Private Standards, Public Goods: Underwriters Laboratories and American Safety Engineering in the Consumer Era

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dc.contributor.authorKnowles, Scott Gabrielko
dc.identifier.citationHistoria Scientiarum, v.27, no.1, pp.42 - 62-
dc.description.abstractThis article charts the history of the safety testing organization Underwriters Laboratories (UL) through a period in the organization's history when the United States federal government grew more active in the process of safety standard-setting. This move towards federal engagement fit with a more active federal presence in consumer product and financial regulation, beginning in the New Deal, and continuing until it ceased under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Throughout these years, the private safety standard regime that had emerged in the United States starting in the late 19th century came under close scrutiny. Critics of private standard-setters like UL cited concerns over fairness and monopoly, technical capacity, and secrecy. I argue that UL emerged from this period intact, though with some changes to its methods of public engagement, for five main reasons. The response by UL̶the nation's largest electrical and fire safety testing lab throughout the era̶was marked by its insistence that: 1) UL deserved a non-profit designation given its public-spirited mission; 2) had greater technical capacity than government regulators and laboratories; 3) UL stood as a bridge between manufacturers on one side and government on the other in a voluntary standards system; 4) UL had the trust of citizens; and finally 5) UL could and would be willing to open up its work to greater government involvement and consumer scrutiny in the face of intense criticism in the 1960s‒1970s. Through the story of UL in the Consumer Era historians can see the emergence and resolution of a crisis in the United States over how to balance democracy and technical expertise in the realm of public safety. The ability of UL to weather the storm of criticism in these years led to a further entrenchment of the voluntary, private standard-setting system that still exists in the United States today.-
dc.publisherJapan Publications Trading Co., Ltd.-
dc.titlePrivate Standards, Public Goods: Underwriters Laboratories and American Safety Engineering in the Consumer Era-
dc.citation.publicationnameHistoria Scientiarum-
dc.contributor.localauthorKnowles, Scott Gabriel-
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STP-Journal Papers(저널논문)
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