CAGI marks its centennial

Compressed air management has a rich legacy after 100 years.


Right now, inside your plant, compressed air is generating enormous power that is crucial to your plant’s productivity. It could be that compressed air is used in your production process.  Or perhaps compressed medical air or gas is used in your local hospital or dental clinic. Known as “industry’s fourth utility” (electricity, gas, and water being the other three), this invisible source of power is safe, clean, easy to use, and increasingly energy efficient.

The group that steers manufacturers in the compressed air equipment segment is the Compressed Air and Gas Institute (CAGI), which marks its centennial year in 2015. This is the story of how one of America’s oldest trade associations has grown and developed into the industry’s most influential entity.

CAGI’s rich history is distinguished by remarkable advances along several fronts, but two key areas stand out:

  • Developing standards and programs that refine the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of compressed air systems and tools
  • Producing cutting-edge educational tools.

But let’s start at the beginning…

In 1915 the Compressed Air Society is established for manufacturers of compressed air systems.Born amid America’s growing power

A new trade association for compressed air systems emerged when the U.S. Justice Department relaxed its rules in order to strengthen America’s international economic power. The result was stronger industries and new trade associations that exchanged lawful and helpful information, shared industry statistics, and produced improvements to manufacturing practices.

In this environment, the “Compressed Air Society” was established in 1915 to bring together manufacturers of compressed air systems to solve common problems, promote the industry, and work for the greater good.

Progress through pain

Having passed through the comfort and affluence of the Roaring Twenties, the Society found itself in the midst of the Great Depression. When the industry’s companies were faced with a serious challenge to survive, the association took two huge steps that would positively shape its work and influence for decades to come.

At the society’s annual meeting in New York City in 1933, the Compressed Air Society changed its name to the Compressed Air Institute (CAI). As an educationally and technically oriented “institute,” CAI realized the benefits of a concerted effort to develop standards and produce educational tools. Product standards would direct the institute’s focus toward continual improvement in technical and regulatory aspects of compressed air products. Educational materials would inform key audiences about these products and their benefits.

In 1947 the first edition of the Compressed Air Handbook is published. The first major achievements

The Technical Committee moved quickly to address a safety code for working with compressed air. In 1938, CAI formally adopted codes for centrifugal and displacement compressors.

The first major accomplishment of the Educational Committee was a concerted effort to produce an exhaustive and authoritative reference work about compressed air and the proper installation, use, and maintenance of compressors and pneumatic equipment. Progress in developing this massive resource was stalled by America’s total investment in the war effort.

As the war was winding down in 1945, the Compressed Air Institute changed its name again to recognize the growing number of the industry’s products that used the compression of gases other than air. The new name stuck: the Compressed Air and Gas Institute (CAGI).

In 1947, CAGI’s Educational Committee finally completed its momentous achievement: the Compressed Air Handbook. By 1951, 16,000 volumes had been distributed, with 2,000 copies in the hands of non-members, booksellers, libraries, and students.

The association publishes the third edition of the handbook, changing its name to the Compressed Air and Gas Handbook in 1961.Educational progress: 1950-1970

Shortly after work on the handbook concluded, the Educational Committee focused its efforts on teaching more key audiences about the benefits of compressed air. Those efforts were often significant projects that used cutting-edge communication tools to carry that message.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, even before the ABC television network began, CAGI produced a motion picture film, titled “Compressed Air Power,” targeted for use in colleges and engineering schools. The film would continue to be used for the next 40 years.

CAGI’s innovative efforts turned heads. In a 1952 competition with other U.S. trade associations, CAGI received a distinguished service award for its progressive educational program. Encouraged by such success, CAGI devoted more than half of its budget to the Educational Committee.

The institute published the second edition of the Compressed Air Handbook in 1954, followed by the third edition in 1966. Between these two editions, in 1962, CAGI’s Rock Drill Section published its Handbook on Preventative Maintenance.

Through the 1960s, CAGI invested significant time and funding to producing educational articles in professional publications such as Plant Engineering. This initiative would soon generate more than 40 expert articles on key issues involving compressed air.

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