Metric System Is Inevitable


We’re now one of only three countries in the world that has not adopted the metric system. The other two are Liberia and Burma. Both of those have recently begun the process of transitioning to the metric system. Like a spoiled child, we’ll be the only one in the community who obstinately refuses to listen to reason.

Countries Not Using The Metric SystemCuriously, I found it rather stunning that so many people have entirely forgotten that such a move was once considered a given in our country. The year was 1976. In December of 1975 President Gerald Ford passed the Metric Conversion Act. The changes started almost immediately. We came back from Christmas break and suddenly we were learning the metric system. The following year (6th grade for me) it was already in the text books and we were heading to the metric system with a full head of steam. Sure there were jokes, and some people fought it with others suggesting it was some sort of plot to destroy our way of life. Does that sound familiar?

I found it invigorating. It all just made sense. Base-10 for everything. Just learn the different multiple names and away you went. It seemed brilliant in comparison to our own system. What also was important to note is that this shift did make some headway, and today no one even thinks about it even though it’s rife with contradiction. Milk comes in pints, quarts, half-gallons and gallons. Meanwhile soda and drinks come in liters. No one today considers the a two-liter bottle of soda as an oddity. When I was younger we regularly bought soft drinks in one-quart and two-quart bottles. That soon vanished along with the glass bottles they came in.

Measurements were also much simpler, and yet today we’re left with this hybrid that compels many to buy standard and metric tools (maybe that’s the point — ah, it’s a profit game!)

For those who feel that such a transition for America is entirely impossible, note that our own military has almost universally adopted the metric system. It’s just the rest of us stuck in our own little world that haven’t changed, and I think we’re the lesser for it. I remember when President Reagan‘s administration defunded the group responsible for moving us all into the metric world. It was 1982. We’d stopped the general inertia by 1980, but it still felt like we’d wasted a really good effort.

It almost was a complete success. Anyone from my generation knows just how close we all came. The feeling was that once the older generation finally moved on, we’d give up the ghost. Instead we’ve got entirely younger generations that didn’t grow up learning the metric system and may be just as hesitant to adopt it. Then again, maybe not. I for one have little doubt that it’s just a matter of time before we do the right thing and join the rest of the world. It’s time to stop wondering just how far a kilometer is, or how tall a 1.2 meter guy stands, or if a 90 kilogram girl is overweight — she is unless she’s 2.2 meters tall.

That said, if you touch my Fahrenheit then that’s just going too far. Celsius isn’t part of the metric system, so if the rest of the world expects us to give in and join the metric system, they can give up and admit that Fahrenheit is just so much cooler.

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  1. As a Canadian who reads your blog, I’m kind of amazed at the history and statistics related to in this post.
    As far as I’m concerned, I’m 5’5″ and 120 lbs., and I wouldn’t mind if Canada switched back to miles from kilometers. And my family still reads the temperature, indoors and out, in Fahrenheit, not Celsius (Then again, my parents and grandparents were taught Imperial measurements and American history in school, along with the British monarch system).
    I’d also gladly give up Celsius, especially if it would stop some of my less-knowledgeable Southern neighbours (again, I’m Canadian) from bringing their skis and snowboards across the border in July and August. It DOES happen from time to time! ;P

  2. I still remember my first trip to Canada when I was a kid and being amazed that you could drive 100! Wow! 100! I then remembered it was KPH not MPH and that soured it a bit. At that time most cars didn’t list both speeds.

    I’ve noticed also over the years that many cars have stopped that as well. During the 80’s virtually all cars had both speeds on the speedometer.

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