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History of US Engineering Standards

History of US Engineering Standards

History of US Engineering Standards

I'm looking for a good read (may be an entire book) about the history of US engineering standards, particularly those used mostly in the aerospace field. How standards began to be developed is just a topic that I find interesting and I'm curious if anyone else has come across a good book about it. Thank you.

RE: History of US Engineering Standards


"...US engineering standards, particularly those used mostly in the aerospace field..." ... Federal, DoD, corporate, Industry, organizational... etc?

The topic is so broad I'm not so sure You know what Your asking... Not sure this topic is/could-be covered by any single or group of documents/books...

By necessity, I have a pretty good understanding of the big/working stuff that is most common... Over-the 4-decades of my career I have been immersed in the topic... and am still learning something new/nuanced everyday.

General Hardware
Metals, glass, Plastics
Adhesives, resins

apply coating adhesive bonding

performance and informational/authoritative Handbooks and Standards... every topic area under the sun...

Subject area Evolution
politics of 'technical things'
advances due to operational experience and research-development
name/organizational changes

...To name just a few topic/factual aspects...

BUT the topic might actually be covered, that I'm unaware of... So I challenge senior E-T members to search-around for a clue-card!?!?

Regards, Wil Taylor

o Trust - But Verify!
o We believe to be true what we prefer to be true. [Unknown]
o For those who believe, no proof is required; for those who cannot believe, no proof is possible. [variation,Stuart Chase]
o Unfortunately, in science what You 'believe' is irrelevant. ["Orion", Homebuiltairplanes.com forum]

RE: History of US Engineering Standards

It's the same way all standards are developed - someone thinks something needs to be written down because they either want to be the sole supplier for an item or are tired of being shut out by an existing supplier or are tired of never knowing what they will get when they place an order.

American standard screw threads are standard because a guy named William Sellers didn't like the existing Whitworth standard on practical grounds and, I suppose, was more interested in being a machinery maker than a fastener maker. Eventually the War and Navy Departments (Now the Department of Defense) agreed and everyone supplying them followed suit.

It helped that he was the sort of person who could run a company that could deliver a 128 foot long, 500,000 pound lathe for producing gun barrels for naval ships.

See https://books.google.com/books?id=X-EJAAAAIAAJ&... starting at page 247.

RE: History of US Engineering Standards

Attempting to supply soldiers in modern mechanized warfare requires the supply of parts that are INTERCHANGEABLE.
You don't bring the gunstock back to the munitions factory because you want to replace the barrel. You stockpile spare parts a few days away from the zone. How do you know those replacements will fit? The US and UK learned the hard way how non-interchangeable parts prevented them from interchanging their parts during WW1. You can't accomplish that without many modern manufacturing concepts of dimensional accuracy, tolerance, process consistency becoming a reality in your factory.

This is really an old joke, but I'll tell it anyway... the first standard measurement was the horse's hind-end in the Roman Empire.
All the roads in Rome were built for carts pulled by two horses, side-by-side. Years of traffic wore grooves into the roads.
After the fall of the Roman empire, the roads remained, and so did the carts. Nobody could make carts wider or narrower, otherwise the wheels of the carts wouldn't run straight in the grooves of the roads the Romans built. Then the industrial age came upon Europe, and the cart makers used some of the same tools to make the first train axles. And there you have it: Standard railroad gauge tracks are spaced at a width that was standardized by the Romans, 2000 years ago.

No one believes the theory except the one who developed it. Everyone believes the experiment except the one who ran it.

RE: History of US Engineering Standards

As "Aerospace", you know that story continues some more.
When man entered the Space Age, rocket components were built in different parts of the country to get political support, but they needed to be transported to Cape Canaveral, which required them to be sized to fit on roads or trains. So the most advanced rocket boosters' diameters are dictated by the width of Roman horse's ass.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
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RE: History of US Engineering Standards

Rail gauges? Standard? You want standards? Here's multiple dozens of track gauge standards: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_track_gauges

At least, mostly, single national systems use a single gauge.

And some more history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard-gauge_railw...

At least there are only 3 standard gauges with the standard-standard gauge being the most popular.

I do like that Wikipedia highlights the Snopes finding of "false" by mentioning Snopes' exception as:

This item is one that, although wrong in many of its details, isn’t completely false in an overall sense and is perhaps more fairly labeled as “Partly true, but for trivial and unremarkable reasons.”

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/horses-pass/ which has a more detailed history.

At this I'll veer off into XKCD territory and his comment on standards: https://xkcd.com/927/ (don't skip the mouse-over pop-up surprise punchline.)

RE: History of US Engineering Standards

Thanks All. It's interesting to see responses to such a broad question as mine.
"See https://books.google.com/books?id=X-EJAAAAIAAJ&;... starting at page 247." Yes, this is interesting, thanks 3DDave!
I've never heard the story of the horse's hind-end before today, thanks for that SparWeb. Surely a joke I will pass on blllttt

RE: History of US Engineering Standards

A couple suggestions that at least approach the OP's request-

"What Engineers Know & How They Know It" - Vincenti
"The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance" - Petroski
"Structures Or Why Things Don't Fall Down" - Gordon

SparWeb's joke reminds me of the MIT open courseware series on systems engineering from the perspective of the engineers involved with the space shuttle design. Master class - highly recommend.


They made the same joke noting that the space shuttle was sized to two roman asses.

Past thread with a link to a one hour podcast on engineering standards:


RE: History of US Engineering Standards

"The nice thing about standards is that you have so many from which to choose."

RE: History of US Engineering Standards

Paraphrased from a poster seen in a design office many years ago:
"I think standards are great. That's why I make standards that are all my own."

To me it's tempting to use that line as a test when interviewing new employees.

No one believes the theory except the one who developed it. Everyone believes the experiment except the one who ran it.

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