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NIST: Responding to Basic Needs, Responding to Special Needs



L A. Greenhouse


The National Institute of Standards and Technology was established by an Act of Congress in 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS). It was charged with serving the Nation's science and industry by establishing and maintaining the fundamental standards of science and related instrumentation and measurement methods and by providing calibration services and determinations of the properties of materials and physical constants. Responsibility for custody and dissemination of measurement standards had previously resided with the Office of Weights and Measures (OWM) in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Congress's establishment of the NBS resulted from recognition that the requirements for standardization and scientific expertise of an industrial economy with rapidly consolidating national markets were quickly outpacing the ability of the small-scale, limited OWM operation to meet them. This was particularly true in the area of electrical standards.Samuel W. Stratton, a physics professor from the University of Chicago, was appointed Director of the new agency. Beginning with 11 staff members in a few cramped offices, Stratton left the Bureau in 1922 with a staff of nearly 1000 and a modern group of laboratory buildings in a campus-like setting, perhaps the first such research park in the Nation. Most of the scientific staff that Stratton had assembled were top-notch practitioners. The NBS was able to grow as it did in large part due to the national need for military research and development during World War I. During the War, the Bureau undertook several hundred military projects. Its scientific, technical, and administrative staff grew from 517 in 1917 to 1,117 a year later. WWI established a pattern for NBS/NIST of mobilizing its scientific talent in response to unique national needs in times of crisis or challenge. This pattern was repeated in World War II, in the aftermath of the shock of Sputnik, in the energy crisis of the 1970s, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the United States felt challenged by global economic competition.
Proceedings Title
International Microwave Symposium | | IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium Digest | IEEE
Conference Dates
May 20-25, 2001
Conference Title
IEEE International Microwave Symposium Digest


electrical measurements, history of NIST, measurement, measurement standards, National Institute of Standards and Tech, national needs, NIST, physical constants, Standards and Technology


Greenhouse, L. (2001), NIST: Responding to Basic Needs, Responding to Special Needs, International Microwave Symposium | | IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium Digest | IEEE (Accessed June 20, 2024)


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Created May 1, 2001, Updated February 17, 2017