1904, a terrible fire raged in Baltimore. Firefighters arrived
on special trains from Washington, D.C., and other places
as far away as New York City. But most of the crews were
helpless to put out the fire since their hoses would not
fit on Baltimore hydrants. More than 1,500 buildings covering
more than 70 city blocks burned to the ground. NIST found
there were more than 600 different fire hose sizes and hydrant
connectors in use in the U.S. In 1905, NIST helped pick
a national fire hose standard that was eventually adopted
throughout the country.
morning in 1918, President Wilson, an avid reader of mystery
novels, sent an envelope bearing a wax Presidential seal
to NIST. Wilson had read that a letter with such a seal
could be read and resealed without any sign of tampering.
He asked NIST in his sealed letter if it were true. The
next day he had his letter back, apparently still sealed.
Inside were the lead disks NIST made overnight to produce
the fake seal.
the 1920s, purple, orange, green, blue, yellow, and red
traffic lights carried different meanings in different states.
In some states, green meant go and in others
it meant stop. In 1927, NIST worked with two
other agencies to establish a national code for the color
of traffic lights that we still use today.
for a 16th-century measuring rod:
Take 16 men, short and tall ones as they leave church
and let each of them put one shoe after the other and the
length thus obtained shall be a just and common measuring
rod to survey the land with.
May 8, 2001
Last updated: August 15, 2001