May 20 will be the 139th anniversary of the United States as one of the original signatory nations of the Convention of the Meter also known as the Treaty of the Meter. On that day the world took a leap forward and officially recognized the need to protect and improve the metric system (or SI as it is known on the rest of the planet), through the creation of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). It is an intergovernmental organization that comes under the authority of the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) and the supervision of the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM). On that day in Paris there was agreement on how the organization would be financed and managed, with member governments acting in common accord on all matters.
Ahem, then there’s the United States saying one thing and doing another
- Our first president’s (Washington…) speech about the need for uniformity of “currency, weights and measures” in the country during his first address in 1790;
- Our instituting decimal money in 1786 (100 pennies and 10 dimes in a dollar);
- Our passing the Metric Act of 1866 that made it illegal to refuse to trade in the metric system;
- Our signing of the above Treaty of the Meter in 1875 and accepting meter and kilogram prototypes in 1893;
- Our passage of the Mendenhall Order (pdf) in 1893 that defines all U.S. customary units in terms of metric units. (As in an inch is 2.54 centimeters, not the other way around);
- Our passage of the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 by congress;
- And Executive Order 12770, Metric Usage in Federal Government Programs (pdf) in 1991 intended to “implement the congressional designation of the metric system of measurement as the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce,”
yet, I’m still buying my hamburger by the pound, gasoline by the gallon and fabric by the yard. What’s wrong with this picture?
Plenty and that’s why I’ve been researching his topic for almost two years. I trust the documentary I plan to make will raise awareness of how far behind the rest of the world we’ve gotten and we’ll want to do something about it.
To commemorate this 139th anniversary, also known as World Metrology Day, I’ll give a talk at Mesa Public Library in Los Alamos, New Mexico on May 21 (Wednesday) at 6 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public. If you’re in the neighborhood, I hope you’ll drop by. I’ll try to be both informative and entertaining.
Just so you know, the theme for this year’s World Metrology Day is “Measurements and the global energy challenge” and is sponsored by the BIPM and the International Organization of Legal Metrology (BIML).
According to Stephen Patoray, the current director of the BIML:
While measurements are central to most basic decisions on energy usage, there are many other aspects of the global energy challenge which are much more complex:
- global population growth;
- emerging economies;
- complex technologies;
- increasing consumer demands;
- higher quality of life;
According to the site’s press release:
Feel free to join in to spread the word about all the advantages the metric system has versus our cumbersome U.S. customary units.
While not new, I found an interview where Rachel Maddow celebrated World Metrology Day back in 2010. You can view the seven minute clip here.
I hadn’t come across this before and was surprised to learn that several scientists with the National Institute of Standards were awarded Nobel Prizes for their work with time and temperatures during the past few years including: David J. Wineland (2012), John (Jan) L. Hall (2005) and William D. Phillips (1997) (More on them here.)
It’s not too early to start planning for next year
I don’t know that we’ll be in a better position to participate in World Metrology Day by the 140th anniversary (2015) but hopefully we will by the 150th anniversary, or sooner, if enough people in this country decide to do something about it.