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ASTM International was formed in 1898 in the United States as the American Society for Testing and Materials by a group of scientists and engineers, led by Charles Benjamin Dudley, to address the frequent rail breaks plaguing the fast-growing railroad industry. The group developed a standard for the steel used to fabricate rails. It predates other standards organizations such as BSI (1901), DIN (1917) and AFNOR (1926), but differs from these in that it is not a national standards body, that role being taken in the USA by ANSI. However, it has a dominant role among standards developers in the USA, and claims to be the world's largest developer of standards.
Today, ASTM International supports thousands of technical committees, which draw their members from around the world and collectively maintain more than 12,000 standards. The Annual Book of ASTM Standards consists of 77 volumes.
The standards produced by ASTM International fall into four categories:
the Standard Specification, that defines the requirements to be satisfied by subject of the standard.
the Standard Test Method, that defines the way a test is performed. The result of the test may be used to assess compliance with a Specification.
the Standard Practice, that defines a sequence of operations that, unlike a test, does not produce a result.
the Terminology Standard, that provides agreed definitions of terms used in the other standards.
The quality of the standard test methods is such that they are frequently used world-wide, even in places where ASTM specifications are not used.