Finishing Talk Southern Metal Finishing Newsletter
Account Manager - Metal Finishing Account Manager
News Room - Surface Finishing Announcements
Home Metal Finishing Back To Home

Seattle's Space Needle & A Century Of Standards

August - 2008
Previous Page

I recently participated in a week long leadership training program in Seattle, Washington - home of rainy days, a gargantuan volcano named (appropriately enough) Mt. Rainier, and of course, that world famous architectural novelty, the Space Needle. I had very little time to go sightseeing during my trip; nevertheless, I did have the opportunity to see the structure I've come to know only at a distance through shows like Frasier and the Austin Powers movies. I know it's a bit cliché - I guess the inner tourist in me just couldn't be mollified until I took the 60 story elevator ride up to the observation deck.

After my trip, I decided to do a bit of research into the design and construction of the structure, and I found quite a bit of fascinating information about the tower. It turns out that it was built to be a focal point at the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, and the final elevator car was installed only a day before the grand opening. During the Fair (which ran from April 21 to October 21) 20,000 people per day traveled up to the observation deck. And if safety was ever a concern to those early visitors, they would probably be relieved to know that the structure was built to withstand Category 5 hurricane-force winds (around 200 mph), and earthquakes up to a 9.5 magnitude. It also has 25 lightning rods, for those of you who are scared of death by lightning (which is pretty rare, actually; statistics say that in the U.S. there is only a 1 out of 700,000 chance of being struck by lightning in a given year. To put that in perspective, you are more likely to be legally executed (1 in 60,000) than be hit by a lightning bolt).

While I was educating myself on the fascinating history of the Space Needle, I came across a reference to a very familiar organization. The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) mentions in its 1998 publication A Century of Progress, the impact that its structural steel specifications had on "some of the most prestigious and demanding construction projects of the postwar era" - including the legendary Space Needle. An excerpt from the section entitled ASTM in the Postwar Economy, reads:

"Seattle's Space Needle, a soaring 600-foot steel tower that was built for the 1962 World's Fair, featured three sets of tapered steel legs made according to Standard A 36. The standard described a new type of hardened carbon steel that could handle extreme design stresses. An ASTM publication reported that the Space Needle had "less than 3-inch maximum sway at the top; it is designed for heavy seismic loads and wind gusts. The greater strength of A 36 steel permitted higher design stresses, welded fabrication, and cost savings."

I wonder if the Space Needle would have been there for me to visit if the standards for the hardened carbon steel had not been in place? What else has been standardized by the ASTM?
Presently, the ASTM develops standards for many industries, including the metals industry, with which it has a long history. It turns out that the ASTM is the oldest and most dominant standard organization in the United States, and to date is the proud parent and caretaker of over 12,000 standards. It was originally formed in 1898 by a group of scientists and engineers seeking to standardize the steel used in rail road track fabrication - apparently there were a lot of rail breaks in those days. As time went on, it developed the Committee A01 which oversees standards for Steel, Stainless Steel and Related Alloys and has a membership of 800 industry professionals and experts. Today, ASTM standards cover both ferrous and nonferrous metals, including steel, copper, aluminum and many others.

The organization is also active in the standardization of metal finishes. In fact, it is a focus of the ASTM Committee A05 on Metallic-Coated Iron and Steel Products. Over the past hundred years, the committee has developed "over 70 specifications and test methods that help protect iron and steel products against corrosion by the use of metallic coatings, as well non-metallic coatings" (ASTM & the Metals Industry: Partners in Long Term Success).

Over the years, I come to see more and more just how interconnected everything is in this world. Odd how a trip to the Space Needle can connect you to over a century of history-even though the structure itself is less than 50 years old.