Metric and Customary Systems

A brainchild of France, the metric system, or decimal-based measurement protocol, has not yet been adopted fully by many countries including the United States. This results in a different measurement unit for just about everything.

The U.S. Customary System is an inch-pound system having about 300 distinct units of measurement. A football field is measured in yards, while a race goes by meters. Air pressure is measured in PSI(for tires) but surface atmospheric pressure is calculated in inches on mercury, and air pressure in millibars.

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The US inherited many rules and standards from the British Empire, including the British Imperial System, which had evolved from the weights and measures used in medieval times.

Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary Of State back in 1790 endorsed the decimal system of measurement in principle, but could not implement it due to political issues. Hostilities with France complicated the situation, and the United States could not persuade anyone to adopt the metric system.

The growing adoption of the metric system worldwide as of 1866 could not be ignored in the United States any longer. France was more accommodating this time, and a Treaty Of The Meter was signed.

An international committee for Weights and Measures was established, called the International Bureau Of Weights and Measures.

In 1890, an official document was created specifying the fundamental standards for length and mass, based on metric units, including conversion standards.

This was called the International Prototype Metre (for length) and the International Prototype Kilogram (for mass) and was stipulated in 1893, and later refined in 1959.

  • In 1971, the National Bureau of Standards recommended that the United States start the transition to the metric system, to complete it in ten years. This was later again tangled in opposing laws, with the conversion made voluntary, and the deadline stripped out.
  • As the world moved towards globalization, American manufacturers and exporters had to adjust to the global measuring units out of necessity.
  • The Metric Conversion Act was passed in 1988, making it the preferred way of measurement.
  • The Pharma industry fully adopted the metric move, while other sectors did it partially, making the adoption stand at about 30 percent.

Apart from the cost involved in the mass adoption of the metric system, the reason for the sporadic deployment is also due to resistance towards change, and the American stubbornness towards adopting something coming from foreign shores, even though what is already in use seems good enough.

Making the conversion process voluntary without any imposition, has resulted in a vast majority of Americans still thinking in terms of inches and pounds.

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