History of the Metric System
The metric system of weights and measures was first introduced in France in 1799. From the start, the system was designed for transnational use, which may be why so many nations eventually decided to adopt it as their official weights and measures system. Based on decimal multiples and utilizing Greek and Latin prefixes, the metric system has appeared to simplify weighing and measuring practices with a standard that knows few boundaries today. It has many supporters because it’s straightforward and easy to use, requiring little math and therefore leading to improved accuracy for users.
Why Doesn’t the U.S. Make Metric Official?
There has been a push to adopt the metric system in the United States from the eighteenth century through present day. During the 1970’s it even seemed like the switch was imminent; however, a majority of the public and many industries simply weren’t onboard with the switch being made official. Some baulked at the cost of going metric, just imagine—every single “miles-per-hour” sign would have to be changed. At times, making the switch to metric seemed unpatriotic, while at other times it simply hit a wall of indifference when it came time to vote. Nevertheless, the U.S. has continued to elude this weights and measurements system that is so widely embraced throughout the world.
The Metric Systems Makes Inroads
Despite these barriers, the metric system is very alive and well in the U.S. today. Many industries, such as the wine industry, have converted to the metric system by selling their product in 75-milliliter bottles instead of fifths. Runners who participate in marathons are also familiar with the metric system through the popularity of 5k races. Businesses that trade internationally or are associated with global economics are perhaps the most well-versed in the metric system, as they have to remain familiar with customary measures that deal with quarters, inches, and ounces. Although some U.S. industries have embraced the metric system, a few like the construction industry have preferred to remain loyal to the old ways, making the U.S. one of the few nations to experience a dual-system of weights and measures.
This dual-system is evident in U.S. nutritional food labels that contain references to both the metric and imperial systems of weights and measures. On the labels, serving sizes are reported in both systems, a practice that was actually mandated by the FDA. Individual nutrient listings, however, are only reported in measurements of the metric system. In so many ways, U.S. citizens have been using both systems for a very long time, and continue to do so today.
For American students it may be a bit daunting to learn both systems, or perhaps to even understand why the U.S. utilizes both. They may even find that they prefer one over the other. Periodically, politicians bring up the old debate and the inevitable question: why hasn’t the U.S. gone metric yet? Conceivably, it may be today’s students that make the leap to metric when they have their chance to vote.