On 26 July 1916 there was a public meeting in New York. It was called by a group led by Charles Francis Jenkins (and more on him in a moment). But the guest speaker was Henry D Hubbard, at the time the secretary of the US National Bureau of Standards. This is some of what he said:
"Interchangeability of parts is an important principle of standardisation, but more important is this implication that a true standardisation is the consensus of the best as far as that is practically attainable. To bring things to a dead level of uniformity at an arbitrarily fixed value is not standardisation at all.
"Standardisation means and implies an ideal to be realised. Ideal standards therefore involve searching investigations so that they may be based upon scientific principles rather than on empirical judgment. Standardisation is at its best only when each magnitude of property or dimension is found by theory and test to be the most fit for its use. Such standardisation is a continuous development, not a thing to begin with but to arrive at.
"Like the bark of a tree, standardisation may bound progress but must not limit growth. Inflexible standards are liable to retard progress so that we must keep before us the ideal that at any time the standards must be the consensus of the best, scientifically formulated.
Stable standardisation is that in which all concerned are represented and their interests regarded - engineer, maker and user. To overlook any factor is to vitiate the standardisation as time will show."
Now Hubbard was a standards guy, so you might expect him to raise the roof on their importance. But - as I am sure you have guessed - this was the keynote address at the first ever meeting of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (television was added in 1950), and I am hugely grateful to Barbara Lange, current executive director of SMPTE for providing this quote.
But back to SMPTE, and why that first meeting was called. It was all down to an unsung hero called Charles Francis Jenkins. On 6 June 1894 he gave the first public showing of moving pictures. It happened not in one of the great cities of the world but at 726 East Main Street in Richmond Indiana.
It was clearly an exciting event. As the Richmond Telegram reported, "he needed electrical current to run it but¦ the only current in reach was a trolley wire that passed the door. To this Jenkins attached a lateral wire and brought it down to the proper voltage by means of a pail of water." The Health and Safety Inspectorate was less active in those days.