History of the ASME Code

O'Donnell Consulting Engineers

History of the ASME Code

Keywords: 1905 explosion; ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code; American Society of Mechanical Engineers; ASME Rules of Construction; Steam Boilers; 

On March 20, 1905, a disastrous boiler explosion occurred in a shoe factory in Brockton, Massachusetts, killing 58 persons, injuring 117 others, and causing a quarter of a million dollars in property damage. For years prior to 1905, boiler explosions had been regarded as either inevitable evil or an “act of God”.

But this catastrophic incident had the effect of making the people of Massachusetts see the necessity of legislating rules and regulations for the construction of steam boilers in order to secure their safety. After much debate and discussion, the state enacted the first legal code of rules for the construction of steam boilers in 1907.

In 1908 the state of Ohio passed similar legislation, the Ohio Board of Boiler Rules adopting, with a few changes, the Rules of the Massachusetts Board.

Subsequently, other states and cities in which explosions had taken place began to realize that accidents could be prevented by the proper design, construction and inspection of boilers and pressure vessels and began to formulate rules and regulations for this purpose. As regulations differed from state to state and often conflicted with one another, manufacturers found it difficult to construct vessels for use in one state that would be accepted in another.

Because of this lack of uniformity, both manufacturers and users made an appeal in 1911 to the Council of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to correct the situation. The Council answered the appeal by appointing a committee to “formulate standard specifications for the construction of steam boilers and other pressure vessels for their care of service.”

The first committee consisted of seven members, all experts in their respective fields: one boiler insurance engineer, one material manufacturer, two boiler manufactures, two professors of engineering, and one consulting engineer. The committee was assisted by an advisory committee of 18 engineers representing various phases of design, construction, installation and operation of boilers.

Following a thorough study of the Massachusetts and Ohio rules and other useful data, the committee made its preliminary report in 1913 and sent 2000 copies to professors of mechanical engineering, engineering departments of insurance companies, chief inspectors of boiler inspection departments of states and cities, manufacturers of steam boilers, and others interested in the construction and operation of steam boilers, with a request for changes or additions to the proposed regulations.

After three years of countless meetings and public hearings, a final draft of the first ASME Rules for Construction of Stationary Boilers and for Allowable Working Pressures, known as the 1914 edition, was adopted in the spring of 1915.

Since 1914, many changes have been made and new sections added to the Code as the need arose.
The present sections are:

Section I Power Boilers
Section II Material Specifications
Ferrous Materials, Part A
Nonferrous Materials, Part B
Welding Rods, Electrodes and Filler Metals, Part C
Properties, Part D
Section II, Division 1 Nuclear Power Plant Components
Subsection NCA: General Requirements
Subsection NB: Class 1 Components
Subsection NC: Class2 Components
Subsection ND: Class 3 Components
Subsection NE: Class MC Components
Subsection NF: Component Supports
Subsection NG: Core Support Structures
Section III Division 2 Concrete Reactor Vessel Containments
Section IV Heating Boilers
Section V Nondestructive Examinations
Section VII Recommended Rules for Care of Power Boilers
Section VIII Division 1 Pressure Vessels
Section VIII Division 2 Pressure Vessels – Alternative Rules
Section IX Welding and Brazing Qualifications
Section X Fiberglass reinforced Plastic Pressure Vessels
Section XI Rules for In-service Inspection of Nuclear Power Plant Components

Reference: “Pressure Vessels – The ASME Code Simplified” Robert Chuse & Bryce E. Carson, Sr. 7th Edition, McGraw Hill, 1993

 Other Resources

ASME Standards
ASME Committee on Design Method


OCE Resources

Background of the ASME Code


O’Donnell Consulting Performs Engineering Design and Analysis on Pressure Vessels, Heat Exchangers and other Process Equipment to ASME Codes. We also perform Below the Hook Analysis to ASME BTH-1 and B30.20.

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