Weights & Measures

About Us

South Dakota's gross domestic product is approximately 23 billion dollars annually. Based on national estimates, over 50% of the sales of products or services contributing to this total are impacted by weights and measures laws. Industry sectors potentially impacted by weights and measures laws include retail food sales, other retail sales, petroleum products, transportation and chemicals.

The South Dakota Weights and Measures Program, located within the Department of Public Safety, conducts scheduled inspections of small scales in grocery stores, delicatessens, schools, clinics and community health offices; gasoline and diesel pump meters; Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and refined fuel meters; and large capacity scales at grain elevators, livestock auction barns, truck scales and farm scales. We also investigate consumer complaints related to packaging (net contents accuracy), labeling, petroleum quality, and scanning devices.

South Dakota maintains a registry of service agents who are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of weighing and measuring devices in the State. We also operate the South Dakota Metrology Laboratory located in Pierre which, in addition to maintaining reference standards provided by the Federal government, provides tolerance testing of selected State and industry measuring devices.


The United States Constitution granted Congress the power to (among other things): "...fix the Standard of Weights and Measures." Having the power to do so did not, however, make this an easy task. The weights and measures used in the British colonies of North America were all English in origin but were highly diverse. The variety in the colonies reflected the diversity of customary usage in England, and competing units of measure caused confusion.

For example, all of the following capacity measures were used in the colonies: the firkin, kilderkin, strike, hogshead, tierce, pipe, butt, and puncheon. Even when the same unit was used from colony to colony or locality to locality, it often was not assigned the same value. A bushel of oats in Connecticut weighed 28 pounds, but in New Jersey it weighed 32 pounds.

The rationale behind a locality's adoption of a particular measure was often obscure. The port of Alexandria, Virginia used a bushel measure which was used in England for a time around 1266. With the addition of New York to the British colonies in 1664, a whole new set of Dutch measures was introduced. After the American Revolution, French and Spanish measures were brought into the mix as the young nation expanded to encompass Louisiana and Florida.

Several early Presidents, fearing that American commerce could be injured by such diversity, encouraged Congress to exercise the power granted it in the Constitution. These Executive proddings were in vain. Congress remained reluctant to take action in this sphere.

As American manufacturing adopted industrial forms of organization, more accurate measures were needed. Furthermore, with the advent of the "Age of Electricity," a greater variety of measures needed standardization than ever before. In the absence of this standardization, American industrial products had become increasingly unreliable. Standardization in commercial transactions was also badly wanting. As markets expanded, the nation required greater uniformity in its measures.

While most states had adopted the standards provided by the Federal government, they had not adequately attended to their enforcement duties. Over the years, States had allowed their statute books to become a jumble of conflicting regulations.

On March 3, 1901, President McKinley signed into law a bill establishing the National Bureau of Standards. The Bureau of Standards did not have the statutory authority to enforce compliance with weights and measures laws. These laws were, after all, state laws; however, between 1909 and 1911, the Bureau sent inspectors to every state in order to test scales, weights, and dry and liquid measures. Reporters covered this weights and measures crusade with zest, motivating several states to enact a model weights and measures law proposed by the Bureau. A Bureau proposal to require that the net weight, measure, or numerical count of contents be printed on sealed packages was accomplished by a 1913 amendment to the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906).

The National Bureau of Standards [now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)] is responsible for promoting uniformity in U.S. weights and measures laws, regulations, and standards to achieve equity between buyers and sellers in the marketplace. The State of South Dakota is responsible maintaining standards provided by the Federal government and the establishment and enforcement of our own laws that promote equity between the buyer and the seller regardless of whether that market is local or is worldwide.