1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Standards Department

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Standards Department, a department of the English Board of Trade, having the custody of the imperial standards of weights and measures. As far back as can be traced, the standard weights and measures, the primary instruments for determining the justness of all other weights and measures used in the United Kingdom, were kept at the exchequer, and the duties relating to these standards were imposed upon the chamberlains of the exchequer. The office of chamberlains was abolished in 1826, under the operation of 23 Geo. III. c. 82, passed in 1783, but the custody of the standards and any duties connected therewith remained attached to an officer in the {{EB1911 article link|exchequer|nosc=yes} (q.v.) until that department was abolished in 1866. Meanwhile, in pursuance of recommendations of Standard Commissions of 1841 and 1854 and a House of Commons Committee of 1862, the Standards of Weights, Measures and Coinage Act 1866 was passed. This act created a special department of the Board of Trade, called the “Standard Weights and Measures Department,” and a head of that department styled the “Warden of the Standards.” His duty was to conduct comparisons, verifications and operations with reference to the standards in aid of scientific research and otherwise. The first — indeed, the only real holder — of the office was Henry Williams Chisholm (1809–1901), previously chief clerk of the old exchequer, under whose direction the department was organized; and before his retirement in 1877 it embraced not merely the re-verification of the imperial standards, but the making of local standards for local authorities, the re-verification of standards and instruments for all parts of the United Kingdom and colonies, for foreign countries which did not possess standardizing departments, the verification of manufacturers’ standards and instruments, gas-measuring standards, apparatus for determining the flash-point of petroleum, &c. The Weights and Measures Act of 1878 left out all reference to the title and office of warden of the standards, and this opportunity was taken, in the words of the then permanent secretary of the Board of Trade, T. H. (afterwards Lord) Farrer, to make the office “more strictly a department of the Board of Trade.” It was put in charge of an officer (Mr H. J. Chaney) termed “Superintendent of Weights and Measures,” but on his death in 1906 an attempt was made partially to restore dignity and importance to the office by the appointment of Major P. A. MacMahon, F.R.S., with the title of “Deputy Warden of the Standards.”[1]

There are Standards departments under the charge of experienced scientists in Berlin, St Petersburg, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon, Brussels, Bucharest and Constantinople and at Ottawa, Melbourne and Sidney. The United States Bureau of Standards is in the department of Commerce and Labor. It was established in 1901 and is under the charge of a director. Its work follows that of the English department and embraces also research in the domain of physics, extending from chemistry on the one side to engineering on the other. It also tests and investigates standards and methods of constructing measuring instruments for scientific societies, educational institutions, manufacturers and others.


  1. The act of 1878, which repealed the act of 1866, merely declared that the Board of Trade should have all powers and perform all duties relative to the standards vested in or imposed upon the warden of the standards by the act of 1866 or otherwise, and the title “deputy warden of the standards” is therefore a departmental creation.