This post is in honor of May being National Historic Preservation Month
Two years ago, our former director Gary Blackmer wrote about Oregon’s long history of auditing. He outlined how Oregon’s territorial statutes of 1854 called for an auditor to report recommendations “for lessening the public expenses; for using public money to the best advantage; for promoting frugality and economy in public offices; and generally, for the better management and more perfect understanding of the fiscal affairs’ of the state”.
One of those recommendations was to provide sufficient resources to the state penitentiary. Territorial auditor B.F. Bonham noted in 1857 that “The amount appropriated by the Legislative Assembly ($2,500) annually for the support of the penitentiary department, is wholly inadequate for that purpose, and must be increased unless a reorganization can be effected”. In 2017 dollars, the amount allocated would be approximately $70,000 per year, which I think we can all agree would have been wholly inadequate to operate a state prison.
Oregon’s founding fathers designed our constitution with accountability and independence in mind based on our territorial experience. Drafted in 1857, Oregon’s constitution calls for the Secretary of State to be the “auditor of public accounts”.
In 1897, Secretary H.R. Kincaid reported on what could now be termed a performance audit and certainly the earliest known audit from our office. The Secretary was concerned the state was purchasing paper without verifying the quantity of paper received. Secretary Kincaid reported “Soon after taking charge of this office I bought a pair of scales for the purpose of weighing paper which is purchase by weight for the public printing. The first lot of paper received for the state printer after the scales were obtained fell short of the weight charged in the bill several hundred pounds, amounting to about nineteen dollars, which sum was deducted from the bill. Since then full weight has been required. This has no doubt saved to the state many times the cost of the scales. Previous to the time mentioned thousands of dollars work of paper had been received and paid for ever year on bills of shippers without being weighed here to verify the correctness of the weight charges in the bills”.
Recently, I was at the Oregon office of Publishing and Distribution. While there I saw a small historic exhibit with some old printing equipment and some very old scales.
And wouldn’t you know it, one of the scales had a serial number dated 1890.
From a report from the State Treasurer in 1897, the state made several disbursements to the Howe Scale Company (Thank you Google for digitizing the book and making it text searchable and thank you Treasurer Phil Metschan for the excellent transparency of Oregon’s expenditures). The largest disbursement to Howe Scale company was for $71.50, which matches the report by Secretary Kincaid since the scales cost more than what was saved on the first weighing ($19.00).
Given all of the evidence, from the Secretary’s report on purchasing two scales to a corresponding the serial number date (these scales were made in Vermont and would have taken a long time to cross the country or sail to the west coast), and the Treasurer’s report showing a payment to Howe Scales that matches the Secretary’s report, it seems more likely than not that this scale is one of the pair H.R. Kincaid used more than 120 years ago to do some innovative performance audit work.
The scale shown above cost roughly $22.50 according to this 1900 catalog. The scale’s current value – priceless.