Ode to the standard screw

William Sellers is my new hero, because he standardized the screw and because I get to use a quasi-dirty word in my blog. 

Sellers ran several blocks-large machine shop manufacturing facility 16th and Hamilton Streets in Philadelphia and once led the Franklin Institute. In manufacturing history, however, Sellers, who grew up a Quaker family in Upper Darby, remains famous because in 1864 he created a uniform system that standardized the pattern and spacing of threads on a screw.

William Sellers

What that means now is when someone buys a box of screws from a hardware store in Philadelphia, it will fit into a nut in a machine in California. Because of Sellers, manufacturing, home building and many other enterprises run more smoothly.

More than a hundred years later, in the 1990s, Thomas Rittenhouse, a top executive at the now defunct Strawbridge and Clothier department store chain led the Uniform Code Council. The Council was involved in standardizing the bar code, turning a bunch of random lines into a language now understood by scanners everywhere.

These days, as part of health reform, the standards we are looking for have to do with patient records, diagnostic codes, billing procedures and documentation, all part of making healthcare more efficient. On the jobs front, many competing organizations are trying to develop uniform standards for credentials in green jobs, health care and other fields.

Right now, I'd like to express my appreciation for the standard screw, and for all different forms of language (even the one that this blog uses) that help us or our machines communicate with one another.

(The information about the screw comes courtesy of Harry Kyriakodis, one of two people who led a Saturday tour of a possible park, somewhat akin to New York's renowned High Line park. The park, based on rail and canal right-of-ways, threads through the Inquirer's neighborhood from the Rodin Museum to the abandoned rail lines that once led to the Reading Terminal. What impressed me the most was the rich industrial and manufacturing history of this small pocket of the city.)