Screwing In: Screw Threads, Standards, and the Making of US-Centric Globalization

Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:50 AM
Wilson Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Daniel Immerwahr, Northwestern University
The global market today involves world-spanning supply chains and the entry of goods into far distant countries. An often-unnoticed precondition for this has been international standardization, ensuring that objects and processes are identical or compatible, even if they come from different countries. This paper takes as its case one central example, the setting of screw threads at a sixty-degree angle worldwide after World War II, essentially the global adoption of the U.S. way of doing things. This helped to create the global market that we know today, where objects travel easily across borders. But it also conferred an important set of benefits on the United States, easing its entry into foreign markets and giving its manufacturers a crucial head start in global competition. This paper is thus concerned with standards both in their capacity to link distant places and in their ability to advantage certain countries over others.