Monday, July 09, 2007


My bible on structural steel construction was sired by industry. The first book on iron construction was published in 1876 by the Carnegie brothers. In 1889, Carnegie-Phipps published a book that included both iron and steel sections. Many other steel manufacturers followed suit since these works were crucial marketing tools. Steel sections became popular following the introduction of the Bessemer process but this type of steel was quickly found to be inappropriate. As various regions adopted building codes, they essentially copied directly from these handbooks. Even as the state of knowledge changed however, the sections and formulas contained in these works remained the same.

In 1922 the National Steel Fabricators Association changes its name to the American Institute of Steel Construction. The guiding light of the AISC was Lee H. Miler. At its founding, he established a series of objectives that the new organization had to achieve (p.14-15):

1. Establish a single code authority that would be recognized by different building code authorities.
2. Establish an authority that would be welcomed by producers, engineers, architects, and building commissions.
3. Establish a set of loading tables for all sections produced by the mills. The mills could then adopt these tables in their own handbooks. The AISC could then work with the public to generate cognitive authority.
4. Initiate a campaign of public eduction to bring steel construction into college courses and to promote steel as a building material. [Ed. This goal still exists among various trade organizations. When I was studying as an engineer the largest book in the campus book store was the Concrete Design Handbook. It was also one of the cheapest due to the auspices of various industry interests!]
5. Establish a uniform telegraphic code to establish uniformity of reference. This initiative presaged EDI projects.

The first priority of the new organization was to create a set of industry standards for the design and use of structural steel. Local building code authorities depended on the various manufacturer handbooks: "Catalogs of the various steel mills were the source of infomration about structural shapes, but there was considerable variation in the dimensions and properties from mill to mill. Design formulas, connection details, 'safe' load tables and other technical data varied from one catalog to another. This created confusion among architects and engineers attempting to design buildings or bridges. Waste and inefficiency were often prodigious." (p.19)

In 1923 AISC published Steel Construction which contained the Standard Specification for the Design, Fabrication and Erection of Structural Steel for Buildings. It provided an explanation of various formulas and included differed design aids for determining the limit stresses in various columns and beams. It fulfilled a demand in the market: "Almost immediately the Specification met with universal favor and began to be adopted by building officials and code bodies throughout the country. By AISC's second convention in November, 1924, the AISC Specification has been adopted by 25 prominent cities in the United States." (p.20)

The AISC even appealed to Herbert Hoover, then secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce (and no stranger to handbooks given his experience with De Re Metallica). He sent a letter to the AISC in October of 1924 (Gillette, 1980, p.20):

"It gives me pleasure to congratulate you and the members of the American Institute of Steel Construction on your splendid progress and practices. Voluntary cooperation of industry, the engineering profession, and the consuming public in these matters not only helps eliminate waste, but strengthens employment, and opens the door to greater prosperity for all concerned. I assure you of the continued interest and cooperation of the Dept. of Commerce in the furtherance of your constructive efforts."

Not surprisingly, one of the divisions of the Department of Commerce, the National Bureau of Standards was at the point struggling specifically with the need to create standards.

The first real handbook was published in 1926 with the cooperation of the steel mills. It was called Steel Construction Allowable Load Tables and included data on all of the beam and column shapes rolled in the U.S. It also contained data on popular built up members, rivet and bolt values, and a variety of other data. The data was based completely on the AISC standard specification. This book was an immediate success since it enabled a designer to consult a single work and not have to refer to a variety of different mill catalogs.

By 1926 the AISC was moving into other initiatives including the creation of a Code of Standard Practice. The priorities of the association also shifted to issues such as fireproofing, establishing fire insurance rates, welding of structural steel, wind bracing, abating riveting noise, alloy steels, and greater speed of steel erection (p.25).

Through the 1920s the AISC waged an aggressive media campaign to stabilize steel as a construction material.

The next chapter in structural steel standardization was late 1930, when United States Steel and Bethlehem Steel agreed to standardize wide flange shapes. These "WF" shapes were included in the new edition of the Steel Construction.

In 1943 the AISC went so far as to standardize the cost accounting process of steel fabricators by introducing the AISC Cost Manual. Other important works included a movie called "Build with Steel," and several books for popular consumption. In 1950, the AISC published a series of books called the AISC Textbook of Structural Shop Drafting in an attempt to standardize design formats. A series of additional movies were released: "The backbone of progress," "steel," "Empires of steel," "Bridging marble canyon," "Span supreme," and "Bridging a century."


Gillette, L. H. (1980). The first 60 years: the American Institute of Steel Construction, Inc., 1921-1980. Chicago, Ill: AISC.

And now the CISC (November 10, 2008)

Some information on the CISC has recently come into my orbit:

Boulanger and Gilmor trace the birth of the organization to the Dominion Bridge Company. In parallel with similar moves in the United States, bridge building emerged as an essential ingredient for the railways. This popularity grew to include steel framed structures.

The first meeting of steel fabricators occurred at the offices of the Canadian Steel Manufacturers' Association (CMA) on September 28, 1920. During this period Canadian fabricators began to join the AISC. By 1928 the AISC's District Engineer, Ernest Adams, served Ontario, Quebec, New England, and New York.

The 1930s were a time of renewed activity for the steel industry. Projects like Maple Leaf Gardens and the introduction of a variety of hydro projects drove the industry. Field welding also started to appear. WWII eventually opened up the economy and introduced number of innovations, including the use of welding.

Mr. W.B. Champ became the first President of the Canadian Fabricators Group in 1930 and announced that Ralph C. Manning, Discrict Engineer for the AISC, would devote himself to the Canadian market. Of the 14 original companies, 6 of them had the word "bridge" in their names. Those designers that dealt with moving loads used Canadian Engineering Standards Association Standard A1 (3rd edition) as a guide. By 1942, the ties with AISC were loosened and the CISC was granted a Dominion Charter as a non-profit trade association.

The CISC aided the Canadian government during WWII. Manning continued his work with the association after returning from service. In 1947, he used the tests and research of Dean C.R. Young and Peter Gillespie and advocated for the inclusion of steel in the National Building Code of Canada.

CISC published the Code of Field Practice for Assembly of High-Strength Bolts in 1954. It originated in the work completed by the Research Council on Riveted and Bolted Structural Joints, subsequently the Research Council on Structural Connection, and published as a specification in 1951. The Code of Field Practice was subsequently adopted throughout Canada, by the US Bureau of Roads, and was reviewed by the British Institute of Structural Engineers.


Boulanger, Sylvie and Michael Gilmor (Summer, 2005). CISC 1930-2005. A homage to the past. Advantage Steel, 23, 9-15.


Anonymous RACookPE1978 said...

Thank you.

Spent my youth (pre-OSHA!) climbing over and around the steel plate and eqpt on Saturdays and Sundays as my dad finished running the original ammonia-based "blueprint" drawings ... And I'm still climbing through powerplants now working on the turbines and generators.

R A Cook, PE (nuclear)

24/4/09 04:33  

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