Hiatus and the Metric System

Figures with numbers and lines

I’m now working on book with the title “America’s biggest miscalculation.”

It was almost five years ago that I began down this road of working to bring awareness of the harm we are doing to ourselves through our lack of metric system adoption. The plan has been to do it via a documentary on the subject. (I thought it was only four until I looked it up!)

During that time I put quite a few things in my life on hold while I devoted considerable time and resources (including my own money) toward making metric system awareness a reality. I recently took some time off as a greatly needed it for multiple reasons.

That said, I am far from giving up. This is the first time that I’m saying this publicly but I’ve had discussions with a couple of different producers over the years but the funding to make the documentary has yet to materialize. As a result, I’ve decided to take a different tack.

Part of the reason I started this blog in the first place was to give you some “behind the scenes” looks at the process as it evolves. So here’s what I’m thinking…I need money to produce the documentary and, ultimately, the onus to do that falls on my shoulders.

I had originally thought that I would reach more people through a documentary than through a book but now I’m thinking I need the book to raise the money to make the documentary. I had always thought about writing a book but expected it would be more of a companion piece than the catalyst.

The additional research it will take to write the book will be considerable. For instance, something that I could gloss over in a script like, “When early man began to settle down for agriculture, measurement tools became increasing important” now needs a whole chapter that I have to back up with references and notes. At least if I want it to be any good—and I do.

I have already begun work on the book. I even took some time off to do additional work on it a couple of months ago then came down with pneumonia, which put some kinks in that plan. Still, I think (with the help of my boss, Linda Deck), we came up with what I think is the perfect book title. I needed something that would catch people’s attention, be as unique as I could get it but also not mislead anyone.

Its main title will be America’s biggest miscalculation. Not only does it perfectly describe the situation but I was unable to find another item with that exact title. I did find things named America’s biggest mistake and other such titles but the use of “miscalculation” appears to be unique. I’ve already purchased the domain names.

I am writing the book to fit that title. At my daughter’s suggestion, I purchased Scrivener software and am at almost 20,000 words into the book’s contents. Given that the average non-fiction book is around 70,000 words, I still have a ways to go but there is much more subject material to cover.

Given that I’m writing and project managing full time AND writing a major book on the metric system AND still have to do things like laundry, food prep, cleaning and organizing (where I got really far behind—I hate cleaning), etc., I plan in future to only post once a month. But I do plan to continue posting.

Just the make sure I keep my promise, I plan to write a couple more posts today so I have them ready while I work on the book.

If you want to write to me at milebehind@gmail.com to suggest topics for columns, I can’t promise I can immediately address them, but I will consider all comers.

See you in June and thanks for your patience.


New book: “The Dimensions of the Cosmos”


This book is now available from Amazon for $19.95

As well as myself, another staunch supporter of metric system adoption in the United States is Randy Bancroft, who writes a blog as “The Metric Maven.” He has a new book available called The Dimensions of the Cosmos: Tales From Sixteen Metric Worlds. It sells through Amazon for $19.95.

In the preface, the author states his intent as:

This books exists to address a problem most people don’t recognize: understanding the magnitudes of the world around us. This problem is almost invisible in countries which have used the metric system from the earliest days of its earliest days of inception. (p. iii)

He then goes on to point out that our lack of metric system adoption has left us with a mishmash (my word) of measures that make it difficult to gauge their comparative sizes between one unit and another. I couldn’t agree more.

The book itself includes a section on the metric system, and it includes references to both microscopes (and really small things) and astronomy (and really, really large things) and talks about the units themselves before starting to break down the relative sizes of the measures.

They run from the section Uniworld:

Uniworld is where we define the size of the metric units which are used as a basis. These basic units will be magnified or reduced to describe the Cosmos.  (p.22)

to Yoctoworld:

Protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, are near one yoctogram in mass. (p.177)

He covers the metric units in all their various sizes.

For instance, in Uniworld, he points out that the section:

…is about the world from 1 meter to 1000 meters but by using human dimensions as a lower end reference, we end up comparing values which are often less than one meter for context. (p.23)

He also includes a number of examples to try to help the reader grasp the various units such as:

The largest known meteorite is the Hoba meteorite in Nambia [sic] in southwestern Africa…The meteorite remains where it fell because of its large mass, 60 Megagrams. (p. 57)


The Baobab tree stores up to 100 Kiloliters of water in its trunk, which it uses to survive droughts. The volume of water stored is about four times the displacement of the diesel engine. (p. 57)


A Baobab tree

Ultimately, I’m not sure how helpful some of these references are since I doubt many people can immediately imagine what a Baobab tree looks like so the liter citation has a context.

He also uses the opportunity of the book to make a case for working only in millimeters.




The reason for this retreat from centimeters, is that for most practical everyday purposes, millimeters allow people to use integers without the need for any decimal arithmetic. (p.13)


The upper and lower casing of the metric units is not convention.

The upper and lower casing of the metric units used in the book is not convention.

Throughout the book he also begins “larger” metric units with uppercase letters and “smaller” units begin with lowercase letters (see image). The only problem with that is IT IS NOT the current naming convention. I worry that readers less familiar with the metric system might be misled into thinking that his use is accepted but it is not. I’d hate for anyone to get led down the wrong path unknowingly.

In any case, if you have any interest in the subject matter, I encourage you to purchase the book in an effort to support another person who has devoted considerable time helping our country figure out the error of our ways.



My Current Metric System Adoption Efforts

TEDx talks are regional versions of TED talks

TEDx talks are regional versions of TED talks

I apologize for the information blackout but I’ve been terribly busy with the day job for the past couple of months pulling together a corporate TEDx talk (and I think that’s all I should say since it’s internal-only, per our license). It’s the first time we’ve done this sort of thing and certainly the first time that I’ve headed up something like it. That said, the event went well and I’m now wrapping things up. Now that I’ve taken a few moments to rest, I should have more energy to devote to this documentary project again.

Even with that, I was still working on things behind the scenes. Here’s a short list of what’s in progress:

  1. I’m building a website that will have all kinds of information on everything to do with the project including a bibliography, links to information for the media and other educational information. I’m still working on it and will announce once things are further along. If there’s information you’d like to see on it, I’ll do my best to provide it.
  2. I’m building a timeline on history as it relates to measurement and the metric system in this country. It’s coming along well but once I launch it I’ll have to pay extra money on a monthly basis. (So far, everything for this project has come out of my pocket but I’m hoping to change that at some point.)
  3. I’m about to buy my first high-definition video camera. I hope to eventually have two cameras. Right now, I need a “starter” camera to get things going and hope to get a higher-end camera after my fundraising is complete. A lighting kit arrived a couple of weeks ago but haven’t even been able to play with it yet.

    Los Alamos Science Fest is coming is September

    Los Alamos Science Fest is coming is September

  4. I’ll have a booth at the upcoming Los Alamos Science Festival in September. I don’t see my activity listed yet but I’m going to demonstrate the superiority of the metric system over customary units in the kitchen with materials and scales. We don’t really use scales in the kitchen in this country since we don’t use the metric system. I think this is a hurdle we’re going to have to overcome and have felt that way ever since I chatted with the a retired, female scientist who told me she never used the metric system when she cooks though she used it every working day of her life.
  5. In conjunction with the above, I plan to make my first videos with it on how to use the metric system in the kitchen. This will help segue me back into video production. I’m hoping to make them fun and interesting and should be able to leverage them for my eventual fundraising video if not for other things.
  6. Contacts, contacts, contacts. This project is never going to get off the ground without the right people involved. Fortunately, more and more people are interested and want to help so it’s more about finding the time to do those sorts of things in the right way.
  7. Speaking of contacts, I’ve meant to pull together a mailing list for some time but haven’t gotten around to it. I think I’ll move that toward the top of my list of things to do since its size will eventually help me determine whether I’ve gotten critical mass to do some fundraising. The mailing list folks will get shorter, behind-the-scenes news about the project. If interested in joining,  subscribe by sending an email to milebehind@gmail.com.
  8. Other musings…I’ve thought about holding a metric adoption conference call or even meeting (no idea when the last time such a thing happened in this country…Roughly 30 years ago?) That’s going to take some planning to figure out how to best make such a thing happen but it will need to be done at some point. If you are interested in this type of activity, shoot me an email.

I did take three days of vacation in June and went to see my daughter while Jamie Cullum was playing in town. We had a great time!

More on the above shortly. The next column will be about our clinging to our units as some strange nod to our British history.

Thanks for staying tuned,


Someone’s in the Kitchen with the Metric System

I’ve written before about what it would take for us to integrate the metric system into our daily lives but one of the areas where it would really need to take hold is in the kitchen and grocery store. This week I’m addressing the kitchen issue.

What would need to change in YOUR American kitchen

Once the switchover occurs, you’ll be able to hold on to your liquid measuring cups (unless they’re so old they don’t have metric units on them—that would make them pretty old—time for measuring cups 2.0 me thinks.).

Kitchen scale

A sleek way to move toward metric kitchen measurement.

But you will have to give up your “dry” measuring cups (Hopefully you haven’t been using them interchangeably over the years as I once did.)

Why? Because the metric system measures mass not weight. (Be careful you don’t confuse the two. They’re not the same thing. An object’s weight can change since it’s dependent on gravity but an object’s mass doesn’t change no matter what planet it might be on. Here’s an accessible site in case you want to learn more.)

Using mass instead of volume should improve your cooking, and your baking in particular, since baking tends to be a bit more persnickety when it comes to measurements.

In fact, the King Arthur Flour website goes into quite a bit of detail about the implications of measures and includes:

Although in 1959 English-speaking scientists agreed to use the metric system for scientific and technological purposes, that’s been of little use to bakers.

Needless to say, I hope that will change (Not the right year by a long shot but at least they’ve put the two thoughts together…).

Still, I was surprised that that the company included information that apparently in this country our measuring cups can legally vary by up to 12%!   Add to that that how hard one scoops into a container of flour can also vary how much it holds—by quite a bit.

There can be a variance in how much of a dry ingredient, such as flour, is actually in a measuring device. This is affected by the manner in which it is added to the measuring cup and by how much the ingredient is compacted. Humidity is also a factor in the weight of the dry ingredient. (Recipietips.com)

Talk about a recipe for disaster!

Archimedes scale

Archimedes scale. Cool but you’d need access to water and has no tare function.

Once we transition, we’re all going to need kitchen scales. I highly recommend a digital version for a couple of reasons: most have a “tare” functions and most can switch back and forth between grams and U.S. Customary units (could be helpful until all our cookbooks are in metric units).

The tare function is really handy because let’s say you want to measure several dry ingredients measured in grams.

First, put your container on the scale and hit the tare button. The number will zero-out so you don’t have to subtract its mass before adding anything else.

Then, let’s say you need 2 grams of salt, 40 grams of butter and 13 grams of baking powder.

You could add the two grams of salt, and then add the butter until you reached 42 grams and baking soda until you reached 53 grams.

Or, much easier, just zero-out the scale with the tare button after each ingredient and put in the exact amounts specified in the recipe.

A truly logical system

One thing that struck me while I was doing research at the Library of Congress a few months ago was the consistency of some of the ingredients in both “weight” and volume measures. Upon reflection, however, it makes perfect sense since the kilogram was designed to have equal volume and mass at the same time.

In the early metric system there were several fundamental or base units, the grad or grade for angles, the metre for length, the gram for weight and the litre for capacity. These were derived from each other via the properties of natural objects, mainly water: 1 litre of water weighs 1 kg and measures 1 cubic decimetre (dm³).  

Where recipes might start to “break down” would be for ingredients that would be much or less dense than water. (See the image below.)

From a metric cookbook that included both mass and volume measures. Note the similarities.

From a metric cookbook that included both mass and volume measures. Note the similarities.

There is another caveat here: depending on how precise your scale is, it might have trouble with small amounts of something. I have seen some metric recipes that measure these small amounts in milliliters rather than mass.

Cutting board with built-in scale.

Cutting board with built-in scale. (Hopefully doesn’t dull your knives.)

Unless you have serious concerns about your scales I’d advocate for their use. For those folks who just couldn’t stand the idea of measuring ingredients without spoons, we’d want to trade in our current tablespoon, teaspoon, half and quarter teaspoons for metric units, and while you can buy them here, the measures equate to our current measures so they don’t make a lot of sense: .6 mL and 1.2 mL, etc. Much more logical would be: 1 mL, 2 mL, 5 mL etc. (Maybe when we get our act together we can get them in this country.)

Still, I will say that I have a precision scale that measures down to 1mg and when I used the 10 gram calibration weight on both of my kitchen scales (and not expensive ones, mind you), they were both spot on. So now you know.

A spoon and digital scale in one!

A spoon and digital scale in one!

It’s not too soon to start playing around with digital scales and the holidays are just around the corner. Add one to your wish list and help bring others along with you! I’ve includes some really cool ones in this post for you to consider.

And here’s a handy idea of what you can do with your old measuring cups once you no longer need them (reduce, reuse, recycle after all). More on this topic later but I’m keeping a previous promise.

One idea of what to do with old measuring cups once we go metric.

One idea of what to do with old measuring cups once we go metric: an organizer!

I’ll have another post in a week, I promise.

Till then, have fun,


Notes: Scale images from: http://www.crookedbrains.net/2012/04/creative-and-cool-kitchen-scale-designs.html

Why measurement systems (including the metric system) are important

Let’s, for a moment, set aside how important it is to get medication doses correct and ask the more basic question “Why does it really matter what measurement system we use?”

My answer to that question might shock you: Fundamentally, it doesn’t.

What really matters is that people working together use the same one. What the metric system has going for it is that it was designed for all of the units logically interrelate to each other. That last point is a big deal.

Metric measuring tape

Metric measuring tape

Back before the world was so integrated it was less of a problem if each little hamlet developed and used its own measures.

The way I like to put it is: “So how tall is it?” one peasant asks another.

“Why, it’s as tall as Larry’s door,” answers the friend. They’ve both been to Larry’s house and can use that as a point of reference.

To say that’s Larry’s door could now become the standard of length/height for that community really isn’t that far off.

Under this scenario, the only people for whom that would really cause a problem would be for the traders who’d have to learn multiple units to deal with multiple localities as they sold their wares. It was also a way of keeping outsiders out since their lack of familiarity with the regional units would immediately make them stand out.

For reasons that I’ll explore in my documentary, we continue to isolate ourselves, and handicap our children, through our lack of metric adoption.

The units we currently use in this country are not only a mishmash of almost totally unrelated units that were cobbled together but we’ve put ourselves totally out of step with the rest of the industrial world.

Metric units are streamlined and basic. Easy to learn and apply. That’s why almost everyone else in the world has adopted them.

While I have enlisted an American culture expert to interview to help address why we’ve been so resistant to such a change, I suspect that there are multiple reasons for our behavior on this issue in the past. The poll that ran on this topic previously to helped identify them.

Recycling our past

As we move toward metric adoption, we’ll find ourselves with items we no longer need. Mostly what comes to my mind are the measuring cups we use for dry ingredients in the kitchen (in a metric world, grams are the necessary and superior way to go). It’s also possible that people might still have liquid measuring cups without milliliters but they’d probably have to be pretty old or rulers (or tape measures) that don’t have metric measures on them. (Not sure what the cutoff date for such items might have been…the 1970s when we had our last metric push? Might need to investigate this some more.) Items like wrenches in U.S. customary units also come to mind.

Great idea to recycle tape measures--hopefully nonmetric ones.

Great idea to recycle tape measures–hopefully nonmetric ones.

Earlier this week I came across the above image of a clutch made from measuring tapes and got to thinking about what we could do with non-metric items we’d longer need. (I know I currently have a tape measure with inches on one side. It looks like the item above uses both metric and nonmetric.)

In the meantime, feel free to share your ideas of what other items we’ll need to try to recycle into something useful or interesting (maybe even beautiful) once we’ve adopted the metric system in this country and even your ideas of how to do it.

I wouldn’t ask you to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself and I have an idea for something to do with my dry measuring cups that just came to me so I’ll try to get that put together up for my next post.

Want to share your ideas of what other things we’ll not need in a fully metric world? Feel free to add them to the comments section.

Want to share an image of possible way to use old, nonmetric items using one of many reputable filesharing sites? (I’d recommend  Imgur http://imgur.com/ or Photobucket http://photobucket.com/ feel free.* Or even post to my twitter account: https://twitter.com/milebehind. Who knows, maybe I’ll add your ideas to my “Hall of Fame.”

I look forward to hearing from you!


Linda (milebehind@gmailcom)

* Just please don’t send me image files. I won’t open them for security reasons.

The clutch image from http://www.perpetualkid.com/tape-measure-zippered-bag.aspx

Metric tape measure photo: Simon A. Eugster

Lack of U.S. Metric Adoption and International Interest

When I first learned about the historic multiple failures of U.S. metric adoption, I believed only Americans would care about the story. I came to realize that nothing is further from the truth. I suspect that some of that external interest comes from the same reason that people slow down when they pass a car accident: morbid curiosity.

I don’t say that to be mean but I think it’s a human trait that when you see something that you really can’t explain and seems really peculiar you start to wonder what’s going on. That’s pretty much us with regard to metric adoption. People in other countries who realize how far behind we are here must be scratching their heads as to why we still can’t get our act together and go metric like almost every other country has.

The U.K. Connection
One of my early clues that this story was of international interest was when I started my Twitter account and folks from the U.K. and Canada started following me. As I started to think about it, that kind of made sense. After all, the U.S. and U.K have ties that date back more than 200 years. But, it turns out, not only are folks in the U.K. interested in this topic but top visitors to this blog are all former British colonies. That fact becomes visually striking when you look below and notice that in the case of New Zealand and Australia the U.K. flag is still embedded in their current “colors.” That’s less true of Canada, but then their currency is emblazoned with Her Majesty the Queen, so that takes any ambiguity out of the equation.20dollar

I tend to think of U.K. and these other top followers as our brothers and sisters because of these joint ties.

I’m also not the only American to notice that we tend to demonstrate our affinity to our U.K. roots in odd ways. Take, for instance, a New York Times article from late last year that mused over our bemusing tendency to incorporate Britishisms into our American speech. Titled “Americans Are Barmy Over Britishisms” it says, in part:

Crikey, Britishisms are everywhere. Call it Anglocreep. Call it annoying. Snippets of British vernacular — “cheers” as a thank you, “brilliant” as an affirmative, “loo” as a bathroom — that were until recently as rare as steak and kidney pie on these shores are cropping up in the daily speech of Americans (particularly, New Yorkers) of the taste-making set who often have no more direct tie to Britain than an affinity for “Downton Abbey.


Some of this carryover must work both ways since our sibling countries are apparently wondering what the heck we are doing that we’re still behind the curve when it comes to metric adoption. Are the folks in Canada and New Zealand thinking something akin to “If we figured out how to grow up decades ago, what’s going on in the U.S.?”

The French Connection
Interestingly, while I was looking over my statistics for this blog on Friday I saw an unusual number of hits had come from France. A little investigation revealed that a woman writing on American topics, including this week our measurement system, had this to say about this project (translated from French):

If you are passionate about the subject, go to this American blog, A mile behind, denouncing the non-use of the metric system in the United States from all angles (the States are one of the only three countries in the world – with Burma and Liberia to not have standardized the metric system).


As this project progresses I’ll have more of a chance to talk to people around the globe. Then I’ll get a much better feel for this interest and not only how we are perceived by those countries to which we have these extended ties but others around the rest of the world.

Want to join my mailing list?
I’m now starting a mailing list so if you would like to be added to learn more about this project outside of this blog, please feel free to send me your email address. I promise that I won’t sell or lend it. If you want to learn more about this project, that’s the least I can do.

Just send an email to milebehind@gmail.com to be added to the distribution.

I also welcome any thoughts or comments you might want to share in the email. I’ll assume that if you wanted them to be public, you’d comment on this post. Therefore, if I decide to share any of your thoughts in any way, I’ll do so in a way that keeps you anonymous. So, if you don’t want me to share at all, probably best not to send comments to me.

Thanks for your interest and I’ll keep moving this project forward.


Top pageviews to my post since its inception in July 2012:
Blogstats (1)

What’s In a Name: Metric System or SI?

When I embarked on this project I started learning lots of things, including that while we here in the United States use the term “metric system,” to designate the decimalized system used by the rest of the world—the rest of the world uses “SI” which in English is short for International System of Units. “What?” I hear you say. Then why isn’t it “ISU”? Well, it originated in France and the French version is “Le Système international d’unités” which they shorted to SI and that’s what used throughout most of the rest of the world.

So, I was faced with the conundrum: do I use our traditional “metric system” phraseology as I continually reference it or the more internationally accepted “SI” to help people here get familiar with it? Let’s face it, we’ve used the phrase “metric system” in this country for a long time (way before our last big metric push in 1975 with the Metric Conversion Act) so that’s how most people refer to it here—when they refer to it at all.

So here are my thoughts on the subject: for the sake of moving metric adoption forward, let’s go ahead and use the phrase “metric system” since most people here at least know what that refers to. People with experience in other countries (whether as natives or visitors) can use SI if that’s their preferred terminology. The more worldly among us and “early adopters” will most likely use the SI moniker as well.

As long as the two names can be used together when it makes sense and there is space to do so (as in “Metric System/SI”) let’s go ahead and do that so people can get them connected in their minds. After a while, maybe we’ll move over to SI exclusively or maybe we won’t. FRANKLY I DON’T THINK IT’S THAT IMPORTANT.

What IS important is that we use the system itself, not what we call it. After all, our base metric unit of money (remember the 100 pennies and 10 dimes it contains) is referred to as both a “dollar” and a “buck” and nobody gets their undies in a bundle about that. The two exist side by side and it only causes some slight confusion to the outsider. The same can be said of the United Kingdom’s parallel of the “pound” and “quid.”

Now let me clarify a bit more. When I say it doesn’t matter what we call it—I mean in a choice between the terms metric system or SI. I’ve seen some suggestions lately that concern themselves with making a distinction between the metric system and “metrics,” used in the sense of “performance metrics” or “performance measurements” or altering “metric system” to make it more palatable to the public. While I believe those offering alternatives are well meaning, I think the use of an entirely new or altered term would just muddy the waters and there are much better ways to leverage our pro-metric resources than get into a debate about new terminology.

I work in the communications field and while other occupational/organizational designations can get tangled up in things (telecommunications immediately comes to mind) I never have the slightest doubt if something I’m looking at relates to interpersonal or machine-to-machine communication. Yeah, it would be nice if I could plug “communications” into a search engine and not pull up information that doesn’t relate to my intended search but I could accomplish the same goal using a modifier such as “interpersonal,” “organizational” or “written.”

In fact, to back up my assertion, I just did two searches: one for “metric system” (and it needs to be bounded by the quotation marks so the search engine looks for that exact phase and not rough equivalents) and the first page (didn’t look beyond that) only related to “the” metric system. A search for “metrics” (again, the quotation marks are needed) and it only brought up information about performance metrics. So, I don’t think we need a new name for the metric system; I think we just need more people who understand how quotation marks work in search engines so people find what they are looking for.

As to making it more acceptable to the public by altering its name, I think that’s missing the point. We fundamentally want people to adopt the metric system itself, not what we call it. We’re not going to trick people into liking something they didn’t before by changing its name. Take a moment to imagine a food that you hate the most and ask yourself if you’d like it better if it had a different name. I think not. So, let’s just move forward and let the metric system and SI live peacefully side by side and work on what I consider some more fundamental issues.

That’s my current position and I don’t mean anyone any disrespect but metric implementation is going to be challenging enough without introducing confusion for the people we’re trying to enlist to our cause.

Those with opinions on the subject (for or against) can weigh in (in kilograms of course) in the comments section providing they abide by my earlier guidelines.

Thanks for getting all the way to the bottom of this post.


Is It Time to Embrace the Enlightenment of the Metric System in the U.S?

As I studied the history of the metric system in the United States, I found I had to understand and put into context the history of measurement itself.

Try building something like this without standard measures. (Photo by Nina Aldin Thune)

Try building something like this without standard measures. (Photo by Nina Aldin Thune)

While the metric system we know today began around 1790, no one knows the true age of measurement systems since they began prior to written history. Based on archeological evidence, some think measurement standards advanced to allow the construction of special buildings to the “powers that be” but surely, travel and trade had a hand as well though evidence is less readily available. However, thousands of years later, it’s the buildings (such as the pyramids) that still stand, testaments to the precision and consistency it took to build them.

And while measurement systems have developed throughout human history, I think one of the important things to recognize is that the metric system grew out of a global social movement called “The Enlightenment” or the “Age of Reason.” It was truly a historic advance that has led us (for better or worse) to our modern world.

While I’m sure there are many who could write more gracefully on this topic,­ the Enlightenment represented a move away from superstition (as in it is important to be indoors at dusk to avoid the evil vapors) and toward skepticism and the development of the scientific method. (Just imagine a world in which cell phones and demons that make milk go sour sit next to each other on the philosophical shelf.)

And while the United Kingdom, France and the United States all considered moving toward a metric system at this same 1790 juncture, only France was able to make real progress while the U.S. and U.K. continue to struggle with the metric system to this day.

The reason France was able to advance was probably three-fold:

  1. It had a tradition of proudly of leading the way (much as we think of the United States today);
  2. It had a huge proliferation of French measurements (an estimated 250,000 of them) that made it, perhaps, the most unwieldy system in the world; and
  3. It had an opportunity to throw away the past in the wake of the French revolution.

Of course, we took some advantage of our own revolution to introduce metric money or the 10 dimes and 100 pennies we have in our current dollar (for which Thomas Jefferson was responsible). Still, it was apparently our rapid expansion and efforts to “get the job done” in our early history and involvement of those who were less about enlightened thinking and more about speed and greed that laid the foundation for our current metric-hampered society. [see note]


I still marvel that a country as advanced as our own, that bases its progress on scientific advancements (which uses the metric system), and on international trade (which needs the metric system), and seeks the best education for our children (yeah, we haven’t done the best job here but I’m pretty sure no one is sitting around saying, “Gee I hope our children grow up stupid.”) still can’t pull together the political will to move metric system adoption forward.

There are positive rumblings, however, with a recent White House petition and Hawaii (last to become a state and therefore less entrenched in our reluctant past?) pointing toward metric reform (http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2013/bills/HB36_.HTM).

The latter states, in part:

The purpose of this Act is to establish the metric system as the official system of measurement in the State and to require its use in public documents, public records, and public school instructional materials beginning in 2018.

It also highlights one of the issues we’ll have to confront in a move to the metric system: state’s rights. When we drew together to defend against the British, we became the United STATES of America rather than the UNITED States of America. It forms the some of our basic political ideology and haunts us at the same time.

Still, Hawaii is breaking out ahead and sets a shining example for the rest of us. The state deserves our support and, hopefully, sheds light on a future where the rest of us can follow both at a state level as well as nationally.



Note: Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy. Andro Linklater. 2002. Walker Publishing Company, Inc, New York.