Metric system

France adopts the metric system

(WHTM) — Humans have been measuring things for millennia. We’ve had cubits, stadia, longtons, shorttons, shipping tons, hides, oxgangs, buddams, gills, hogsheads, hobbits (yes, seriously!), uncias, roods, zolotniks, antsingae, paus, picks and salt spoons – to name very, very few.

The problem, however, has always been to come up with standardized measurements. Many measurements were based on parts of the human body – the foot, of course, was based on the foot, a yardstick was based on the length of an arm, and the hand (still used to measure the height of horses) was based on the hand. The closest to any kind of standardization would be when a monarch declared that all measurements in the kingdom would be based on their hands, arms and feet. Of course, this would only be good in this realm and would often change when the next monarch ascended the throne.

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Everyone could see the benefits of having international units of measurement, but nothing came of it until the 1700s – and it took the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 to shake things up. In 1790, the National Assembly of France asked the Academy of Sciences to “deduce an invariable standard for all measures and all weights”. to replace the system put in place under the reign of Charlemagne. (Perfectly good system in its own way, but people kept playing with the measurements.) The system created by the academy was beautifully simple and guided by the notion of deriving measurements from nature. The base unit of length, the meter (or meter if you prefer) would equal one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator along a line of longitude. (This length has similarly changed, although more precise methods of measuring the meter have replaced the line of longitude.)

The new system was also decimal. Ten millimeters equal one centimeter and 100 centimeters equal one meter. Conversions could be done by simply moving a decimal point — none of that “16 ounces to a pound” or “12 inches to a foot” quirk.

Units of volume and mass were derived from the meter. A gram is a cubic centimeter of water cooled to just above freezing point. (1000 grams = 1 Kilogram.) The liter is the volume of one cubic decimeter (1/10 meter).

The French government adopted this new metric system on April 7, 1795. A conference including scientists from France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Spain and Italy worked from 1798 to 1799 to design meters and standard kilograms, which were later made from platinum. . France adopted these official standards in 1799.

Over the next two centuries, the metric system, or the International System of Units (SI) as it is now officially known, took the world by storm. The United States legalized the use of the metric system in 1866, and although we use the English system of measurement on a daily basis, it is quite difficult to find a product on our shelves that does not list its metric. equivalent.

And for what it’s worth, all of our English units of measurement – feet, inches, pounds, yards, etc. – have been officially defined by metric units since 1893…

Information for this article comes from:

Obsolete Units of Measurement from Wikipedia

Wikipedia-French units of measurement before the Revolution

Wikipedia-Metric system

Demystify the metric system