Getting Screwed

2003-06-04

In doing some research for my OSCON talk, I discovered a fascinating article about machinist William Sellers. It seems that in the early 1800s, there were no common standards for screw threads. The craftspeople of the day all created their own custom screws, which means that if you wanted to replace one, you needed to go back to the original craftsperson. The British came up with a standard, but it was still too labor-intensive to implement efficiently in labor-starved America. So Sellers, one of the leaders of the machine tool industry (which was pretty much the cutting-edge technology field at the time), proposed a system of consistent threads. Sure there were politics involved, but in the end the technically-superior standard won that early standards race. I think there's a lesson in there somewhere. :-)


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