Coordinating International Standards: The Formation of the ISO
Author(s)Yates, JoAnne; Murphy, Craig N.
In the article on “Standardization” in the 14th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Paul Gough Agnew, the long-time Secretary of the American Standards Association (ASA), argued: In the flow of products from farm, forest, mine, and sea through processing and fabricating plants, and through wholesale and retail markets to the ultimate consumer, most difficulties are met at the transition points––points at which the product passes from department to department within a company, or is sold by one company to another or to an individual. The main function of standards is to facilitate the flow of products through these transition points. Standards are thus both facilitators and integrators. In smoothing out points of difficulty, or “bottlenecks,” they provide the evolutionary adjustments which are necessary for industry to keep pace with technical advances. They do this in the individual plant, in particular industries, and in industry at large. They are all the more effective as integrators in that they proceed by simple evolutionary steps, albeit inconspicuously.2 Albeit inconspicuous, standard setting has been among the nuts and bolts of globalizing industrial capitalism since its beginning, assuring that things needing to work together fit from product to product, industry to industry, and country to country. The foci of the first two of the now 229 “technical committees” of the non-specialized international standards organizations that emerged after the two world wars—the interwar International Standards Association [ISA] and the post-World War II International Organization for Standardization [ISO]—are iconic: “Screw Threads” and “Bolts, Nuts and Accessories.” Over the past two decades, voluntary standardization processes, invented by turn-of-the-twentieth-century engineers working in national and international technical committees, have increasingly been 1 We would like to thank Madame Beatrice Frey at ISO for her help in providing us access to original documents from UNSCC and ISO, and Stacy Leistner at ANSI for his help in providing access to the minutes from AESC and ASA meetings. 2 Quoted as epigraph of Dickson Reck, ed., National Standards in a Modern Economy, (New York, 1956), v. 3 applied to issues that have little in common with those of fitting one mechanical part to another, such as work processes (ISO 9000), environmental pollution (ISO 14,000), and human rights (SA 8000 and the planned ISO 26000).
MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper4638-07
Coordinating, ISO, International Standards