Going Metric? When/how did it start?

We take for granted that Europe was always metric, but this is not true. When and how did these independent nations get unified under the metric system? And, was it phased in? (It’s amazing they could all agree to do it!) I assume it was Western Europe, but as a bonus, when did Russia and the Iron Block countries accept going metric, if ever?

Also, did the British join willingly? Did the entire British Empire change togther? Was it phased-in across the British Empire in much the same way? Was there grumbling, or was it a welcomed change?

What’s the SD? …Taking it one mm at time?

  • Jinx

Just to tackle one point: it’s a common misconception among Americans that Britain is a metric country. It really isn’t, despite what politicians might tell you.

We quote distance in miles. Speed limits and distance signs on the roads are in miles, and there are no plans to change this. Yes, food packaging quotes weights in grams and millilitres, but often also show the imperial equivalent. Beer and milk come in pints, and any butcher or grocer will happily sell you a pound of loose produce, even if the sticky price lable tells you it’s 450-odd grams.

I like to think we have the best of both worlds - we use metric when it’s sensible, e.g. for measuring things when doing DIY (it’s a lot easier to work with 1470mm than 4’ 9 7/8") but imperial for more “personal” things like our own height and weight, and driving distances.

I don’t know about everywhere else but Canada adopted the metric system in the early to mid-70s. When I started school in 1976 everything we were taught was in metric. We’re not fully metric though, you rarely hear anyone list their height or weight in metric here for example.

a) Ah! What an awesome monicker, Mr. #1 SuperGuy! (Whatever happened to HongKongFooey?)

b) Very interesting. I have Canadian cousins who still think in Farhenheit. I guess that is something the body has a natural instinct for, if raised in degrees F. Distances, I think, they’ve been “converted” into thinking km and such. (Dang, I miss that Imperial gallon!)

Re the “British Empire”, the Empire was mostly a thing of the past by the time Britain and its former colonies went metric (in so far as they did).

Wikipedia’s article has a neat map showing the spread of metrication.

And here is Wiki’s take on metrication in the UK.

That’s cool! I bet it takes many Yanks by surprise on their first visit to the Isle, however! :dubious: We have a highway in DE that is measured in mile markers, but all exits are in km (thanks to the government trying to sneak back to metric). Thus, this highway’s marking system is basically useless for the unaware. (You shouldn’t need a be taking a math test while driving down a highway!) Maybe they just wanted to see if anyone would even take notice!

I started school in 1973. If I recall correctly, we were taught standard measurements until April 1 1977. On that date, we had our text books switched out and we never spoke about inches or Fahrenheit ever again.

I think I’m fluently bilingual with metric and imperial measurements. I can work with temperature, volume and basic measurements in either system without needing to convert from one to another. I think this is a function of being taught both systems at just that time of my life when I could absorb both.

I think you may be right and people older or younger than me must do a mental adjustment from one system to another to fully comprehend a measurement.

a) chilling w/ Underdog

b) How old are they? Fahrenheit means very little me, although I do hear it used sometimes. My wife’s relatives in US are not familiar with metric at all (my wife has been assimilated BWAHAHAHHAHA!)

Sometime in the mid 70’s there was a push in the schools to teach metric and prepare, because in a couple years the whole world is going to switch to only metric. This was a being done in a bunch of countries at the same time. People basically said screw em, everything is tooled for our system, I’m not switching. The metric occasionally had a push from the government, because they said we couldn’t sell globally if we didn’t change. It hasn’t mattered as far as I’ve seen.

They’re just young pups…maybe pushing 50. Yikes! :eek: Hey, I bet that’s 25 in metric years!

They’re just young pups…maybe pushing 50. Yikes! :eek: Hey, that’s 25 in metric years!

We deal with American companies that have switched to metric fasteners, etc.

ETA: I should add, it’s only been the last few years they’ve switched.

Sorry for the double post…I thought the Board was safe-guarded against this.

Do we ever do anything willingly. Of course there was grumbling and it continues to this day. 54/69ths of the population are against it.
And then there is the €uro, as if metric otherstuff wasn’t enough

I was watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and he was taking a chef through a local produce and meat market (I forget which town) but I remember seeing that while a heavy majority of items were priced per kilo, there was a substantial amount of items priced by the pound.

It’s good to see that you limeys haven’t totally sold out! :wink:

The switch hasn’t failed to have some metric used. It has failed to make metric the default unit. Working with manufacturing, only one company we worked with used metric as a default. Other’s completely avoided it, while some had both usually sticking to the U.S. standards.

I would reccomend the book The Measure of All Things . It’s mostly about a seven year scientific journey to fix the length of the meter, smack dab in the midst of the French Revolution. It also has a lot of the history of the metric system woven in.

The problem was bigger than each nation having it’s own measurements, in most cases each town had its own system. Made trade difficult, to say the least.

Well, you probably know the metric system originated in France during the French Revolution. The reason for it there was the reason for it everywhere: when you have multiple measuring systems, it’s a mess when trading with anyone else. France’s measurements changed from town to town, so it was a very big mess.

France went on the metric system in the 1790s, but dropped it due to public opposition. It returned to the system in 1840, by which time it had become standard in Belgium, Luxemborg, and the Netherlands. They had started using when the French invaded, and, after Napoleon fell, the rulers saw the advantage of a single measurement system and kept it. Napoleon had also introduced the system in parts of Italy, which slowly started adopting it as a way to unite the various Italian states. It became required in 1865.

Spain and Portugal started converting in 1852, though under a phase in that wasn’t particularly firm. Still, that led to the spread in the Spanish colonies and Brazil.

I’m not sure of the date when it was adopted in Russia, but since it was a product of the French Revolution, the Bolsheviks were delighted to use it.

Note that these were all individual decisions. No international body required it, but the individual nations, for various reasons (but usually to regularize trade) adoped it.

If you’re interested, I heartily recommend reading The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World by Ken Alder, which describes this and how the meter was finally (and incorrectly) determined.

Thirding The Measure of All Things.

To go on to the next obvious question, how did time get standardized? There is a very odd book on the subject, Time Lord : Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time, by Clark Blaise. I can’t honestly recommend it except as a quirky read, but you might find it an introduction to a related issue that was as complicated and even more contentious than metrification.

I just got back from a yoga class where there was confusion when the teacher told us to put our feet one foot above the floor … “too high, only one foot … no I mean both feet”. Metric would have been clearer. :slight_smile:

In New Zealand we went metric in the 1970’s. Most old measurements are becoming a distant memory now. Some things changed quicker than others. Fahrenheit was quickly forgotten because the weather forecasts immediately switched to Celsius. Even my elderly parents naturally talk in deg C. We measure our body weight in Kg. I don’t think anyone really thinks in stone (14 lbs) any more.

You still hear “miles” and “inches” in casual conversation but even that’s fading now. I probably wouldn’t sound too strange if I said I was 5 foot 10 high rather than 178 cm although it may be difficult to buy a measuring tape with inches. When I left NZ about eight years ago I remember seeing an occasional ad for commercial floorspace rental in square feet. I’m sure the official paperwork is all in square meters so I guess it just sounds cheaper. I think tire pressure is still commonly quoted in psi rather than Newtons per square meter. Fuel consumption is quoted in liters per 100 km which is opposite to mpg. The smaller numbers are better.

My Dad was doing some home renovations a while back and I remember him saying “you know, now that I used millimeters, everything seems to fit better” :slight_smile:

I guess it sounds silly but now that I’m in the US I tend to make an effort to keep thinking in metric and not get sucked back in the old ways. On a visit to Canada I was in a Wal-Mart and thought, yippee, I’ll get a metric tape measure so went to the hardware department and was disappointed to see everything still in inches. I later learned that the Canadian building industry still uses the old measurements. I admire Canada for making the effort to change despite the hassles it must cause sometimes being different to their southern neighbours. I noticed that a lot of things in Canada were labeled in metric only but were really the same old sizes. Juice was sold in 1.89L packs.