U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Volume 112, Number 1, January-February 2007.


In 1900, measuring the purity of sugar was a problem with serious economic consequences, and Congress created the Bureau of Standards in part to create accurate standards for saccharimetry. To direct the Polarimetry Section, Director Stratton hired the young chemist Frederick Bates, who went on to make significant contributions to the discipline of sugar chemistry. This paper explores four of Bates’s greatest accomplishments: identifying the error caused by clarifying lead acetate, inventing the remarkable quartz-compensating saccharimeter with adjustable sensibility, discovering the significant error in the prevailing Ventzke saccharimetric scale, and reviving the International Commission for Uniform Methods of Sugar Analysis to unify the international community of chemists after the tensions of World War One. It also shows how accomplishments in saccharimetry reflected the growing importance and confidence of the Bureau of Standards, and how its scientific success smoothed the operation of American commerce.