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History of Force Measurement in the US – Part 18

We left off with the Bureau facing three simultaneous investigations into its functions and budget. All three investigations resulted in the conclusion that it was necessary for the Bureau to continue performing essential testing whether specifically noted in its organic act or not. The investigations also pointed out that the Bureau had been hit disproportionately hard by funding cuts and staff reductions during the Depression, although they differed in their recommendations of how the Bureau should move forward. While no official change was made to formalize Bureau authority to perform testing deemed by some to be outside its scope, tacit approval was given by the new appropriations of 1935, which replaced 29 appropriations items with one act divided into four general funds, one of which included a provision for the Bureau’s continued involvement with the ASA and work on standards for commerce.

As the Depression dragged on through the 1930s, Dr. Briggs repeatedly contested that new inventions would stimulate industry, the consumer and the economy. One stimulus strategy employed at the time was the idea of transforming the nation from a production-based economy to a consumption-based economy, or ushering in “consumerism.” The National Recovery Administration, set up by the Roosevelt administration in 1933, would be advised by an Industrial Board, a Labor Advisory Board and a Consumers’ Advisory Board to ensure maximum benefit to all parties from new legislation concerning issues like minimum wage, work hours and price regulation to the end of stimulation consumption.

The task of the Consumers’ Advisory Board was to promote use of specifications and labeling in consumer products through NRA code, but some believe agencies like the ASA and the Bureau of Standards incapable of making such recommendations because of their perceived propensity to favor industry above the consumer. Despite this concern, there were no reasonable grounds for setting up an independent laboratory for the task, so over the NRA’s 2-year life, the Bureau reviewed almost 500 codes for fair competition involving consumer standards.

Over the course of the late 1920’s to late 1930’s a number of agencies, publications and laboratories appeared dedicated to consumer education, but they lacked the organization to form a unified national force. The Bureau, for its part, had difficulties working with these consumer groups because their organic act legally oriented their efforts to industry. Nevertheless, the Bureau recognized the benefit of performing consumer testing within a single institution under the Federal Government but thought the creation of a consumer testing agency unlikely as Congressional funding would probably not be approved. The Bureau cooperated with the consumer movement by advising consumer laboratories on their test instruments and equipment, developing new testing equipment and issuing publications geared toward the individual consumer. One such publication was entitled “Services of the National Bureau of Standards to the Consumer,” which explained how the Bureau’s efforts benefitted the individual.

Even though it was a challenging period, the Depression created lulls in committee assignments to the Bureau and travel, as well as drop in supervisory duties which created more time for actual research. The Bureau was forced to make staffing cuts and could not hire qualified scientists, but their funding did provide for “clerks” and “draftsmen.” It was also during this time that Dr. Brigg won his battle to add the word “National” back to the Bureau’s name after 30 years of being the “Bureau of Standards.”

**The information presented here is drawn from “Measures For Progress: A History of The National Bureau of Standards” (Rexmond C. Cochrane)

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