Following the development of agriculture, the initial formation of cities, and bureaucratic governments, some people decided that it would be good to adopt a standardized form of measurement to improve the efficiency of trade and taxation. This standardization included weights, volume, and length.

The early forms of measurement, which were emerging by 5,000 years ago, were based on the human body. The cubit, for example, was the length from the inside of a man’s elbow to the tip of his outstretched middle finger. The cubit was subdivided into digits—the width of the finger, not the length. One cubit was 28 digits. The problem with using the human body as the basis for measurement, as some people noticed, was that not all people were the same size. There had to be a better way, perhaps a scientific way, to determine measurements.

The solution to the dilemma of accurate, reliable, and scientific measurement can be traced to the French Revolution. The French Revolution broke out in 1789. The revolution brought not only great changes to the French government, but also resulted in the adoption of the metric system as a standard form of French measurement. Over the next two centuries this standard of measurement would be adopted by all of the industrialized nations of the world, with the notable exception of the United States, and by nearly all of the developing nations as well.

The decimal system was introduced in Europe by Simon Steven, a Flemish mathematician, in his pamphlet De Thiende. He introduced dominate numbers into daily life. He suggested that it would be logical to have decimal coinage, measures, and weights.

The metric system was first proposed in 1670 by Gabriel Mouton, the vicar of St. Paul’s Church in Lyon, France. Mouton, who was also an astronomer, suggested that measurement should be based on the dimensions of the earth. He proposed that a sensible system of weights and measures be adopted, a system in which the units would be divided decimally. Such a system would allow for easier and more accurate computation of measurements. It would also make it easier for scientists from different countries to exchange information.

In 1790, the National Assembly ordered the French Academy of Sciences to devise a metric system. Since this was France, it was decided that the meridian passing through Paris from the North Pole to the equator should serve as the fixed distance. One ten-millionth of that distance was then designated as a meter. The Academy proposed that one one-hundreth of a meter should be designated as a centimeter and one one-thousandth of a meter should be designated as a millimeter. One thousand meters would become a kilometer.

To determine weight, the Academy turned to the weight of one cubic centimeter of water at 4° C. This was designated as a gram. The kilogram was therefore the weight of one liter of water. One liter is the volume of a cube which measures 10 centimeters on each side (i.e. 1,000 cubic centimeters).

The French Academy of Science completed its work on the metric system in 1793, but it took until 1799 for it to be adopted as the official standard of measurement. The metric system was adopted under the motto “For all the people, all the time.” It was intended to be a universal system, a system to be used by the common people as well as engineers and scientists.

In the 1867 Paris Exhibition there was a stand devoted to the metric system. By 1872, the only European countries which had not adopted the metric system were Russia and the United Kingdom. In 1927, the Metric Association and the General Federal Association of Women’s Clubs, bolstered by petitions signed by millions of Americans, lobbied the American Congress to adopt the system. However, manufacturers opposed it so it was not adopted.

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#### Comment Preferences

• ##### we really ought to switch(17+ / 0-)

most of the world has.

Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility (not an original but rather apt)

• ##### Speaking as a foot-pound-watt guy,(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
ER Doc, Ojibwa, WestCider

please wait till I leave the building.

• ##### We've been waiting. (2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa, waterstreet2013

Turns out, as long as we keep using and teaching our ridiculous and outdated system, well... you ft.-lb. guys aren't going anywhere.

One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain -Bob Marley

[ Parent ]

• ##### I learned MKS in high school and was ever(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa, waterstreet2013

after incapable of learning the US system. Sad truth.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

[ Parent ]

• ##### The US is one of three countries...(17+ / 0-)

...not using the metric system.  The others are Burma and Liberia. I remember we tried it in the 70s but it didn't click with football filed dimensions or something. IMO not using the metric system causes friction, delays and profit loses in business and it disrupts science learning.  But NASA does use it, thankfully.

This has to change.

Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

• ##### NASA uses it sometimes.(7+ / 0-)

Wasn't there a famous case not too many years ago where a space probe screwed the pooch because half the figuring had been done in metric system... and the rest not?

• ##### We so use it, wrt large containers of soft drinks(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
ER Doc, enhydra lutris, Ojibwa, Shockwave

as a counterpoint, Michael Bloomberg types might say that that puts us just "this much" closer to death.

Bottom line, he's not helping at all in this regard.

• ##### Ugh - "so" should be "do" in the title(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa

seems like this is jsut another sub-par day for the DialyKos spell-checkers . .. .

• ##### re: Common people(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa, Shockwave, ER Doc, enhydra lutris
It was intended to be a universal system, a system to be used by the common people as well as engineers and scientists.
As a common person, I was always confused and still am! I have a hard time deciding if I'm speeding or not when the speedometer shows both systems and my heart is pounding because I just passed a cop.

We are all in this together.

• ##### One of my favorite books(11+ / 0-)

is The Measure of All Things by Ken Adler on this very topic.  Utterly gripping and fascinating.

Thanks, Ojibwa.

" My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

• ##### Cheers! (8+ / 0-)

To half-liters, not U.S. pints of beer!

I'm part of the "bedwetting bunch of website Democrat base people (DKos)." - Rush Limbaugh, 10/16/2012 Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

• ##### Mmm, I'm with you there, tom 47(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
tom 47, Ojibwa

• ##### ...(10+ / 0-)
"We still have the poetry of mile after mile in our lives and not kilometer after kilometer."

"If you pour some music on whatever's wrong, it'll sure help out." Levon Helm

• ##### Heh, Guffaw! Chortle! Wheeze! That last verse is(6+ / 0-)

for me and you've made my day today, BOHICA. Thanks. :o)

Dance lightly upon the Earth, Sing her songs with wild abandon, Smile upon all forms of Life ...and be well.

[ Parent ]

• ##### You've saved me a search!(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
BOHICA, Ojibwa

Thank you!

I was thinking about that song as I began scrolling through the comments.

• ##### I don't see how a country(6+ / 0-)

that uses fifths, acres, bushels and various other oddball measurements can find the metric system confusing.

# Pints in a quart? Quarts in a gallon? Ounces in a Fifth? Teaspoons in a Tablespoon? Don't forget a dry cup is a different quantity than an a cup of liquid.

Which wrench is bigger, 5/8ths or 9/16ths?

Metric is just tens, hundreds and thousands.

If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

• ##### We use metric, but don't speak it. Check the(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa, Redfire, Marko the Werelynx

stuff around you. The bolts in your car and appliances are very likely to be metric. The average piece of sheet goods is too, but we didn't change the names. A 4' by 8' by half-inch piece of plywood or mdx board is more often than not the closest metric equivalent. Cloth is still cut to yards but I'd be very interested to know the precise widths of bolts thereof.

750ml bottles of wine and other beverages, pills in gm and mg are explicitly metric. What are your tires?  How about bicycle shoes?

What about Graham Nash? It isn't Ounce Nash, now, is it?

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

• ##### The US has taken several steps...(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa, Redfire

...to convert officially to the metric system, but it has not caught on.

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

• ##### I remember(4+ / 0-)

when I was in school (in the 60's) a lot of people wanted t change to metric.

We were taught ... how difficult it was to convert.

Dolts.

I use metric when doing personal projects.

I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

• ##### 50+ years ago(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa, Marko the Werelynx

we learned the metric system in grade school because it was only a matter of time before we would switch to what the rest of the world used.

I really don't understand why we don't just do it. It's not that big a deal.

• ##### Because,(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa

"Freeeeeeee-dumb!!!"

Change is hard y'know.

It'd take an executive order by a cruel and heartless despot who hates Amurika.

I saw a bit of dual signage in the US the last time I was stateside. If the Feds just rammed through legislation requiring the use of the metric system on all interstate highways with the penalty for noncompliance a withholding of federal funding things might slowly change.

Similar threats worked for the 55 mph speed limit (now defunct) and the raising of the drinking age to 19 and then to 21.

• ##### I guess in the UK(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa

they're still using barleycorns to measure their feet with.

The continental European system of using "French Points" which are an awkward 2/3 cm long is practically just as ridiculous.

• ##### Way back in 1985(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Ojibwa

I had lived in the US for almost a year and was re-aclimating to using the old system (Canada having switched to metric over a decade earlier).  My mom and aunt came to visit me and discovered a distant relative living in Shreveport, LA.  As part of a larger trip we stopped and had dinner with him and his wife who was a local.  When the topic of measurement came up over dinner his wife was astounded to discover that an entirely different system of measurement existed!  She had never heard of the metric system (and she worked in a bank!) and was horrified to think that she might have to (someday) grapple with temperature, distance, etc. in a different system.  I think my mom and aunt felt like they have walked into the twilight zone.

"To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

• ##### Words from JFK(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Metric Only, Ojibwa

The work of keeping our Republic great is that of all citizens: "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." In the 1990s, I decided one of the things I could do for my country was to transition to the International System of Units (SI). I did so because I wanted to be a better scientist (have commonsense reference points for the quantities I was dealing with in literature and in experimental design) and market the USA to our potential customers around the world. Also, my experience with its use on family vacations to Canada convinced me of its user-friendliness.

By 1999 I was using SI exclusively in all of my activities and have used it all of my adult life. I'd encourage folks to try SI out in their daily lives. I'm more than happy to help in providing simple, everyday references for SI units.