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1940–1950: the world is crying out for standards

The need for uniform standards for the purpose of rationalization and industrialization is increasing all around the world. International trade and communication can only be accelerated and made more cost-effective with the help of common minimum requirements.

The Second World War interrupts some of the ongoing efforts to establish international standards, however. After the end of the war, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is founded in London in October 1946. It emerges from the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations (ISA), which has existed since 1926, and the United Nations Standards Coordinating Committee (UNSCC) formed during the war (see story 1 ).

Founding meeting of the ISO in London
Twenty-five countries with more than 60 delegates take part in the conference in London – evidence of the great importance that is attached to standardization. Fritz Streiff, Chairman of the Standards Committee of the Swiss Association of Machinery Manufacturers (VSM), and Willy Kuert, Head of the VSM Standards Office and Secretary of the SNV, travel to the negotiations in London as representatives of Switzerland. The conference concentrates on the ISO’s statutes and the implementation rules.

Picture caption: October 1946: founding meeting of the ISO in London

Only one organization per country can become a member
The purpose of the ISO is to facilitate the coordination and harmonization of standards issued by the national standardization associations and enable the continuous exchange of information on the countries’ standardization work. Membership is open to all national standardization organizations provided that they meet the conditions for admission and are willing to recognize the statutes and implementation rules. In every country, the organization that becomes a member should be the one that represents the country’s standardization bodies most comprehensively. English, French and Russian are accepted in London as the official languages of the ISO. The ISO’s headquarters are to be in Geneva, and it commences operations there in February 1947.

ISO headquartered in Geneva
At the conference in London, it is decided that the ISO will be headquartered in Geneva. The offices are set up there and the ISO commences operations on 23 February 1947.

Picture capture: ISOs first headquarter in Geneva

Governing bodies of the ISO
The highest governing body of the ISO is the General Assembly, which comprises the representatives of all members. It generally convenes every three years. Howard Coonley, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the American Standards Association, is elected as the first President of the ISO. The executive body is a Council consisting of the Chairman and 10 other members, who together represent 11 different member countries. This Council is afforded extensive powers and is responsible for the management of the ISO between the General Assemblies. For the first five years, China, France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States of America have permanent seats on the Council. The other six seats are allocated to Australia, Belgium, Brazil, India, Norway and Switzerland. The Council elects a Vice-President and a Treasurer from its ranks. Gustave L. Gérard from Belgium and Fritz Streiff from Switzerland are appointed as the Vice-President and Treasurer, respectively, for the first period of office. The organization’s operations are managed by a Secretary General.

Sources : archives of ISO and SNV

Switzerland recognizes its important role in the ISO

The Swiss representatives are convinced that the Swiss industry and economy can benefit from the international standardization efforts and that active participation is therefore essential.

These are the words of the Swiss Association for Standardization in its media release of April 1947:
«The standardization organization of a country like Switzerland that is heavily dependent on exports must make every endeavour to seek and maintain contact with foreign standardization organizations. Membership of the ISO ensures that these indispensable ties are in place and enables us to contribute to the solution of international challenges. Sources of particular pleasure for us are the choice of Geneva as the location for the new organization’s headquarters, Switzerland’s appointment on the ISO Council and the assignment of the office of Treasurer. These decisions by the London conference are evidence of the esteem in which our country and Swiss standardization in particular are held in international circles. They should be an incentive for the Swiss standardization bodies to do their very best to help with the ISO’s work.»

Active collaboration with the ISO for more than 70 years

Decades after the ISO’s foundation, Switzerland continues to be actively involved in international standardization efforts and occupies an important position within the organization to this day. Our country has been and continues to be frequently represented on the steering committees, such as the ISO Council and the ISO Technical Steering Committee. Switzerland is currently represented on the highest committees by Urs Fischer on the ISO Council and Marcel Knecht on the ISO Technical Steering Committee. Swiss citizen Nicolas Fleury has been Deputy Secretary General since 2009 and the current Treasurer also comes from Switzerland.

Picture capture: Urs Fischer, CEO of the SNV

Thoughts of Urs Fischer, CEO of the SNV, on the important collaboration with the ISO:
«Our close collaboration and the fact that the ISO maintains its headquarters and its central secretariat in Switzerland are matters of great pride and joy to us. We see this as strong proof of the confidence of the ISO and its members in us and are extremely glad that our expertise, our reliability and our contribution since the ISO’s establishment are clearly recognized. Our centenary is a perfect opportunity for us to thank both our colleagues at the ISO in Geneva and all of its members for the extremely pleasant and successful cooperation.»


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