Abstract: From Setting National Standards to Coordinating International Standards: The Formation of the ISO

JoAnne Yates and Craig N. Murphy


At the end of the First World War, some leaders of the newly established American Engineering Standards Committee (AESC) and of its slightly older British counterpart shared a vision of a comprehensive international standard-setting body. A generation later, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was created. The records of the AESC, ISO, and of the ISO's short-lived predecessors reveal the international conflicts and jurisdictional disputes among national standards bodies, professional engineers, trade associations, and others that had to be overcome to realize the original vision. The slow accretion of institutional innovations promoted eventual agreement. The ISO organized its work through voluntary technical committees characteristic of the earlier British and American bodies. Having different national standards bodies serve as the secretariats of different technical committees encouraged buy-in and helped finesse the conflict between those who wanted the international organization to have only a coordinating role and those who wanted it to set standards.

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