Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/215

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
211
THE BUREAU OF STANDARDS

one delegate each from the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt of Germany, the National Physical Laboratory of England, and the Laboratoire Central d'Electricité of France came to Washington in April, 1910, and in cooperation with representatives of the Bureau of Standards carried out an extended series of experiments on the three fundamental standards of resistance, current and electromotive force. As one result of this cooperative work an agreement has been reached with respect to the value to be assigned to the Weston normal cell; it has been accepted by the International Committee on Electrical Units and Standards, and is therefore universal. The difficulties in the way of the complete unification of international electrical standards have now practically all been resolved.

In the other field of defining and maintaining standards of excellence, this division has been no less successful. The incandescent lamp industry is a shining example. Before the establishment of the bureau, the navy department was under the necessity of seeking the services of the German Reichsanstalt for the purpose of standardizing lamps for use in the naval service. At that time the different departments of the government purchased lamps on independent contracts, while purchasing agents had no scientific means of justifying awards. Hence the intrusion of political influence with the object of securing contracts for friends or constituents. Criticism of such action was not justified so long as the government was without the means of defining and defending standards of excellence to which the articles purchased should conform.

It has happened in the past that awards have been held up by congressional influence, and the awards have been modified to include the product of small manufacturers, who claimed to make lamps in every way the equal of those made by the large manufacturers of wider experience and technical skill. Subsequent tests at the bureau showed that some of these added awards were filled by lamps which did not meet the requirements of the contract, and they were rejected.

At the present time the general supply committee awards contracts for all departments of the government and the Secretary of the Treasury signs them. This year the contracts for the list of articles for which the committee has made awards aggregate about nine million dollars. All departments are furnished with lamps purchased under uniform specifications, and tested the year round by the bureau. Moreover, the government now has the advantage of million rates instead of ihe higher prices attaching to contracts for smaller numbers.

The lamp contract of the government calls for about one per cent, of the incandescent lamps made in this country. The other 99 per cent, are sold to the general public. If the government took the best million made, while lamps of lower efficiency and shorter life were sold to the public, the government would be the gainer at the expense of other