The history of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the U.S.
voluntary standards system is dynamic and evocative of the market-driven spirit
that continues today.
In 1916, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE) invited the
American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the American Society of Civil
Engineers (ASCE), the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers
(AIME) and the American Society for Testing Materials (now ASTM International)
to join in establishing an impartial national body to coordinate standards
development, approve national consensus standards, and halt user confusion on
acceptability. These five organizations, who were themselves core members of
the United Engineering Society (UES), subsequently invited the U.S. Departments
of War, Navy and Commerce to join them as founders.
ANSI was originally established as the American Engineering Standards Committee
(AESC). According to Paul G. Agnew, the first permanent secretary and head of
staff in 1919, AESC started as an ambitious program and little else. Staff for
the first year consisted of one executive, Clifford B. LePage, who was on loan
from a founding member, ASME. An annual budget of $7,500 was provided by the
A year after AESC was founded, it approved its first standard on pipe threads.
Its next major project was undertaken in 1920 when AESC began the coordination
of national safety codes to replace the many laws and recommended practices
that were hampering accident prevention. The first American Standard Safety
Code was approved in 1921 and covered the protection of the heads and eyes of
industrial workers. In its first ten years, AESC also approved national
standards in the fields of mining, electrical and mechanical engineering,
construction and highway traffic.
AESC was very active in early attempts to promote international cooperation and
in 1926 hosted the conference that created the International Standards
Association (ISA), an organization that would remain active until World War II
and that would eventually become the International Organization for
Nongovernmental standardization had started twenty years earlier in 1906 with the
formation of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
The IEC’s origins date back to a 1904 international meeting of leading
scientists and pioneer industrialists that was held in St. Louis, Missouri. IEC
is responsible for the development of world standards for the electrical and
electronics area and is composed of the national committees from countries
around the world. The U.S. National Committee of IEC would eventually become
affiliated with ANSI’s predecessor organizations.
As its responsibilities and activities evolved, AESC outgrew its committee
stature and structure. In 1928, it was reorganized and renamed the American
Standards Association (ASA). Three years later, in 1931, the U.S. National
Committee of the IEC became affiliated with ASA.
In just under two decades the founding organizations’ vision of a coordinated
national system had grown to international proportions.
Many standards produced in the 1930s promoted safety, both at work and at home.
The continuing development of standards for occupational safety included
guidance for preventing hazards in the factories where so many Americans spent
their days. At the same time, household technology was rapidly modernizing, and
many standards developed in this decade addressed the safety of home
When the United States went to war in 1941, ASA was prepared with a War
Standards Procedure that it had adopted nearly a year earlier. This helped to
accelerate the development and approval of the new and revised standards needed
to increase industrial efficiency for war production. Nearly 1,300 engineers
worked on special committees to produce American War Standards for quality
control, safety, photographic supplies and equipment components for military
and civilian radio, fasteners and other products.
Shortly after World War II, ASA in 1946 joined with the national standards
bodies of 25 countries to form an international organization devoted to
standardization as a whole. The objective of this newly formed International
Organization for Standardization was to promote international standards
development and to facilitate the international unification of industrial
standards. Since its origin, ANSI has been a strong and active leader in ISO;
its sister organization, the IEC; and other international and regional
In the 1950s and 1960s, ASA helped industry and government anticipate standards
needs in such fields as nuclear energy, information technology, material
handling and electronics. As interest in international standardization
continued to rise, ASA opened its doors to the world, hosting the second ISO
General Assembly and the IEC Golden Jubilee celebration.
ASA was reorganized in 1966 as the United States of America Standards Institute
(USASI) in response to identified needs for a broader use of the consensus
principle in developing and approving standards; making the voluntary standards
system more responsive to consumer needs; and strengthening U.S. leadership
In 1968, USASI formed a Certification Committee to oversee the licensing of its
mark to manufacturers who marketed products that were judged by an independent
test to comply with an approved American National Standard.
ANSI adopted its present name in 1969. Throughout its various reorganizations
and name changes, the Institute was steadily increasing its efforts to
coordinate and approve voluntary national standards, now known as American
National Standards. Domestic programs were expanding and being modified to meet
the changing needs of industry, government and other sectors.
In 1970, a public review process was formalized and the ANSI Board of Standards
Review (BSR), with responsibility for standards approval, was one of the most
significant innovations in the Institute’s history.
The BSR implemented procedures for the approval and withdrawal of standards as
American National Standards and sought to determine whether standards submitted
to the Institute for approval or withdrawal as American National Standards met
These new requirements enhanced the credibility of American National Standards
with industry, the public, and government agencies. And with this attention
came an increasing reliance on ANSI and its members for private-sector support
of government-led initiatives.
During one of the most far-reaching efforts of the 1970s, ANSI assisted the
Department of Commerce with a metric study and formed the American National
Metric Council to help the private sector plan conversion.
In 1976, ANSI and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration established
a joint coordinating committee for private-public sector voluntary standards
activities that affect safety and health in the workplace. Its success led to
the 1982 formation of a similar joint coordinating committee with the Consumer
Product Safety Commission that focused on consumer products.
In the 1980s, many segments of the business community realized that globally
accepted standards — and the programs that assess conformance to standards —
were the key to unlocking foreign markets.
In 1987, the Institute accepted responsibility for the most significant
innovation in global standard-setting: administration of ISO/IEC Joint
Technical Committee on Information Technology (JTC 1), the world’s largest
known standardization committee.
In response to the planned unification of the European markets, ANSI launched a
cooperative dialogue with its counterparts across the Atlantic. At the core of
this program was the establishment of an ANSI presence in Brussels that would
provide for more timely information on European standards activities. The ANSI
Federation also initiated what has now become an annual series of discussions
with the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee
for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), and the European
Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
In 1989, ANSI also began to increase its outreach to the countries of Eastern
Europe, the Far East, the Pacific Rim and South and Central America. In 1991,
trilateral discussions between Mexico, Canada and members of the ANSI
Federation were initiated to complement government negotiations for a North
American Free Trade Agreement.
The 1990s brought standardization into the limelight as a source of strategic and
competitive advantage in the ever-expanding global economy.
Companies began viewing standards not only as key to impacting product
development, quality or environmental compliance, but also as an imperative in
competing successfully in the global marketplace. The effective use of
strategic standardization in achieving competitiveness, quality, product
certification and conformity assessment became critical issues facing the
business and the standardization community in this decade.
“Market forces” such as global trade and competition; societal issues such as
health, safety and the environment; an enhanced focus on consumer needs and
involvement; and increasing interaction between public-sector and
private-sector interests were significantly impacting standardization and
conformity assessment programs.
In 2000, the first-ever National Standards Strategy for the United States
(NSS) was approved, laying out a roadmap for the community and a reliable,
market-driven process for standard-setting that could be embraced by all
sectors. It reaffirmed that the U.S. is committed to a sector-based approach to
voluntary standardization activities, both domestically and globally. It
provided an outline of key principles necessary for the development of
standards to meet societal and market needs, and a strategic vision for
implementing these principles nationally and internationally.
Constituent needs were also changing rapidly. A sustainable service economy
began to develop in support of people and systems rather than just technology.
Standards themselves began to expand well beyond documents identifying product
specifications to instead focus on performance issues, and to also include
processes, systems and personnel.
In 2003, ANSI expanded its accreditation offerings to include the certification
of personnel, enabling professionals to move across state and between nations
with credentials that can be recognized in multiple jurisdictions.
In 2005, a new United States Standards Strategy (USSS) reaffirmed many of
the concepts that had been included in the earlier NSS. It made even more clear
the need for standards that are designed to meet stakeholder needs —
irrespective of national borders. It brought together traditional standards
developers with new types of standards-setting activities, such as consortia
and other forums, to capitalize and focus on more flexible approaches and new
The USSS also declared the U.S. commitment to the globally accepted principles of
standardization that had been endorsed by the World Trade Organization in its
Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.
Today, ANSI is embracing the needs of the growing service economy and
strengthening consumer confidence in the products and services that are brought
to the shelf via the global supply chain.
The Institute is facilitating innovative new technologies that will lead to the
development of complex machines built at the nano-scale, all while fostering a
greater sense of consumer and worker protection, global competitiveness,
greater energy efficiency and an overall improved environmental consciousness.
From 1918 to well into the future, ANSI will progress the objectives laid out
when AESC was created: to lead and foster the work of the broad-based U.S.
standardization system, to protect the integrity of this system, to promote
global competitiveness of business, and to enhance the quality of life of U.S.