Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why is everything on 8.5" x 11" paper?

Turns out that paper doesn't just naturally grow on trees in 8.5" x 11" sheets.

Image courtesy FeatheredTar

In fact, most of the world uses the international standard A4 size, 8.3" x 11.7". Until a few decades ago, the official paper size of the U.S. government was 8" x 10.5".

When Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce, he proposed using 8" x 10.5" ("government-letter size") for all government forms. One explanation is that this was the size used by schools, and using a standard size would lower prices.

On August 30, 1921, President Herbert Hoover set up the Committee on the Simplification of Paper Sizes as part of his Elimination of Waste in Industry program.

Richard P. Stephenson, who was in the Office of Records Management in 1979 at the Government Services Administration, sorrowfully recounted a 1923 meeting between the 8" x 10.5" and 8.5" x 11" camps: ". . . .  [T]hey did not agree."

The 8" x 10.5" government-letter size camp won out for 58 years. But with the rising prominence of photocopy machines, the commercial letter 8.5" x 11" size eventually edged out its smaller competitor. Congress and the courts had already moved away from the smaller paper.

Effective January 1, 1980, the government adopted  8.5" x 11" letter size paper as the standard size for U.S. government forms. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) sent a memo addressed "To the Heads of All Departments and Agencies" to inform them that the Joint Committee on Printing had unanimously adopted a new standard paper size.

The change was not a small one. In 1978, the government used 1.4 billion sheets of paper.

Interestingly enough, this has become an evidentiary question for conspiracy theorists and 20th Century history buffs alike. An original document printed in the 40s and 50s would have been printed on smaller government size paper.

For more:

No comments:

Post a Comment