Century of Electrical Standards: History of the ANSI – Guest Blog from Carl Babb

The following is a guest blog from Carl Babb:

Century of Electrical Standards – History of the ANSI

The American National Standards Institute, also known as ANSI, is a private non-profit organization. Headquartered in Washington, DC, ANSI has coordinated the development of a voluntary standardization system in the U.S. for almost a century.

ANSI acts in the interest and needs of consumers, the government, private companies and organizations. Its mission is to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. businesses on a global scale. It works with other standard organizations around the world to promote the use of U.S. standards.


Early Standards

Before the establishment of ANSI, a nongovernmental standardization was initiated with the foundation of the International Electrotechnical Commission, or IEC. This began at a meeting of leading international scientists and industrialists in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Today, IEC establishes and approves international standards for all electrical and electronic technologies, such as those for circuit breakers and protective relays. Its work covers a range of fields, from home appliances to nanotechnology.

It is made up of national committees from countries around the world. The U.S. branch of the IEC would eventually move on to establish the first ANSI.


Founding of ANSI

Several groups of professional organizations founded ANSI. It originated in 1916, when members of the United Engineering Society, or UES, came together. Initiated by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, an UES member, the electrical engineers invited other members, namely the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers and the American Society for Testing Materials to participate in the establishment of a national organization with the aim to coordinate standards development. They were later joined by the non-UES member, namely the U.S. Departments of War, Navy and Commerce.

The original name for ANSI was the American Engineering Standards Committee, or AESC. During its first year, it had an annual budget of $7,500, pooled together from the founding members. Its executive staff was a mechanical engineer named Clifford B. LePage.


Early ANSI Projects

ANSI’s first project was a standard of pipe threads, which occurred a year after AESC was founded. In 1920, AESC took on the major task of replacing current safety codes to improve accident prevention.

It was highly efficient and by 1921, the first American Standard Safety Code was approved. This code outlined safety procedures for industrial workers to protect their heads and eyes. By 1926, AESC had established national standards in many fields, from construction and traffic to electrical and mechanical engineering.

AESC was also one of the first organizations to promote international cooperation in the establishment of standards. It played a key role in the creation of the International Standards Association, or ISA, as it hosted the 1926 conference that was a precursor to ISA’s establishment. The ISA would eventually change its name to the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, as it is known today.

The AESC soon evolved and grew out of its committee status. In 1928, it changed its structure through a reorganization. It was renamed the American Standards Association, or ASA. Later, in 1931, the ASA would become affiliated with the U.S. branch of the IEC.


ANSI During the War

The ASA played a role during World War II when it established a War Standards Procedure. Completed in 1940, this procedure improved the efficiency of standards development by accelerating the approval of new standards. It was the work of 1,300 engineers and covered areas such as quality control, safety and equipment components for military and civilian radio devices.

After the war ended in 1946, the ASA worked with the standard organizations of 25 other countries to form a single international standard organization. This resulted in the formation of the International Organization for Standardization. Its goal is to promote international standards development to streamline industrial processes.



The American Institute of Electrical Engineers, or the AIEE, was the primary group responsible for the establishment of ANSI. The AIEE itself was founded in 1884, 30 years before the founding of ANSI.

Some famous AIEE founders include Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. Alexander Graham Bell, notable for being the inventor of the telephone, would also serve as the AIEE president from 1891 to 1892.

The first electrical standards established by AIEE was in 1885. This was the standardization of wire gauges. The AIEE would go on to develop its own electrical apparatus standards, such as for electrical switches, circuit breakers and protective relays. By 1926, it had approved a total of 71 standards.


Early Electrical Standards

Electrical standards in the 1920s were the responsibility of the Protective Device Committee. The committee’s work includes acknowledging and testing the ratings of breakers, as well as their abilities to interrupt currents. Much of their early work was completed in shared facilities with the breaker manufacturers. One such cooperative was with the Westinghouse Manufacturing Corp, a major manufacturer of electrical components at the time.

One of the earliest standardizations was for the oil used in circuit breakers. Later, this became the basis for the establishment of circuit breaker standards.

By 1924, standard definitions were being proposed for circuit breaker terminology. It included terms such as Operating Duty of Oil Circuit Breaker and Standard Operating Duty Cycle.


Formation of IEEE

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, or the IEEE, was founded in 1963. It was the result of a merger between the AIEE and the Institute of Radio Engineers, or the IRE. Since both the IEEE and the IRE had developed their own standard programs at the time of the merge, a single IEEE Standard Board was created to streamline both standards.

There were three other accredited American National Standards Committee when the IEEE was first established. To promote a more coherent set of standards, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was established. This memorandum gave the power to all three organizations to choose which one of their standards would be recognized as the single American National Standard.


Reorganizations and Name Changes

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the ASA helped industries and governments with standardizing the fields, such as nuclear energy, information technology and materials. In 1966, it was reorganized as the United States of America Standards Institute, or USASI.

Later, in 1968, the USASI worked to oversee the licensing of its name to manufacturers. This voluntary standardization approval was in response to increasing consumer demands for higher quality products.

The ASA changed its name to ANSI in 1969, and the name it still used today. It would go through more reorganizations while continuing to make new efforts to coordinate and approve new national standards. The voluntary national standards are currently known as American National Standards.


ANSI Today

With increasing globalization activity in the late 1980s, businesses and communities realized the importance of a globally accepted set of standards. In 1987, ANSI worked to administrate a joint ISO/IEC technical committee on Information Technology. This committee has now become the largest standardization committee in the world.

Today, ANSI continues to change and adapt to the needs of the interconnected global economy. Its work has improved consumer confidence in products and services throughout global supply chains. Currently, it is facilitating innovations in nanotechnologies and working to improve energy efficiency for greater environmental awareness.

Carl Babb is a retired Electrical Engineer from Massachusetts who blogs about the industry for Relectric.com. He is passionate about Green Energy and Building practices. Now retired he enjoys writing, spending time with his grandchildren and staying current (pun intended). For more from Carl visit the Relectric Blog.