George D. Edwards
First president of ASQ
The consensus that’s necessary to form a nation or a professional society is not attained easily. One person or a small group of people must have the strength and vision to guide the larger body. And, even after consensus has been achieved, it is a given that divergent opinions will reemerge to test the group's unity. At that point, survival of the body may depend on the wisdom of the constitution drafted by the group’s early leaders.
George DeForest Edwards, the first president of ASQ (1946-48), served in both the creation and preservation functions. His reputation in quality control had been established by his work as head of the inspection engineering department of Bell Telephone Laboratories and as Bell’s director of quality assurance, a term he coined. During World War II, he served as a consultant to the Army Ordnance Department, and later to the War Production Board.
That reputation brought him to the attention of Martin Brumbaugh and Al Davis, who were struggling to unite the many local quality control organizations that existed in the United States in the early 1940s. Already two umbrella groups existed: the Society for Quality Control, which sought to absorb locals into a single group, and the Federation of Quality Control Societies, formed by locals that wanted to preserve their individual identities.
When Brumbaugh offered him the presidency of the Federation, Edwards stipulated that the vast majority of locals would have to be attracted to membership. In 1971, Edwards recalled, “I told them that I did not wish to be part of a small clique.”
Edwards envisioned a group much like today’s ASQ—one of sufficient consensus that it can speak and act for the profession, but relying heavily on its sections for input and a sense of direction. “I aimed at an essentially decentralized organization that would do for many small units only those things that no individual unit could do nearly so well for itself,” Edwards said.
Edwards retired from Bell in 1955 but he remained active in ASQ, serving as chair of the Committee on Constitution and Bylaws, and later as deputy executive secretary for dues abatement.
In 1960, ASQ recognized the administrative skill of its first president by establishing the Edwards Medal, to be awarded to “those who have made signal contributions through outstanding administrative service either to quality control programs in industry or to the society.”
On the occasion of ASQ’s 25th anniversary in 1971, Edwards, then 81, observed that the requirements for successful administration of a society are “maturity, financial stability, and professional soundness.” On maturity he elaborated, “Be sure you’re not trying to put on long pants too soon. Recognize that even highly successful experience in one or even several individual jobs doesn’t automatically provide anybody with knowledge of how to run a professional society.”
The second of Edwards’ points should require no elaboration, but on professional soundness he said ASQ should aim at “advancing the technical state and the application of the quality control art and informing its members as to advances [in that art].”
In Quality Progress' 25th anniversary issue, Edwards said that his personal credo emphasized the value of “sticking one’s neck out.” Maximum success in this activity involves two things: “The first, being right; the second, timing.”
Also in that issue, Edwards stuck his neck out on several issues of the day. He said ASQ’s Education and Training Institute should offer courses around the country, rather than concentrate on the Milwaukee area just because headquarters was located there. “I do believe we should encourage quality control in colleges and technical schools whenever possible, and in no case should we compete with or duplicate their efforts,” he said.
“When it comes to changing the society’s name,” Edwards said “I wonder whether, within a year or two of such a change, some other society faction would not wish to change it again. In the long run, we would only lose our 25 years of history. I don’t think the words, ‘quality control’ are limiting at all. Opponents of these words tend to limit their concept of the term rather than to expand the concept.”
While Edwards continued to observe and comment on ASQ until his death in 1974, he felt that a past president ought not serve too active a role, but pass the torch to younger leaders.