History of the Metric System Part 1

About the history of the metric the simple system of measurement the United States refuses to accept.

Meet the Meter

A quarter century from now, people will be at a loss to understand why the U.S. did not long ago adopt the metric system as the predominant standard of weights and measures. Since Great Britain finished its planned conversion to the metric system in 1975, the U.S. is virtually the only industrial country in the world which still uses nonmetric units for most practical puposes. Some of the U.S.'s nonmetric allies are Burma, Gambia, Tonga. The U.S. continues to measure length in inches, feet, yards, and miles; liquids in pints, quarts, and gallons; and dry weights in ounces and pounds, bushels and pecks. And temperature still goes by the Fahrenheit scale, on which the triple point--the temperature at which ice, liquid water, and water vapor coexist in equilibrium--is arbitrarily set at 32 degree. F., and the steam point--the temperature at which water boils--at 212 degree F. The rest of the world operates almost exclusively with a unit of length called the meter and its multiples and submultiples; with a metrically defined unit of mass, namely the gram and its multiples and submultiples; and with temperature units according to the Celsius scale (formerly called the Centigrade scale), on which the triple point corresponds to 0 degree C. and the steam point to 100 degree C.

The advantages of the metric system are impressive--so much so, in fact, that the only legal standard given for the U.S. yard is the international meter (1 yard==0.914 meter). The meter, in turn, was originally defined as a 1/10,000,000 of the distance of the earth's surface from the equator to the pole and measured as such on a platinum-iridium bar kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures near Paris. When sophisticated testing methods became available which showed that the bar was subject to minimal but detectable changes in length, the meter was redefined as 1 650 763.73 wavelengths in vacuum of the orange-red line of the spectrum of the element krypton-86, which is held to be invariant.

Standards for measuring mass and volume are related to units of metric length. Thus, the gram is defined as the equivalent of the weight of one cubic centimeter of water at its maximum density; that is, of water in a container which is 1/100 of a meter in length, width, and height.

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