Seattle Weights and Measures Regulation 1911-2011:
A Century of Consumer Protection
Regulation of weights and measures in Seattle began in 1911. The technology has changed in the 100 years since then but the duty to protect the consumer has not. The following is a brief history of the early years.
The City Council established weights and measures regulation in Seattle with the passage of Ordinance No. 26018 (the “1910 Ordinance”) on December 27, 1910. The Mayor signed the ordinance on December 31, 1910.
ORDINANCE NO. 26018. An ordinance relating to the weighing, measuring and inspecting all commodities sold or offered for sale by weight or measure within the City of Seattle; to enforce the keeping of proper legal weights and measures by all vendors in the City; to provide for the inspection thereof, inspection fees therefor, and the issuance of licenses therefor; and providing penalties for violation thereof.
The Superintendent of Public Utilities, A. L. Valentine, was designated the ex-officio Superintendent of Weights and Measures and was authorized to appoint an Inspector of Weights and Measures at the salary of $1,500 per year payable monthly. On February 28, 1911, the mayor signed Ordinance No. 26477 authorized the establishment of aWeights and Measures Division and the appointment of three inspectors and a bookkeeper/stenographer.
ORDINANCE NO. 26477. BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY OF SEATTLE AS FOLLOWS:
Section 1. That the Superintendent of Public Utilities be and he hereby is authorized to employ in the Weights and Measures Division of the Public Utilities Department, subject to Civil Service Rules and Regulations, the following employees whose salaries shall be as indicated:
One (1 Inspector of Weights and Measures at a salary not to exceed One Hundred and Twenty-five ($125.00) Dollars per month;
One (1) Assistant Inspector of Weights and Measures at a salary not to exceed One Hundred and Fifteen ($115.00) Dollars per month;
One Assistant Inspector of Weights and Measures at a salary not to exceed One Hundred ($100.00) Dollars per month; and
One Book-keeper and Stenographer at a salary not to exceed Eighty-five ($85.00) Dollars per month.
Arthur W. Rinehart was the initial appointment to the position of Chief Inspector in Weights and Measures Division on April 20, 1911. Rinehart, age 36, lived at 314 East Thomas Street. He was born in Silver City, Idaho, lived in Portland briefly, then relocated to Seattle 12 years previously. Prior to the appointment, Rinehart was employed for five years in the Comptroller’s Office for the City of Seattle and, before that, he worked for six years in the real estate firm M. N. Kruppenberg & Company.
Leslie J. Allen was appointed as the first assistant inspector of weights and measures effective May 15, 1911. At the time of the appointment, Allen was employed as an accountant by the Pacific Coast Company. Subsequently, C. Y. Jared was appointed as the second assistant inspector of weights and measures. The assistant inspectors were not appointed until the weights and measures standards arrived from the National Bureau of Standards.
The inspectors of weights and measures were given the powers of special policemen and were empowered to make arrests for any violations of the 1910 Ordinance. The penalties provided for convictions were fines ranging from $5 - $100 and/or up to 30 days confinement in city jail. The inspectors were charged with performing annual inspections of scales using test weights certified against weight standards approved by the National Bureau of Standards. Scales that failed to meet tolerances prescribed by the Superintendent of Weights and Measures were condemned. The condemned scales were confiscated and destroyed if the vendors could not correct the scales within ten days. It was made unlawful for any vendor to use any weights and measures unless they were tested and sealed by the Superintendent of Weights and Measures.
The expenses of the new Weights and Measures Division were to be reimbursed by inspection fees collected for every weighing and measuring device used to sell a commodity. A fee of $0.50 was charged for inspecting and sealing scales with a capacity below 35 pounds that were commonly used in the public markets to sell produce. The fee for inspecting and sealing a liquid measure with a capacity of one gallon and upwards, such as gasoline pumps used at filling stations, was $0.25.
In 1912, the City Council removed the inspection fees and paid the budget of the Division from the general fund.
On February 10th a revised ordinance took effect along the line of the Council’s general policy, removing the inspection fees and meeting the cost of maintaining the Weights and Measures Division from the general fund since the whole people are equally benefited and should share equally in the cost.
During 1912, the first full year of activity, the Weights and Measures Division tested 2,605 scales, approved 1,928 and condemned 677. The inspectors were busy checking loads of coal in horse drawn wagons and coal sold in standard size bags. Just 47 tests were performed on gasoline oil (gasoline) pumps, 42 were approved and 13 were condemned.
Weights and measures inspectors investigated the practice of “cutting out” by icemen or cutting a 200-pound cake into nine 25-pound pieces. Ice was made in 200-pound cakes and sold from ice wagons in 25-pound pieces for use in the family ice box in the residential parts of the city. Ice companies like Seattle and Diamond (both non-union) as well as Standard and Pacific (both Iceman’s Local 192) sold ice for $5 per ton to icemen. The icemen worked 15 hours per day during the hot season and there was considerable “meltage” before the ice was delivered.
“Rinehart Appointed Weights Inspector” The Seattle Sunday Times April 23, 1911.
W. J. Rankin. “The Division of Weights and Measures, Seattle” Pacific Builder and Engineer, Vol. 12, No. 19.
“Leslie J. Allen Gets City Appointment” The Seattle Sunday Times May 7, 1911.
“New City Official Assumes Charge” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer April 22, 1911.
Seattle Ordinance No. 26018, Section 2.
City of Seattle. Annual Report of the Department of Public Utilities, 1912, p. 95.
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