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Sylvie Perrier

2 – Talking Numbers

Deconstructing Engineering Discourse

James Hull

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1Consider the following:

2 (j) For columns reinforced with both longitudinal steel and spirally wound hooping when the volume of hooping is equal to at least one per cent of the volume of the enclosed concrete and the longitudinal reinforcement is not less than one per cent, and not more than four per cent of the cross sectional area, the safe load shall be computed as follows:

3 Safe load (in pounds) = 650 (Ac + 15 As).

4 Ac = Net cross sectional area of concrete enclosed in hooping in square inches

  • 1 Excerpted from By-Law 6107, City of Toronto Council, Minutes (1912), Appendix B, 468.

5 As = Cross sectional area of longitudinal reinforcement in square inches 1

  • 2 See Tore Frängsmyr et al., eds., The Quantifying Spirit in the 18th Century (Berkley: University o (...)
  • 3 What is ASTM?, undated and unpaginated pamphlet.
  • 4 Albert Batik, The Engineering Standard (Ashland:Bookmaster/El Rancho, 1992) makes the point that s (...)

6This is an excerpt from a typical example of a technical standard. It has, partly incidentally and partly intentionally, an appearance of objectivity, rationality and factualness. As a product of engineering science – the derivation of technical rules from natural laws – it is ultimately rooted in the mechanical worldview of the Scientific Revolution which imagines the cosmos as composed of real world analogues of mathematical objects. The social meaning with which it is freighted draws more immediately on the Enlightenment’s belief that that which is natural is rational but also moral.2 Defined as “precise statement[s] of a set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, system, or service that also indicates the procedures for determining whether each of the requirements is satisfied,”3 technical standards have conditioned the development of productive technology for the past hundred years. Our material culture is, usually invisibly, shaped by these standards. They are a form of engineering discourse, a way for engineers to talk with each other and to tell others what to do. Like other types of professional discourses they serve a hegemonic purpose, enabling the controllers of the discourse to exercise not just control of natural or human made objects but also a measure of social control. As historians we wish to know how to eavesdrop on that discourse.4

  • 5 Samuel Krislov, How Nations Choose Product Standards and Standards Change Nations (Pittsburgh: Uni (...)
  • 6 See Christopher Armstrong and H.V. Nelles, Monopoly’s Moment (Philadelphia: Temple University Pres (...)
  • 7 Thomas K. McCraw, ed., Creating Modern Capitalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997); Jam (...)

7At the very end of the nineteenth century large and complex firms such as the Pennsylvania Railroad in the United States and Siemens in Germany, operating in national, sometimes continental, scale markets began developing extensive in-house standards for their own usage. The companies imposed these standards on their multitudinous suppliers and helped prompt the formation of national standards-setting bodies for industry, including the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the British Engineering Standards Association and the German Normalienausschuß für den deutschen Maschinenbau. The same era saw the formation of capstone national scientific bodies such as the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt, Britain’s National Physical Laboratory and the U.S. National Bureau of Standards, institutions devoted in large part to the techniques of exact measurement and the determination of physical constants and other work which underlies industrial standards. In Canada, the Canadian Engineering Standards Association (CESA) and the National Research Association were founded almost simultaneously during World War One.5 Three trends abetted the penetration of technical standards into the industrial order. As part of its legitimating function, the State’s regulation of industry, giving an appearance of democratic control over production, often took the form of highly technical codes and standards.6 The secondary organization of industry encouraged a high-volume exchange of technical data amongst firms seeking security of enterprise via a flight from competition. Trusts, cartels, zaibatsu, Interessengemeinschaften, as well as freight car pools, power grids, patent pooling, and cross-licensing rested in part on a common base of both economic and technical information.7 Finally their professional ambitions led to an increasing desire and practice by younger, university-trained engineers to use in contract specifications language similar to that which they had learnt in the classroom.

  • 8 Janet T. Knoedler and Anne Mayhew, “The Engineers and Standardization,” Business and Economic Hist (...)
  • 9 Chandler of course argues that transaction costs were internalized within integrated corporations, (...)
  • 10 Nathan Rosenberg, Inside the Black Box (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 20.
  • 11 North American colour television standards and the bar code provide egregious examples. Walter Kai (...)
  • 12 Notably, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ boiler code created an effectively protecte (...)

8The economic role of standards is straightforward. Technical standards can resolve or obviate disputes between buyers and sellers of products, thus reducing transaction costs.8 Parts standardization can also significantly reduce inventory costs. These are not abstract matters; high rates of throughput and stock turnover are critical markers of managerial success.9 Firms eager to do business with one and other can consume costly time negotiating over fractions of an inch when not using common standards and can even end up being unable or unable fully to consummate a transaction. A standard can also play a role in reducing the cost of acquiring information crucial to the timing and extent of diffusion of best practice and further innovation.10 Conversely, standards can tend towards conservatism, freezing existing practice rather than promoting advance. Standards may be adopted for reasons having more to do with market power or negotiating skills than technical excellence.11 Standards can be and have been used in anti-competitive ways by firms against rivals and by governments as non-tariff barriers to trade.12

  • 13 Drawing on Wittgenstein, this is the point made by Simon Schaffer in his “Modernity and Metrology, (...)
  • 14 Archives of Ontario (hereafter AO), James Lewis Morris Papers, MU 4830, Pembroke Electric Light Co (...)

9To study standards is to study a linguistic activity the key to which is its non-locality.13 Standardspeak, we might call it, evolved as an engineering argot during the first half of the twentieth century, enabling engineers of similar training but diverse origins to communicate across both geographic and temporal barriers. Contracts written in the first decade of that century variously used references to brand names and trade catalogues and language which was either vague - “sand shall be clear and sharp and free from all loam or other earthy matter”14 - or excruciatingly detailed:

  • 15 AO, MS 233, Barber Turbine & Foundries Ltd. Records, 17 December 1909 Delhi Light & Power Ltd.

Shaft 3 5/16”cases attached to draft chest by 3-7/8”cap screws & 1-7/8” through bolt at top. Gate shaft 1 ¾ ” net, 16 ft long. Gate stand bored 2 3/8 + 5/128”. Gate brackets drilled for clamp holes not regular so no template kept. Bore 2 3/8 Ptn. Spd. Extra set out to suit wall thimbles already set. 4 – ¾” cap screws. Gate arm spd. marked 30 & 36” hor. Gate rods ¾”. Gate pins 7/8” std. btm.3/4” Std. taps. Gate blocks std Rack Std. 42 ”15

  • 16 AO, MS 4036, D.H.O. Form no. 503, April 1946. (AASHO is the American Association of State Highway (...)
  • 17 AO, Ferranti-Packard Papers, G.L. Simpson Canadian Container #5, Ferranti Transformer Specificatio (...)
  • 18 AO, RG15-55-1, vol. 25, St. Thomas Hospital contract file.

10The use of standards and the ability to refer to published standards allowed for an apparent economy and precision of language. Thus an Ontario Department of Highways form stated that sampling and tests of aggregates must be “in accordance with the following current A.A.S.H.O. methods” and that organic impurities were “subject to the sodium hydroxide colorimetric test [which] shall not produce a color darker than Figure 2 Plate l or the standard color in the current A.S.T.M. Standard Method c.40.”16 Similarly, the buyer and seller of a transformer could simply agree that it “will be tested in accordance with the A.I.E.E. rules.”17 Under a mature standards regime a contract could simply state that “[u]nless otherwise expressly provided in the specifications all goods and materials supplied shall conform to the specifications” of the CESA or if not of Canadian origin then “the recognized standards association of that country shall apply.”18 Perforce, this meant that only those who are au fait with the use of standards could be involved in contracting.

  • 19 AO, MU 772, Box 10, W.S. Leslie of A.C. Leslie & Co. Montreal to F.A. Dallyn, 3 September 1929. Th (...)
  • 20 AO, MU 772, Box 10, Booklet Robert W. Hunt & Co. “Cast Iron Pipe Inspection” (Montreal, 1926), 3.
  • 21 Idem, “Handbook of de Lavaud Centrifically Cast Iron Pipe” (1928), 9.
  • 22 Idem, T. W. Hudson to Dallyn, 4 March 1931.
  • 23 James P. Hull, “Raising Standards: Public Works and Industrial Practice in Interwar Ontario,” Scie (...)
  • 24 AO, MU 765, Box 3, Dallyn to Public Utilities Commission of Ingersoll, 18 March 1929.
  • 25 AO, MU 769, Box 7, F.B. Goedike to Dallyan [sic], 10 June 1927, Dallyn to Goedike, 17 June 1927. S (...)

11For all their vaunted objectivity, a closer look at the discourse surrounding standards shows that their creation and use involved negotiation, promotion, persuasion, and special pleading of all sorts. Moving from brand name or catalogue specifications to standards appeared to substitute engineering knowledge for commercial advantage but this could be deceptive and it could be contested. Seemingly objective standards could in fact be written so that only a single firm could meet them and manufacturers of highly regarded products could object to the allowance of substitutes in standards as something which would degrade best practice.19 An advertising booklet of Robert W. Hunt & Company, a Montreal-based firm of engineers, assured potential users that they “can have [quality] cast iron pipe if you order according to the specifications of the American Water Works Association,” adding “if you employ as your Inspectors, the Robert W. Hunt & Co. Ltd.”20 The booklet prints the 1908 standard specifications of the AWWA and the standard specification of United States Cast iron Pipe & Foundry Company. In turn, a booklet of the latter firm noted that its products were “approved by the Underwriters’ Laboratories of the National Board of Fire Underwriters” and prints the company’s specifications which “are based upon the United States Government Master Specifications for... Pipe.”21 The National Iron Corporation, Canadian manufacturer of such pipes, forwarded those two booklets to Frederick A. Dallyn, a prominent Ontario sanitary engineer, being desirous of quoting on a tender for a waterworks project in Colborne, Ontario.22 As a working engineer Dallyn on a daily basis had to deal with standards issues. He was one of those who carried standards based ultimately on laboratory investigations out into the sewers of rural Canada.23 His correspondence helps unveil this process. Thus we find him telling the Public Utilities Commission of Ingersoll that flouting the Canadian Fire Underwriters’ Association’s tough standards for municipal water supply did “not appear to have greatly influenced insurance rates.”24 Elsewhere he reassured the Commissioner of Works for York Township as to the safety of concrete pipe, thanks to ASTM standards, and disparaged the standards of the Ontario Department of Health as too conservative. Perhaps they were, but in assessing Dallyn’s views and the Department’s very public firing of him some years earlier they are worth keeping in mind.25

  • 26 AO, MU 8667, Box 32, File “National Electric Light Association.” Also see editorial in Canadian En (...)
  • 27 AO, MU8673, Box 38, File “Riordon, Concrete - P.H. (Power House).
  • 28 AO, MU 764, Box 2, File “Glencoe - water supply - correspondence, 1928-29,” 32.

12Standard testing procedures supposed to obviate disputes between parties by making commercial contentions technical issues to be resolved scientifically, themselves engendered passionate disputes precisely because commercial questions turned on them. Usually this went on out of sight of any but the parties involved and we must turn to engineers’ papers to find them. Richard Hearn, future head of Ontario Hydro and first Chancellor of Brock University, did not hesitate to use his position as Chair of the Hydraulic Power Committee of the National Electric Light Association (NELA) to back a method for gauging velocity of water flow and testing water wheels introduced early on by Hydro at Niagara. This was at a time when the issue was being debated among several engineering and trade associations.26 A 1925 dispute over steel for crane girders at the Riordon Pulp Company’s power house involved Riordon, the engineering firm constructing the power house, an inspection firm, a firm of consulting engineers (for whom Hearn was working), and Ontario Hydro. At issue was whether the steel supplied did or did not meet specifications. According to a variety of physical and chemical tests it did or it did not. Further, did the outcome of the tests mean that the steel was defective or the specifications wrong?27 Trying to find an agreement on a source of water for the Ontario village of Glencoe depended on a disputed test of water which involved the village, Dallyn as consulting engineer, the Milton Hersey Company of Montreal doing chemical tests, the Ontario Department of Health, which by law had oversight over municipal waterworks, Professor E.G.R. Ardaugh of the University of Toronto Department of Chemistry in an advisory capacity, and the Canadian National Railway wanting water for the boilers of its locomotives stopping at Glencoe.28

  • 29 AO, Ferranti-Packard papers, Container #10, Gaby to Baker [n.d] and Baker “Notes,” 25 March 1929.

13Most usually however, similarly trained engineers used the language of standards comfortably as part of their daily work and in their communication with one and other. When involved in the purchase of a transformer from the Packard electrical equipment manufacturing company, Hydro’s Chief Engineer, F.A. Gaby, wrote to C.W. Baker of Packard’s Transformer Department drawing attention to the “Westinghouse Bulletin titled ‘Hottest Spot Indicators for Transformers’” and asked Baker to “follow this procedure.” In his notes on the calibration of the indicator, Baker recorded “[a]dd 10°C to this to conform to AIEE conventional Hot Spot temperature” and ordered a thermocouple “to check the thermometer by means of a galvanometer in Hydro’s possession.”29

  • 30 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, GSI Collection, Accession #91-209, Bin #3-11, Box 9314, Aug 195 (...)
  • 31 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, ORR, Material Specifications for Turbines, Remarks of O. Holden (...)
  • 32 Ibid. See also James Hull, “Technical Standards and the Integration of the U.S. and Canadian Econo (...)
  • 33 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, GSI Collection, Accession #91-209, Bin #3-11, Box 931, W.P.Dobs (...)

14Although noted for being particularly demanding in their specifications, Ontario Hydro’s engineers had to negotiate their application of standards. This could be quite explicit, as when Hydro’s Director of Engineering, J.R. Montague, was told that the Commission’s “detailed material and test requirements” for a type of electrical cable “have been evolved in cooperation with several cable manufacturers.”30 When the specifications for Ontario Hydro’s turbines at Ear Falls were being developed, the Commission’s Test and Inspection Department’s Chief Hydraulic Engineer, Dr. Otto Holden, had no qualms about identifying what one purpose of standards was, suggesting “[t]he inclusion of clauses in addition to those contained in the specifications for steel castings and forgings which we believe to be desirable and which will serve to eliminate disputes between the inspectors and the manufacturers.” He further advised a change in specification for a grade of bronze used in a turbine so as to oblige the manufacturer to accept the argument that it was an industry standard in practice if not in name.31 Holden also counselled use of CESA instead of ASTM specifications “for the purpose of recognizing the work of C.E.S.A., and to eliminate the criticism from Canadian manufacturers which in all probability would result if the specification was not used.”32 This was not always possible; a proposed change to CESA from ASTM specifications for materials for transmission towers ended up using general CESA steel standards but ASTM standards for steel bolts. Some suggested improvements were rejected as not practical though good in principle. Others were needed on the grounds that the existing standards, while very good, were “not readily enforceable.”33 In examining these few examples of technical negotiations we can see how standards derived not so much from the requirements of the physics of materials but from commercial, professional, political, and practical pressures.

  • 34 The literature is voluminous and growing. Good staring points are Jed Z. Buchwald, ed., Scientific (...)
  • 35 Simon Schaffer, “Accurate Measurement as English Science” in M. Norton Wise, ed., The Values of Pr (...)
  • 36 Mary Poovey, A History of the Modern Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
  • 37 Arne Hessenbruch, “Calibration and Work in the X-Ray Economy, 1896-1928, Social Studies of Science(...)
  • 38 Patrick Carroll-Burke, “Tools, Instruments and Engines: Getting a Handle on the Specificity of Eng (...)

15We can and should penetrate more deeply into the sociology of standards. Historians and sociologists of science and technology have in recent years done much to clarify our understanding of a set of issues relating to measurement and quantification. Technical standards are increasingly being recognized as an important part of this.34 Engineers and scientists wish to have standards regarded “as properties of nature rather than contingent outcomes of cultural work.” However their precision in particular “is the result, rather than the cause, of consensus.”35 Further, modern sociologies of knowledge have problematized the very factualness of facts, drawing particular attention to the relationships between that factualness and the verbal and numerical inscription of the fact.36 Metrology is autonomous of neither social nor natural forces; it is an activity carried out by metrologists with some institutional authority backing them up. The discourse over technical standards, their claimed rationality and objectivity, rests in large part on their claim to a precision and accuracy which is independent of the measurer. The use of standard instruments allows facts both to be de-localized and commodified.37 In a penetrating discussion, Patrick Carroll-Burke coins the term “epistemic engines” for the tools of metrology, calling them “crucial boundary objects in... standardization.”38 The famous “thickness of a shilling” was a good enough standard for James Watt and could be judged in a way that any could grasp. The new industrial science required not just new instrumentation but acceptance that their numerical readings should be privileged over qualitative, sensory observation. In the end though it is the readers of the instruments and not the instruments themselves who are and who demand to be exercising judgement.

  • 39 These issues are explored in James P. Hull, “Working With Figures: Industrial Measurement as Hegem (...)
  • 40 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, GSI Collection, Accession #91-209, Bin #3-11, Box 93, General S (...)
  • 41 E. Gildemeister, The Volatile Oils (New York: Wiley, 1913), 553-617.
  • 42 R. Livingston Fembach, Glues and Gelatine (New York: Van Nostrand, 1907), 20-48.
  • 43 Mcintosh, Varnishes, 422.
  • 44 H. Otto Sibum, “Les gestes de la mesure. Joule, les pratiques de la brasserie et la science,” Anna (...)

16A traditional measure was something bargained face-to-face; in industrial society not so.39 Engineers learnt in the classroom concepts and techniques of measurement and their meaning. They then carried this technical result into industry, making of it a social practice. Sometimes, however, it did not work. Many physical qualities which could be tested and which industry engineers would have like to have quantified proved recalcitrant. We can see different methodologies of testing and thus different epistemologies of production coexisting. The specifications for steel transmission towers used by Ontario Hydro included not just chemical tests of some sophistication but also what was dignified as a “Hammer Test” for galvanizing, essentially hitting a sample of material with a hammer to see if the coating flaked off.40 Sensory observation of the simplest sort continued to be recommended even in specialized texts well into the twentieth century. One text included fifty pages on chemical methods for testing volatile oils but only after the author discussed the usefulness and limitations of the nose as a testing device.41 Gelatines could be tested in an apparatus that applied increasing weight until penetrating the surface. But the preferred method simply involved poking the sample and comparing its resistance to that of standard samples.42 Varnish film could be tested by thumbnail and thumb pressure for “tackiness” in drying or a device known as a Filometer could do the same. However, one technical expert insisted “an indifferent operator with an elaborate instrument [may] give a less true opinion of a varnish film than a true expert with his thumb and thumbnail.”43 This would seem to present a lingering victory for rule of thumb over the micrometers and pyrometers but in a deeper sense even that is not true. When reading even the most exact of instruments the readers used their bodies making the act of reading and the cognitive and cultural dimensions of perception crucial aspects of even the most hardware intensive mensuration.44

  • 45 See J. L. Heilbron’s “Introductory Essay” in Frängsmyr et al., Quantifying Spirit, 1-23.
  • 46 Yehouda Shenhav, Manufacturing Rationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Burton Bledste (...)
  • 47 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, ORR 842.2, “Report on Cement and Concrete Tests and Specificati (...)

17Nonetheless, and crucially, having acknowledged the superiority of their approach to measurement, in which standards played so large a role, was vital to engineers’ professional aspirations. Rooted in Enlightenment ideals of scientific rationality, this mathematized discourse of measurement came to be broadly regarded in society as having an especial validity. This implicitly privileged the actions of those controlling the discourse. This desire to measure and quantify was however a desire to impose not a natural order but a very human one.45 University trained engineers saw standards as a key part of their vision of the profession and their vision of themselves in society. Standards at the work site are part of engineers’ exercise of intellectual as well as managerial authority.46 Standards redistributed power away from skilled workers to laboratory engineers who established and oversaw testing methodologies. Those who developed the standards were sometimes quite explicit about the power relationships being established. During the construction of its Niagara Falls generating station, Ontario Hydro developed what were probably the most technically sophisticated concrete standards in the world. Hydro’s Toronto laboratory would be the centre for testing. A field lab for testing and inspection would be established and testing done at the cement mills was integrated into the purchasing and delivery process. The suppliers would use dedicated cement bins for Hydro which Hydro inspectors would test and oversee. Inspectors would test samples hourly using an on-site lab with later tests to check and record at the Toronto laboratory. The scheme placed control in the hands of the central lab over the inspection forces and ultimately suppliers since, as the architects of this scheme asserted, the “laboratory is better fitted to supervise inspection work than an inspector is to supervise laboratory work.” The claimed pay-off for granting the technical authority of that lab would be “proper quality and an uninterrupted supply.”47

  • 48 Frederick H. Armstrong, A City in the Making (Toronto: Dundum Press, 1988), 296-327.

18Many of these issues can be explored in the context of a case study, one introduced by the example at the beginning of this paper - the City of Toronto Building Code. As the city of Toronto re-built from a disastrous 1904 fire which destroyed much of the downtown,48 the municipal building code strained to keep up both with the commercial demands of builders and the evolution of reinforced concrete construction. These strains resulted in a public inquiry, reorganization of the City Architect’s office, appointment of a new, more professionally qualified, City Architect and a revised building code. Commentators at the time, including members of City Council, lauded the outcome as one which brought scientific rationality in the form of up-to-date technical practice to the overseeing and facilitation of the city’s growth.

19Most obviously this story sounds familiar to historians of North American urbanization and technology. It is a story of the rise of administrative expertise in municipal governance and a story of new engineering techniques based on laboratory investigation and university level programs of training. In both cases these stories have been told in terms of rational practice winning out over the customary. While occasionally still told this way, historians have for some time problematized such a view. The triumph of appointed administrators over grasping ward-healers seems much less obviously a victory of the good guys over the bad guys but rather a much more subtle dynamic as various groups contended for authority and advantage in expanding turn-of-the-century cities. Engineers wielded their new knowledge as much to their own benefit as for a claimed social good and that knowledge could be and was used to gain commercial advantage. In fact, the harder we probe, the more the claims of a victory of rationality break down. This is true if we criticize a naïve sociology of knowledge which reifies “facts” as things other than contested claims. It is true also if we simply ask cui bono.

  • 49 Toronto Evening Telegram, 16 August 1912, 13-15.
  • 50 C.R. Young, “The Structural Requirements of the Toronto Building By-Law of 1913,” The Canadian Eng (...)

20The construction industry began pressing the City Architect and City Council in 1911 for changes in the municipal building by-law. Critics added defects with the code to a growing bill of particulars being advanced against the City Architect. By the late summer some Aldermen were proposing an inquiry into the Architect’s office. A number of local engineers helped draw the daggers. In particular, University of Toronto Civil Engineering Professor C.R. Young labelled some regulations “unreasonable and unpractical,” called an investigation “desirable,” and insisted that the objections being voiced against the by-laws and the Architect’s office were “made from a scientific standpoint.”49 The resulting inquiry under Judge Herbert Denton heard from 170 witnesses and resulted in a 2,500-page report. In it Denton urged that the “City Architect’s Department should be completely reorganized under a new name and with increased jurisdiction and powers.” The city’s building inspection system was singled out for criticism, the Judge noting that “[t]he majority of the present inspectors are either bricklayers or carpenters.” Denton recommended higher qualifications for the City Architect, as professional witnesses had urged. The Building By-law was characterized as excessively long and conservative and in need of revision for clarity and to reduce the cost of building. In coming to his conclusions, Judge Denton had relied heavily on a report produced by Professor Young, a rising star in the Canadian engineering profession. At the University of Toronto, where he would one day become Dean of Engineering, he taught engineering students the best new ideas in the use of standards and specifications in contract writing. Shortly after submitting his report to Denton, Young published an article based on it in which he offered scathing criticism of the existing by-law as much too strict, conservative, and adding materially to the cost of buildings especially by requiring too much steel in reinforced concrete construction.50

  • 51 Programme of the 1st Annual Meeting of the Canadian Cement and Concrete Association (Toronto, 1909 (...)
  • 52 The CCCA code is given in Canadian Cement and Concrete Association Proceedings (1911), 86-95. Youn (...)
  • 53 “Defects in the Toronto Building By-Law,” The Canadian Engineer, 26 February 1914, 381.

21All of this is in the public record, indeed prominently reported in daily newspapers in Toronto. It is in Young’s private papers however that we find a missing piece of the puzzle. In addition to his public role Young had been the key member of a committee developing a standard building regulation for the Canadian Cement and Concrete Association (CCCA). The Association had as its central purpose the promotion of concrete as a building material, and numbered among its members some of the City Architect’s bitterest enemies.51 The differences between its standard and the existing Building By-law informed the technical criticism of the latter in the summer of 1912.52 During the Denton inquiry The Canadian Engineer recalled that changes in the Toronto building code in 1912 removed “a little of the undue severity... towards reinforced concrete construction” but that much of the revision recommended to the City in 1911, based on the CCCA standard, had not been adopted.53 In effect, Young was using both the technical press and his role as a paid expert witness to criticise the Toronto City Architect for not using a standard which he had played a principal role in developing. Moreover, it was one developed for a building material trade association with its own interests very much at heart. This alone demystifies some of the aura of scientific rationality surrounding this particular technical standard.

  • 54 I am borrowing the term from Lindy Biggs, The Rational Factory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Universit (...)

22Standards are an important, literally a defining, part of material culture and the industrial order. The discourse around them is a specialized one but one which is accessible at a number of points. In the first place standards are by their very nature public or at least open. They are published and easy to find. As well as in sources which formally promulgate standards, they can be encountered in contracts, laws, and regulations. On rare occasions they were the subject of open debate, either in the general press or more specialized technical publications. Digging more deeply in engineers’ papers and the papers of public and private bodies using technical standards can produce a wealth of information on how standards were developed and used. These documents may be read at a number of levels. The first is the surface level where we can treat them as part of the history of technology narrowly considered. That surface reading should not be ignored lest we forget that standards actually do, physically and economically, what they claim to do. They can also be read for what they say about social as well as technical and economic considerations. We can then go further and attempt to deconstruct these standards. In addition to their own analytic and forensic skills, historians can borrow techniques from the sociology of knowledge and ideas about language. Engineers’ commitment to standards did not derive merely from an analysis of their economic efficiency. As well, an ideology of progress, a commitment to a “rational factory,” sped the adoption of the new technology.54 Engineers’ ideology of rationality informed a hegemonic discourse. Integral to its success was the veiling of such a purpose. But with both theory and more traditional historical detective work we can lift the veil and see the manner and purposes of the construction of these standards.

Notes

1 Excerpted from By-Law 6107, City of Toronto Council, Minutes (1912), Appendix B, 468.

2 See Tore Frängsmyr et al., eds., The Quantifying Spirit in the 18th Century (Berkley: University of California Press, 1990).

3 What is ASTM?, undated and unpaginated pamphlet.

4 Albert Batik, The Engineering Standard (Ashland:Bookmaster/El Rancho, 1992) makes the point that standards are principally a means to communicate information. An excellent general guide to the world of technical and scientific practitioners is Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1987).

5 Samuel Krislov, How Nations Choose Product Standards and Standards Change Nations (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997); Henry J. Stremba and Wayne P. Ellis, Plain Talk (Philadelphia: ASTM, 1990); Memorial Volume Commemorative of the Life and Lifework of Charles Benjamin Dudley (Philadelphia: ASTM, 1911); and David Cahan, An Institute for an Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

6 See Christopher Armstrong and H.V. Nelles, Monopoly’s Moment (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986).

7 Thomas K. McCraw, ed., Creating Modern Capitalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997); James P. Hull,‘“The Surest Augury for Ultimate Success’: The Release of Proprietary Technical Knowledge by U.S. Firms in the Early Twentieth Century,” Canadian Review of American Studies 24 (Spring 1994): 61-86.

8 Janet T. Knoedler and Anne Mayhew, “The Engineers and Standardization,” Business and Economic History 21 (1994): 141-51.

9 Chandler of course argues that transaction costs were internalized within integrated corporations, though that is only one solution. Alfred D. Chandler Jr. The Visible Hand (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977).

10 Nathan Rosenberg, Inside the Black Box (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 20.

11 North American colour television standards and the bar code provide egregious examples. Walter Kaiser, “The PAL-SECAM Colour Television Controversy,” History of Technology 20 (1998): 1-16. Alan Q. Morton, “Packaging History: The Emergence of the Uniform Product Code (UPC),” History and Technology 11 (1994): 101-11.

12 Notably, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ boiler code created an effectively protected continental market for North American manufacturers of pressure vessels. Wilbur Cross, The Code (New York: ASME, 1990). More general discussions of the economics of standards are given in Donald J. Lecraw, “Some Economic Effects of Standards,” Applied Economics 16 (1984): 507-22, and Charles Kindleberger, “Standards as Public, Collective and Private Goods,” Kyklos 36 (1983).

13 Drawing on Wittgenstein, this is the point made by Simon Schaffer in his “Modernity and Metrology,” in Luca Guzzetti, ed., Science and Power (Luxemburg: OOPEC, 2000), 71-93.

14 Archives of Ontario (hereafter AO), James Lewis Morris Papers, MU 4830, Pembroke Electric Light Co. Specifications, 1906.

15 AO, MS 233, Barber Turbine & Foundries Ltd. Records, 17 December 1909 Delhi Light & Power Ltd.

16 AO, MS 4036, D.H.O. Form no. 503, April 1946. (AASHO is the American Association of State Highway Officials)

17 AO, Ferranti-Packard Papers, G.L. Simpson Canadian Container #5, Ferranti Transformer Specification Lectromelt Furnaces Ltd. to Frank T. Wyman 7 June 1926. (AIEE is the American Institute of Electrical Engineers)

18 AO, RG15-55-1, vol. 25, St. Thomas Hospital contract file.

19 AO, MU 772, Box 10, W.S. Leslie of A.C. Leslie & Co. Montreal to F.A. Dallyn, 3 September 1929. The A.C. Leslie Company’s “Queen’s Head” Copper Bearing Sheets enjoyed an excellent reputation among engineers and had long been specified by name in contracts.

20 AO, MU 772, Box 10, Booklet Robert W. Hunt & Co. “Cast Iron Pipe Inspection” (Montreal, 1926), 3.

21 Idem, “Handbook of de Lavaud Centrifically Cast Iron Pipe” (1928), 9.

22 Idem, T. W. Hudson to Dallyn, 4 March 1931.

23 James P. Hull, “Raising Standards: Public Works and Industrial Practice in Interwar Ontario,” Scientia Canadensis XXV (2001): 7-30.

24 AO, MU 765, Box 3, Dallyn to Public Utilities Commission of Ingersoll, 18 March 1929.

25 AO, MU 769, Box 7, F.B. Goedike to Dallyan [sic], 10 June 1927, Dallyn to Goedike, 17 June 1927. See also Jamie Benidickson,, “Ontario Water Quality, Public Health and the Law, 1880-1930,” in G. Blaine Bohr and Jim Phillips, eds., Essays in the History of Canadian Law, vol. 8 (Toronto: Osgoode Society, 1999), 115-41.

26 AO, MU 8667, Box 32, File “National Electric Light Association.” Also see editorial in Canadian Engineer, “New Method of Hydraulic Measurement,” 16 September 1920, 357.

27 AO, MU8673, Box 38, File “Riordon, Concrete - P.H. (Power House).

28 AO, MU 764, Box 2, File “Glencoe - water supply - correspondence, 1928-29,” 32.

29 AO, Ferranti-Packard papers, Container #10, Gaby to Baker [n.d] and Baker “Notes,” 25 March 1929.

30 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, GSI Collection, Accession #91-209, Bin #3-11, Box 9314, Aug 1950, F.H. Chandler to J.R. Montague, Specification #C491001 “For Thermoplastic Control Cable for 600 Volt Service.”

31 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, ORR, Material Specifications for Turbines, Remarks of O. Holden, 18 February 1939.

32 Ibid. See also James Hull, “Technical Standards and the Integration of the U.S. and Canadian Economies,” The American Review of Canadian Studies 32, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 123-42.

33 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, GSI Collection, Accession #91-209, Bin #3-11, Box 931, W.P.Dobson (Hydro’s Chief Testing Engineer and later Director of Research) to A.E. Davison (engineer in the Transmission Section), 20 December 1939.

34 The literature is voluminous and growing. Good staring points are Jed Z. Buchwald, ed., Scientific Credibility and Technical Standards (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1996); Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989); Andrew Barry, “The History of Measurement and the Engineers,” The British Journal for the History of Science 26 (1993): 459-68; Jan Golinski, Making Natural Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Ken Alder, “Making Things the Same," Social Studies of Science 28 (1998): 499-545; Witold Kula, Measures and Men (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); and Theodore Porter, Trust in Numbers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

35 Simon Schaffer, “Accurate Measurement as English Science” in M. Norton Wise, ed., The Values of Precision (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 135-72.

36 Mary Poovey, A History of the Modern Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

37 Arne Hessenbruch, “Calibration and Work in the X-Ray Economy, 1896-1928, Social Studies of Science 30 (2000): 397-420.

38 Patrick Carroll-Burke, “Tools, Instruments and Engines: Getting a Handle on the Specificity of Engine Science, Social Studies of Science 31 (2001): 593-626.

39 These issues are explored in James P. Hull, “Working With Figures: Industrial Measurement as Hegemonic Discourse,” Left History 9 (2003): 62-78.

40 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, GSI Collection, Accession #91-209, Bin #3-11, Box 93, General Specifications for Steel Transmission Towers, S.T.-010327.

41 E. Gildemeister, The Volatile Oils (New York: Wiley, 1913), 553-617.

42 R. Livingston Fembach, Glues and Gelatine (New York: Van Nostrand, 1907), 20-48.

43 Mcintosh, Varnishes, 422.

44 H. Otto Sibum, “Les gestes de la mesure. Joule, les pratiques de la brasserie et la science,” Annales: Histoire, Science Sociales 53 (1998): 745-74; Graeme Gooday, “Spot-watching, Bodily Postures and the ‘Practised Eye’: The Material Practice of Instrument Reading in Late Victorian Electrical Life,” in Iwan Rhys Morus, ed., Bodies/Machines (New York: BERG, 2002), 165-95.

45 See J. L. Heilbron’s “Introductory Essay” in Frängsmyr et al., Quantifying Spirit, 1-23.

46 Yehouda Shenhav, Manufacturing Rationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Burton Bledstein, The Culture of Professionalism (New York: Norton, 1976); Amy Slaton, Reinforced Concrete and the Modernization of American Building, 1900-1930 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Stuart Shapiro, “Degrees of Freedom: The interaction of Standards of Practice and Engineering Judgment,” Science, Technology & Human Values 22 (1997): 286-316; Amy Slaton, “‘As Near as Practicable’: Precision, Ambiguity, and the Social Features of Industrial Quality Control,” Technology and Culture 42 (2001): 51-80.

47 Hydro One Networks Inc., Archives, ORR 842.2, “Report on Cement and Concrete Tests and Specifications.” See also Benjamin Sims, “Concrete Practices: Testing in an Earthquake-Engineering Laboratory," Social Studies of Science 29 (1999): 483-518, and James Hull, “A Gigantic Engineering Organization’: Ontario Hydro and Technical Standards for Canadian Industry, 1917-1958,” Ontario History, 93 (2001): 179-200.

48 Frederick H. Armstrong, A City in the Making (Toronto: Dundum Press, 1988), 296-327.

49 Toronto Evening Telegram, 16 August 1912, 13-15.

50 C.R. Young, “The Structural Requirements of the Toronto Building By-Law of 1913,” The Canadian Engineer, 26 February 1914, 383-88.

51 Programme of the 1st Annual Meeting of the Canadian Cement and Concrete Association (Toronto, 1909).

52 The CCCA code is given in Canadian Cement and Concrete Association Proceedings (1911), 86-95. Young’s correspondence regarding the code is in University of Toronto Archives, Department of Civil Engineering papers, C.R. Young correspondence, A66-0011, Box 05.

53 “Defects in the Toronto Building By-Law,” The Canadian Engineer, 26 February 1914, 381.

54 I am borrowing the term from Lindy Biggs, The Rational Factory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

Auteur

Member of the Department of History at Okanagan University College and an Associate Scholar of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. He is the author of numerous papers on the history of science and industry

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