Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In Praise of Metric

Measurements have been around from time immemorial. Whenever man wanted to build, trade, apportion he has used a standard of some type. As society became more organised so the standards became more sophisticated. Take the Sumerians for instance. They were a well organised society with standardised measurements for everything. They had a combination of base 12/60 where everything could be divided simply.

Move forward to the 18th C and everyone has a standard, except that those standards were different across different areas, and across towns and sometimes within the town. Imagine having a multiple inches. That was the case up until 1948, even in New York which gave rise to some interesting land disputes.

Attempts had been made to bring some semblance of stability to the situation but all met with opposition and none really succeeded in bringing about a satisfactory universal system. So you have the pound, penny, ounce, grain, hundredweight, peck, bushel, furlong, rod, perch, yard, chain, link, fathom, gallon...the list goes on. Every trade had their own set of measures and each was determined in a different manner.

The first trigger for a common universal standard to replace all existing standards was the french revolution. After the revolution it was proposed that a universal standard be devised that was based on 10 and it replace all existing standards. This was mandated throughout France however many towns still maintained their own standards but over time this indeed took hold.

Many of the early US fathers, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson for instance, lobbied strongly, and as it seems unsuccessfully. Even though the Metric system was adopted as legally recognised by congress in 1866 it ironically never replaced the Imperial system.

Come to the modern day. There are now three countries that have not officially adopted metric (two if you don't ignore the 1866 legislation but most US citizens do so why not us).

I was listening to a podcast from the good folks at 360 the other day and they said the second biggest problem in woodworking is adding and subtracting fractions. I was stunned, so they are saying that they could eliminate the second biggest woodworking problem by coming in line with the rest of the world? Wow! I was watching a woodworker from Canada I believe and he said that he deliberately uses imperial because using metric would be too easy.  Need I say more?