Abstract: Industrial Civilization, Engineering, and Industrial Standard Setting: The Global Engineering Standardization Movement in the 1920s and Beyond

Craig N. Murphy and JoAnne Yates


The October-November 1929 Tokyo “World Engineering Congress” was by far the largest and most international meeting of the engineering profession in the first half of the 20th century. Its almost 4500 delegates, engineers and prominent business leaders from every industrialized country, received some 800 papers that were quickly published in 40 massive volumes, the first of which concentrated on the profession and the future of civilization. The first papers argued that engineers and their various “movements” (for scientific management, rationalization, simplification, safety and the like) “now must help the world get the intellectual and spiritual benefit of this physical progress” and that the clear leaders of this mission were the industrial standardizers: Their organizations were at the forefront of the internationalization of the profession and their work was responsible for “much of the remarkable progress that has been made in the whole industrialized world.” While the extreme exuberance of the Tokyo Congress declined quickly in the wake of the global consequences of the simultaneous fall of the world’s stock markets, the international standardizers’ global mission has never completely disappeared. We trace the emergence of that mission in the work of the engineering standardizing community from the First World War to 1929 by focusing on the interconnection among national standardization movements throughout the industrialized world; the role of institutional entrepreneurs in the Great Britain, Germany, and the United States; the simultaneous development of domestic and international standardization movements; and the close relationships among the standardization movement, other contemporary engineering movements, and other progressive internationalist movements in the early 20th century