
in Industry (New York, 1921). Hoover’s concern with “waste”
came out of the two conferences on Industrial “Peace”. The reduction of
waste depended on acuriing statistics and using both to expand domestic
and overseas sales. He glimpsed that mass production required a new kind
of consumption. The savings in production would pass along to the
consumer in lower prices and to the capitalist in higher profits.
This happy thought
failed to go below the surface of capitalism. For a start, the
proliferation of commodities would increase the socially necessary costs
of reproducing labour power by adding needs. Hence, any cut in the price
of items in the household
budget would be balanced by a growth in the total needed to live at the
level installed through mass marketing. From the viewpoint
of the capitalist, the lowering of unit production costs would not
automatically generate more sales or maintain rates of profit, still
less boost them. The elimination of waste would do so. But the extra
investment on the most efficient machinery and plant drove up the
organic composition of capital. Could be covered by ever great output
oligopolisaiton at home and imperialism in trade, the Open Door Policy
which had underpinned Wilson’s Fourteen Points.
In June 1921, the
recently appointed U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, initiated
????? to promote efficiency and expansion through standardization and
The era of
oligopolising was the age of organisations, whether trade associations,
professional bodies or registration boards with state authority.
Also part of the
extension of the state to build up national efficiency, for war.
In 1901, British
engineers formed their own Standards Association. Its work contributed
to victory in the war when 400 factories manufactured parts that were
assembled into mines to blockade the North Sea.
The number of tramway
rails went from seventy to five.
more than interchangeability of parts for mass commodities. The raw
materials had to be standardised, for example, the moisture content of
each batch of coal that went into a blast furnace.
The new Commonwealth
parliament debated the introduction of the metric system of measures in
1904, sixty years before the introduction of a decimal currency.
Federation tilted the
economy towards uniformity. For instance, from 1906, Commonwealth and
States Statisticians agreed on common returns for the first Commonwealth
Census in 1911. Federation also coordinated postal
and telegraph services. The Commonwealth did not take up its
constitutional power to enforce weights and measures across the
continent. The States persisted with slack and untestable standards,
which were appropriate to ploughs but not to pistons. See the BOOK ON
subject???? JAN TODD
On the eve of the
Second World War, the position remained “Chaotic”. Even after a
National Standards Laboratory opened in September 1940, it could not
supply the range of tests available at its overseas models.
Need to make slip
gauges from scratch in the early 1940s. Employed troops of Girl Guides
to polish them by hand.
The diversity of
artillery pieces and shells held by the Australian colonies in the 1890s
was a driver for Federation. Unless the batteries could be integrated
they were of little use to Imperial strategists such as Colonel Hutton,
who had been commander in New South Wales from 189
to , commander in South Africa and then ????? QUOTE HIM
The construction of a
small-arms factory at Lithgow, near the country’s only steel works, Lysaght
Bros, had long-term consequences. The 1909 contract went to Pratt and
Whitney, a U.S. firm, not a British one, because the American System of
“repetition manufacture” was superior. The decision to favour the
U.S. firm took place in a world-wide struggle for dominance of the
engineering trade. In Australia, the competition centered on grain
harvesters, between H. V. McKay’s Harvester works at Sunshine and the
International Harvester Company.
The project encountered an obstacle race of in matching the new rifles
with those on hand. Although the production at Enfield had been
standardised, the armoury maintained two measures. Lengths up to two
inches were given according to the “Enfield inch”, while those
greater than that conformed to the Imperial Standard Yard. The British
had failed to indicate this difference on the drawings sent to Pratt and
Whitney, whether by oversight or out of malice.
Working with Pratt and Whitney introduced a generation of Australian
engineers to the most advanced forms of standardization, which carried
beyond government service.
The greatest push that
Federation gave standardisation was the start towards installing a
continent for a market by removing inter-colonial tariffs. A mess of
non-tariff barriers remained, whether natural-cum-physical ones, or
those imposed by State authorities. These impediments were not broken
down until the Competition Policy of the 1990s, authorised by the
Keating government’s “One Nation” programme of 199 .
should have been easier to achieve in new areas such as wireless,
electricity and aviation where there were fewer existing capital
U.S. developments, sending a mission there to study efficiency in
1926-27??? Nonetheless, the
local Standards Association decided that “British engineering
standards should receive first consideration”, which was sensible
because so much equipment and operatives came from the United Kingdom.
Australian manufacturers sent their measures to the National Physical
Laboratory in England until 1925 when the Munitions Supply Laboratories
at Maribyrong, Victoria, took receipt of some equipment for checking
against the Imperial Standard Yard.
WOTNot a great problem
because so little production here needed the exact measures of military
A local standards
laboratory did not start until???? Yet the importance of U.S. machinery
was growing. Australians were being urged to accept whichever standards
were best for local conditions.
The volume of imports
meant that the standardisation overseas flowed through to Australia, as
in the case of paper sizes.
Nonetheless, coordination was a slow slog. In 1935, the Standards
Association produced its Fifth Report on reducing differences with the
Despite this lack of
personnel, the Association displayed the Australian “talent for
bureaucracy”. By 1931, the
welding industry had appointed a Boiler Sectional Committee which
established a Sub-Committee on power boilers which thereupon set up a
panel on welding which divided itself into two sub-panels:
this stage, however, other Sub-Committees of the Boiler Sectional
Committee, notably those dealing with unfired pressure vessels and
miscellaneous boilers, found themselves in contact with the same subject
and applied for assistance … The Sectional Committee thereupon decided
that welding was worthy of special attention, and separating the panels
from the power boiler Sub-Committee, appointed a Welding Sub-Committee
with metallic-arc and oxy-acetylene panels with instructions to report
direct, and not through the Power Boiler Sub-Committee.
The Boiler Code emerged
after four years of these deliberations. The standardisers were in need
of standardised procedures.
Connection between the publication of a journal, the establishment
or strengthening of an association, the standardisation of products and
the fixing of their prices. GIVE EXAMPLES
Standards could apply
at the level of a firm, an industry, a nation-market-state or
transnationally. Trade associations played an important part in
achieving consensus. For instance, the Brisbane District Joinery
Association got local architects and the Master Builders to agree to
reduce the range of mouldings to fifty and door designs to eighteen.
Notwithstanding this arrangement, architects continued to call for
To bring some order
into contracting, the New South Wales Master Builders Association drew
up a Standard System of measurements and pressured architects to supply
quantities on jobs valued at more than £2000, publishing a joint
booklet in mid- 1908. The impetus for ??? came from the chronic
under-bidding. Without quantities the builders could only guess at
Meanwhile, the proliferation of building codes by municipal authorities
had become “a growing evil”.
Master Builders in New
South Wales had spent several months in 1903 negotiating with architects
and timber suppliers to achieve “stock sizes of timber”, but the
suppliers were not keen “to remedy an abuse in the building trade
provocative of much inconvenience and annoyance”.
By January 1922, timber sizes had not been standardised here as in the
United States, but were as much needed here.
By then, architects were calling for factory-made houses to eliminate
waste on building sites.
Doors from 1931 report
standardisation provided capitalists with some relief from the costs of
skilled labour. In 1928, a firm making panels for pre-fabricated sheds
found that their units could be assembled in a jig by a boy while the
welder was welding a panel previously assembled by the same boy in
another jig”. By this method, a boy and a man could erect of an 11 by 17ft building in less than a day.
coordination praised by Premier Sir William McPherson to Master
Builders, a cousin to standardization. Difficult for a liberal
Problems: did you give
power to the state, even if only in its municipal manifestation, or did
you invest it in a professional body backed by the state?
depended on architects and quantity surveyors to estimate the materials
and labour needed to complete a contract in the stipulated time so that
a contractor could make a bid would return a profit and not incur a
penalty for lateness. WOT Better than nothing, but remained rough and
The custom of the trade was to add or subtract ten percent, just to be
sure. Guesstimates persisted into the 1950s. One Melbourne firm avoided
legal action for supplying underestimated “by converting square feet
to square yards by dividing by eight instead of nine and cubic feet to
cubic yards by dividing by 25 instead of 27”.
Even if a quantity
surveyor had saved the contractor from under-bidding, once the project
was underway, the construction
firm was in the lap of the architect and the clerk of works – if
any. In the 1910s, a U. S. builder, Henry Laurence Gannt, developed a
visual tool to warn the builder of time and cost over-runs. A Gannt
Chart showed the actual progress against that scheduled.
Once a project fell
behind, or was costing more than estimated, the contractor had to drive
his workforce, or skimp on materials. Scaffolding was expensive and so
was the first item to be cut. Only direct action by unionists on the job
could enforce whatever regulations existed.
The workers were not
safe when their masters increased the ratio of sand to cement. The
leading Melbourne firm ????? 1925 five killed when a wall collapsed on
surveying nor the Gannt Chart standardised either building materials or
labour times. Rather, they combined to show how necessary
standardization was, and how its benefits could be calculated.
The element of
spontaneity in the standardisation of screws could not keep up the needs
of capital for war, production, or sales. A sequence of
government-backed bodies supported testing agencies, some established by
associations of engineers or scientists.
Australia did not go
through a scientific standardization phase because forces did so little
research and imported so much equipment and expertise.
CSR a rare exception.
One of the blessings of
the 1914-18 war, according to the Professor of Mechanical Engineering at
the University of Sydney, S. H. E. Barraclough, was more and better
That benefit applied to his profession in 1919 when ten State bodies
amalgamated as the Institution of Engineers, Australia. At the same
time, the recently appointed Commonwealth Institute of Science and
Industry convened meetings of engineers in each State capital. These
gatherings led to a 1921 conference of chemists, engineers,
metallurgists and miners to approve an Australian Commonwealth
Engineering Standards Association, with State government representation.
While war was
intensifying the standardisation of the items needed for destruction,
the military’s appetite for all products pressured manufacturers of
civilian commodities to restrict their ranges. A shortage of cardboard,
for example, obliged the footwear trade to slash the variety of its
Standardising of shoes
was deemed impossible because feet were so different.
The traders were even
more adamant that no government could ever eradicate profiteering
through setting a maximum price. They did call upon
governments to adopt “a standard leather measuring machine” to
remove the eccentricities of men and equipment which resulted in
boot-makers paying for more leather than they received.
WOT Also spread ?????
The fickleness of
fashion in boots in Australia is dealt with in a discussion on the
standardization of boots in Great Britain. One witness declared that
women’s boots and shoes were now in the same category as millinery,
and the prospect of the disappearance of “fashion lines” was viewed
with dismay. Workmen, too, had displayed a tendency to sport boots made
from light expensive leathers, instead of the heavier, more serviceable,
and economical varieties formerly worn. One manufacturer produced over
1,200 styles of boots made in his factory, and in one shop 972 distinct
styles were stocked.
After the 1921
Conference the President of the Institution of Engineers, University of
Adelaide Professor Robert William Chapman, visited all States, using his
“great gift of lucidity” to educate the public.
The variations posed “a very serious handicap” to infant
secondary industries, not to mention blighting their chances to export.
On top of having to “pay high wages and shorter hours than in most
countries … [o]ur manufacturers” Professor Chapman pointed out,
“have no chance whatever to compete with the industries of other
countries unless we can take advantage of every possible aid to
efficiency and economy of production”.
The pace of change
varied between States. Queensland set up an organizing committee in
mid-1924. Next year, its
spokesperson acknowledged that “very little has been attempted”.
Indeed, firms were reneging on some of consensual arrangements to
eliminate waste by reducing the designs produced “for one and the same
The Queensland Branch became active on matters ranging from the lining
for cement bags.
to the plywood panels
for stock doors, which it reduced from 118 to 48.
The Standards Association
was voluntary and co-operative, with industry contributing only £539 in
the first three years. In 1925, its office bearers decided to employ
secretarial assistance - if funds became available.
Next year, municipal authorities had joined.
By 1927, an Association of Simplified Practice was formed before the two
bodies amalgamated in 1929 as the Standards Association of Australia.
Thereafter, that institution concentrated “upon sizes, types and
varieties in greatest demand”, to eliminate waste, whether in building
materials or women’s clothing.
As ever, the state was attempting to provide for the expansion of
capital what its managers could not achieve through corporations.
Depression two Imperial Economic Conferences
in 1926, 1930 and 1932
As a second war loomed,
the SAA Bulletin quoted the
Vice-Chairman of the Britain’s Advisory Committee to the Ministry of
Munitions: “If simplification and standardisation had not been
adopted, we would have lost the war”.
That lesson inspired a renovation of the Australian Association. It
published its own Bulletin.
Its library became “a clearing house” for data to tenderers, its
work increasing “a hundredfold”.
Emergencies and shortages meant that many standards had to be relaxed
for the duration.
Import replacement and
servicing half-a-million US troops presented manufacturers and the
military with monumental tasks. Fulfilling them depended on a multitude
of minute matters. To rephrase the old saying, for the want of a
matching screw thread, the war could have been lost. Spare parts for
imported machines could be made here more readily if their countries of
origin had published standards.
Some problems had to be
solved in the field. With U.S. forces to arrive in four days, the
Australians had to supply water to the airstrip at Charters Towers.
Australian fittings did not match the U.S. pipes. Hacksaws and mobile
welding plants connected the ablutions blocks.
Even the emergencies of
battle could not church out standards “made-to-order”, although the
adoption of some was “streamlined”.
In Japan, Brigadier J.
W. O’Brien Deputy Master General of the Ordnance (Equipment) and Chief
of the Scientific and Technical Division of SCAP,
addressed the new Japanese Standards Association set up in December
1946, warning them that failure to achieve their aims would handicap
their overseas trade. He encouraged them to see the destruction of their
industry as an opportunity to impose standards and quality.
In October 1946, a
British Commonwealth Conference on standardization met a fortnight
before the International Standards Conference in London. The discussions
dealt with administrative arrangements, not technical decisions.
By 1947, the Standards
Association of Australia had a staff of fifty, including eighteen
professionals, the largest among the Dominions.
Royal Charter in 1950
WHERE The practices
grouped into standardisation supplied several of the controls needed for
aggregate capital to expand and for particular capitals to outlast their
competitors. Standardising contributed to an abundance of commodities,
reduced the cost of labour-power in each unit, and simplifying the
channels through which firms might secure a larger share, as profits,
from the surplus value.
Corporate managers and
marketers did as much to standardise everyday life than could any
government agency, trade association or engineer. The four most significant contributions from the business sector came
through supplying the needs of capital for price-fixing; piece-rates;
cost accounting; and brand labels.
The editorial writer
for a group of trade newspapers explained the motivation of the
small-to-medium-sized businesses feared ruin from price-cutting, that
fate did not await the oligopolisers driving the process. Rather, the
“big customer, such as a chain store organisation” would benefit
from the supplier’s price-cutting to them.
scuttling individualism as entrepreneurship. FN?
A paradox arose for
individualism the small trader being threatened by his fellows acting
individually and all of them menaced by the larger firms. To keep the
individual in business, individuals had to surrender their right to
compete by cutting prices.
Yet could not afford to
Late in the 1920s, the
new breed of advertising agencies, which offered a full service of
research and artwork, squeezed the old space-selling agents who hit back
by rebating a slice of their commissions.
For example, in the
Conspiracy as perceived
by Adam Smith
Danger of selling it on
and thus allowing craftsmen to enter at lower costs
Manufacturers sought to
overcome this obstacle by designing innovations so that improvements
could fit onto existing plant. For instance, Intertype equipment let
printers stay up-to-date through add-ons rather than devalorisation of
Times switched from “A” to “C” models in 51 minutes to be in
time for the opening of the Parliament in 1927.
The Intertype also
allowed for greater flexibility in the paper’s daily operation.
assembled in Sydney in 1908 to fix “a minimum price”.
The Australian printing industry then adopted the U.S. system of a
price-fixing known as Typothetae. The Master Printers colluded with the
paper merchants, ink-makers, engravers and ????
not to supply any firm quoting below an agreed schedule of fees.
Nonetheless, allegations cheating and disloyalty never went away. A
leading PLACE printer, William Brookes, MLC, protested in 1928 against
“the insane competition and price cutting that pervades throughout the
a madness which became a pandemic during the 1930s depression.
Price-fixing required a
standardising of procedures and materials. To specify a price for each
operation, procedures had to be made comparable. The Master Engravers
found it hard to define a Routed Tint, being unsure of where it started
or finished. Their uncertainty led to variations in quoted rates, which
nourished “suspicion and friction throughout the trade”, making it
more difficult to enforce the Minimum Price Schedule. No agreement had
been reached by 1936, despite long debates and yet another sub-committee
Price fixing in
materials and piece rates.
For example, of
Builders with 1908 virtue of Arbitration setting wages
Early in 1934, several
Sydney brick-makers agreed to stabilise their trade by fixing prices.
They aimed to get their profit rates back up to those obtaining before
the depression. Later that year, the same gentlemen formed a company to
buy out the state-owned brick works, which the Chief Judge in Equity
would call “a formidable competitor”. The brick-makers’ agreement
lasted until the State government fixed prices as a war measure in 1939.
The courts found in 1941 that the brick-makers’ activities
had been protected under Section 7 of the New South Wales Monopolies Act
combination of producers of any commodity which is reasonably necessary
for the maintenance of the industry of such producers shall not be
deemed to be to the detriment of the public.
With this escape
clause, trade associations could get away with almost anything collusion in the name of industrial preservation.
Price-fixing could not
prevent customers from chasing lower prices. Trade associations tried to
ban supplies to the firms that persisted with price cutting. To meet
that pressure, firms screwed down harder on their own workers. A
favoured method was piece rates.
The uniformity of
products facilitated the disciplining of the workforce. In the late
nineteenth-century, uniform-size bricks had made their laying one job
where masters could compute a daily tally for piece rates.
Laying floor or painting by the square yard were too others. The
building unions made the elimination of piece-rates one key of their
did more than make operatives go faster. Gilbreth’s also helped to
made their labour-times comparable, first inside their workplace, and
then to match or better the rate for an entire industry.
The calibration of labour-time and hence the value of the output of each
worker could be assessed only to the extent that he or she was producing
The standardising of
job specifications made effective “the general introduction of
piece-work by means of which wages may be assessed in terms of
production is desirable”.
To this end, standardisers created “a modern cost-finding
system” out of “scientifically certified hour-costs and carefully
recorded operational times.”
The individual nature
of services makes it hard to measure productivity in that sector.
Baumol Indeed, standardisation was synonymous with the labour
Standardisers aimed at
more than increasing the surplus value that firms could extract from
employees. Through cost accounting, the managers sought methods
to protect each firm against the predations of rival capitalists.
With advanced accounting procedures, firms were less likely to
under-price their bids, thereby disrupting the price-cartels essential
to taking a profit of 25%, plus 5% for exigencies.
In 1927, the Secretary
of the South Australian Master Printers concluded that most of the bids
that looked like price-cutting were slipshod estimates.
No improvement could be achieved without the accurate book-keeping of
all elements of cost. Australian businesses still had to overcome the
backwardness, indeed the chaos or non-existence of their accounting
See GROCERS ABOVE
Branded lines won
support from retailers as another way to prevent price-cutting. Tea
became Liptons, cocoa was Bourneville, starch Harpers, and breakfast
oats were Uncle Toby’s. By 1911, manufacturers and wholesalers had
agreed not to supply any storekeeper who sold branded items below the
catalogued price. The journal of Victorian grocers recognised that it
easy matter to protect a proprietary article. Put a pound of sugar in a
packet and place upon the packet a definite label with name of article
and name and addresses of the owners, and the task was easy. Endeavour
to protect that same pound of sugar in bulk and the task became Augean.
The corner grocer found
that branded commodities advantaged a new and potent rival in chain
stores, such as Moran & Cato or G. J. Coles, which could cut retail
prices by bulk purchasing.
Department stores had
their house brands, often for the goods made in their own workshops. The
Retail Traders Association complained about department stores which, by
1931, were imposing larger discounts, shorter delivery dates and longer
payment periods on small manufacturers.
In turn, the head of Grace Brothers department stores alleged that the brand system “attempts to break away from
that keen price competition which usually accompanies the sale of
simple, known materials, and to build up a monopoly based on unknown
quantities, governed by ghostly and magical laws”.
Branded packaging did not assure quality or value for money to the shopper. Writing in 1940 for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Secretary of the American Standards Association, P. G. Agnew, recognized that a consumer movement had emerged during the 1930s calling for products to be advertised and labeled with standards in simple language: “With the bewildering variety and quality of highly fabricated and packaged goods, the individual buyer feels helpless”.
standardization beyond science and industry, housework came to the fore.
Behind that prominence was the “servant problem”. In 1911, the
conservative Melbourne Argus
criticized “The Conservatism of Women” for their reluctance to
simplify their clothes, houses and food.
The American Academy of
Social and Political Science published an issue of its Annals
in 1914 devoted to “Family Standards”. Its contributors - ??? - .
Their determination to eliminate waste in the reproduction of labour power
is apparent in the topics for the three other issues that year: “Wage
Standards”, “Concrete Measures for Reducing Cost of Living” and
“Public Services and Control”, which examined the efficiency of the
supply of foodstuffs.
Until the 1950s, many
Australians would have felt few changes to their lives from
standardisation in industry, workplace operatives being the most
directly affected. Yet all consumers had benefited from the imposition
of quality standards on foods and drugs standards were perhaps the first
1910 Conference from five States.
The States attempted to impose quality standards to end adulteration of
flour and milk Early in the
1920s, governments set standards for the fat content of butter and milk,
while the milk had to be pasteurised and the herds tested for
These controls to promote the health of mothers and infants were part of
an unformed programme of positive eugenics which included the
eradication of contagious diseases from venereal infections to
tuberculosis, slum clearance and ???????? the provision of Oslo lunches,
maternity benefits, child endowment and
aimed at producing a physically fitter population through improvements
to the living conditions. Negative eugenicists were sceptical about
social reform, putting their faith in selective breeding and the
sterilisation of the unfit. The director of the Commonwealth Institute
of Science and Industry, G.
H. Knibbs, in November 1922, addressed Commonwealth Engineering
Standards Association. Knibbs was a
neo-Malthusian, who, in 1921, had been Vice-President of the
International Eugenics Conference, New York. In his 1928 book on world
population. The Shadow of the
World’s Future, he argued the quality and national efficiency
fitted the waste of materials and labour in production with the unfit of
Three categories Racial
class and the sick
The academic authors of
the 1931 textbook on economics for high schools for
more than twenty years informed their teenage readers:
biologists have suggested that we should try to breed people just as
carefully as we breed race-horses or prize cattle, Now if these could be
done, the productive quality of the people might be improved …
They recognized that
public opinion had yet to be convinced of “such a radical proposal”.
Nevertheless, they favoured preventing “propagation by the mentally
deficient … If the worst stocks multiply more rapidly than the others,
then the quality of the population will be impaired”. Despite being
rewritten to keep up with the transformation of economic life and
policies, the two paragraphs on “Eugenic control” remained
unaltered. They were followed by sections on the “Willingness to
work” and “Joy in Work”.
all items on the Schedule relating to tint plates be deleted with the
exception of that relating to rectangles, ovals, and circles, and that
all the colours in colour line work be charged at full-line rates.
The task before the
National Conference was “to arrive at agreement as to a standard in
three colour inks, and to ensure uniform production to that Standard by
ink-Makers in the various States”.
printers delayed standardisation of inks as much as did the technical
demands in their manufacture. In addition, implementing uniformity upset
relations between block-makers, ink-makers and printers. Printers wanted
to be sure that the inks they were using would reproduce the colours on
the proof sheet sent from the engravers. The ink-makers objected to the
engravers’ identifying the brand of ink that they had applied to the
proofs because that gave an advantage to its manufacturer.
The compromise was for
all parties to agree on the tints
for three- and four-colour work. That agreement was not easy to achieve
because colours depended on the expert eye. Moreover, the chemists could
not guarantee that inks would not fade.
To cope with these
problems, a decorator needed to be familiar with the theory of light and
the spectrum. Dabbling on the job gave an apprentice “power over the
materials”. Such training
could never ensure a perfect match,
REPEAT The U.S. artist
and teacher, Henry Munsell, had developed a System of Colour Notation.
The Decorator and Painter
praised the Munsell system in 1929, foretelling its adoption by the
United States, which did not happen until 1942.
By 1923, Australian
printers had recognised the need for uniform colours. They could not
agree on a standard in three colour inks. They then had to convince
ink-makers to produce that yellow, red and blue.
Five years on, the Graphic Arts Services Association appointed a
sub-committee to select colours for approval.
Its discussions continued into 1930 when the principals decided to
“supersede the present set of three colour inks with a set of four
inks consisting of a yellow, a red and two blues.”
In 1933, engravers and
printers complained once again that the inks being supplied were not
true to proof. Their President “hoped members would refuse to accept
supplies which did not conform to the standard of colours on the
After a further five years, Newspaper
News was still looking
forward to the adoption of
the Munsell system.
is only one paint – that is, one made from English white lead, linseed
oil and patent driers. They must dig the lead from the cask, knock it up
with a stick and strain it through a piece of Hessian or stocking.
Not only did this
rough-and-ready approach fail to match colours, it wasted materials and
Decorators needed to
make themselves familiar with the analysis of light and the spectrum. At
₤225, Trichromatic Colorimeter at £225 was beyond the budget of
smaller operations. Without such
equipment, training could never ensure a perfect colour match. Most
relied on “intuition” and experience to recognise and correct
errors. Decorators, much more than painters, still needed to be able to
mix colours on site. The precedence given to “Decorator” over
“Painter” in the title of the trade journal indicated the survival
of specialist skills. (The Operatives’ Union put the terms around the
In 1929, a veteran
coach and motor decorator set out the conflicts that came between
achieving true colours and maintaining trade skills. The existence of
dozens of shades of the same colour threatened chaos. Paint
manufacturers, therefore, had sought to reduce that confusion and
increase their sales by “persistent advertising” with colour charts
and sample decks. These guides helped the decorator to know “the
actual constituents of the colour which he desires to obtain”. In
practice, however, he was likely to use products from more than one
firm, which, when blended, threw “the colour off shade”. Only from
rectifying such slippages could the decorator find “a shred of
individuality … to maintain some measure of dignity” since
“modernity has not quite succeeded in changing him into an
Recipient of the 1982 faux
Nobel Prize for self-styled Economic Science, George J. Stigler,
recognised the paradox in the notion of consumer sovereignty. The
knowledge of bid conditions approaches perfection as choice approaches
In the Australian
Ugliness, Robin Boyd supposed that there could be no escape from
Featurism through “the impossible task of standardising people’s
Yet, since the 1920s, governments have been working with oligopolies to
see how far “Simplified Practices” could go in that direction.
James R. Beniger, The Control
Revolution, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1986;
Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, Sorting
Things Out, Classification and Its Consequences, MIT Press,
Cambridge, 1999; Stephen Jay Gould, The
Mismeasure of Man, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1981; Karen Rader, Making
Mice, Standardising Animals for American Bio-Medical Research, 1900-1955,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, N. J., 2004; Anson Rabinbach,
The Human Motor, Energy,
Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity, California University
Press, Berkeley, 1990; “Standards in Industry”, Special Issue, Annals
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 137,
May 1928; Commercial Standards
(Washington), from 1918.
D. P. Copland, “Currency Inflation and Price Movements in
Australia”, Economic Journal,
December 1920, pp. 484-509; D. P. Copland, Credit
and Currency Control, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne,
1932 edition, Chapter 6.
 Andro Linklater, Measuring
America, Harper Collins, London, 2003, pp. 5 and 12.
 Gilbert, p. 439.
 Frank J. Swetz, Capitalism
& Arithmetic, The New Math of the 15th Century,
Open Court, La Salle, Ill., 1987; Dirk J. Struik (ed.), Source
book in mathematics, 1200-1800, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, Mass., 1969, pp. 1-11.
 see Karel
Williams, et al., “The
Myth of the Line: Ford’s Production of the Model-T at Highland
Park, 1909-16”, Business
History, 35 (3), July 1993, pp. 66-87.
 Mellor, pp. 3-5.
March 1925, p. 13.
Engineer, 29 February, 1916, pp. 2-3.
A&BJQ, March 1925, pp.
Gallop, Bush Engineer, p. 27.
Report of the Inter-State Commission, Australian
Parliamentary Papers, 1914, volume 2, pp. 249-57
Jeffrey Rich, Victorian
Building Workers and their Unions, 1860 to 1890, Ph.D. Thesis,
History Department, Australian National University, 1993, p. 50.
Western Trader, July 1925,
p. 25; December 1925, pp. 3-35; August 1926, pp. 8-9.
Chemist and Druggist of
Australasia, July 1910, pp. 187-94.
MPEA Minutes, MUA 101/55/13, p. 164.
D&P, September 1929,