red and yellow tape measure

The Reason The U.S. Doesn't Use The Metric System

Originally contributed by • last updated 2/26/2021

patricia serna
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While many people use the metric system around the world, Americans have a very different system of custom measurements. This deviation has a long and often untold history that may be quite the surprise for some people.

In fact, there are only two other countries in the world that don't use the metric system: Myanmar and Liberia.

It began with the French Revolution.

Pierre Herman
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During that cultural upheaval, French people invented a number of new things. In their quest for a more "logical" world, they decided that the fairly random ways people measured things was silly and set about finding standard.

The metric system was born from this, with the standard length of a meter derived through a complicated calculation using the circumference of the Earth. Then to make sure the math was correct, a pair of French astronomers used a specific longitudinal segment of their country to check their measurements.

There was a lot of skepticism surrounding the metric system at first. People were used to estimating size and volume the old ways, and other world powers were peeved at the idea that a worldwide standard would be based on a portion of the French countryside.

Eventually, they caught on, though, and other countries began adopting the logical system too.

However, the United States was not about to get on board with something formulated by their economical rival, the French.

Additionally, converting would cost a lot of money.

Industrialists in the United States rejected the idea of converting all of their equipment to meters and feared that such conversion would destabilize all of America's new found economic growth.

Still, the country did get very close to adopting the metric system.

Ono Kosuki
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As many other nations began adopting it, the pressure was on for the United States to begin transitioning to one too. However, public opinion continued to be against it and the transition continues to be delayed.

American businesses now adapt to the metric system as required.

While America, Myanmar, and Liberia are the only three nations not using the metric system, many industries in those places do. In order to import, export, and trade with the rest of the world, businesses have to adapt.

It's the common belief that's too late to change.

With so much competition on the global market, the fear of the metric system in America stems from the time and money it would take to switch over. Once a system is established, it's difficult to reform.

However, sometimes this leads to inconsistency.

There are many people who still support the switch to metric, especially when it comes to science and research. International collaborative work with other scientists makes converting measurements a hindrance to progress, instead of an asset.

The metric system still isn't taught in schools today.

CDC
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One thing remains clear, the metric system doesn't seem to be coming into the picture anytime soon. The United States has their own way of assigning units of measurement and it will likely continue for generations moving forward.

Let us know in the comments if any of this history of America's almost-metric system interests you.