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The United States and the metric system.(13 posts)

The United States and the metric system.Dave Hickey
May 3, 2002 3:49 AM
I was talking with my 11 year old son last night about the metric system. He thought it was much easier than our current system. In college in the late 70's, I remember a professor saying the US was going to be converted to metric by a certain year. 1990 sticks in my head. Needless to say, it didn't happen. What year were we supposed to be converted and why didn't it happen?
re: The United States and the metric system.velofelo
May 3, 2002 5:17 AM
I don't know the answers to either of your questions, but here in New Hampshire, there was a big debate on whether to put metric on the highway signs to accomodate the Canadian travelers. I think at one point the "old guard" railed on and on about metric being "unamerican" or something to that effect. Needless to say, metric wasn't put on the signs.

I doubt we'll ever go fully to metric. We're so entrenched in our thinking and so opposed to change that we just can't seem to see the forest for the trees. No amout of reasoning is going to convince some of these people that metric is simpler.
The Canadian Experience.RoyGBiv
May 3, 2002 5:55 AM
The government shoved it down our throats in the late seventies. Technically, it's probably a better system - everything divisible by 10 - but somehow it seems so sterile. This is hard to describe, but there's something nostalgic, almost romantic, about quarts and miles. I mean can anyone call football a game of centimetres? And forget about two pints, one quart; four quarts, one gallon; two gallons, one peck; four pecks, one bushel.
My kids had metric ingrained into them at school. Now, it's like we're in two different worlds. My daughters wouldn't know a Fahrenheit from a slide rule. Twenty-five years later, I still have a spatial disconnect with metric. While driving down the highway and seeing road signs, I have to do the math in my head: let's see, 60 kilometres is 60 times 6 divided by 10 = 36 miles. And when I listen to American radio, 86 degrees seems so much nicer than 30 Celsius.
Why do we have to change? What's wrong with constant? (He asked rhetorically.)
The Canadian Experience.Steve98501
May 6, 2002 2:40 PM
Reminds me of 1978 in lower B.C. There was a large road sign proclaiming that, "Conversion experiment, all highway signs in metric units for next 10 miles." My Canadian friends got a good laugh. To this day, they seem to use a mixed bag of English and metric units.
mixed emotionsDougSloan
May 3, 2002 6:14 AM
Everything is all mixed up.

Just look at bicycles. We have 700 c wheels and tires (which don't even relate to any real measurement), into which we put 120 pounds per square inch of air pressure, 26 inch wheels, 5 mm bolts, 55 cm frames, 19 inch frames (mtb), "gear inches", miles per hour, 1 inch head tubes, 11 cm stems, size 43 shoes, size 9 shoes, 1 1/8 inch inner tubes, 55 mile races with a marker at 1 kilometer to go, ad nauseum.

We don't have an English or metric system. Like everything else in America, we have mutt system, an odd mixture that is completely arbitrary (like the language itself).

re: The United States and the metric system.netso
May 3, 2002 7:43 AM
In Science its all metric, however its different outside of science. Americans are all mixed up just like our language which is a compilation.
The US is just stubbornColnagoFE
May 3, 2002 7:45 AM
The metric system makes so much sense unlike the current system. We do the same with language. We expect others to know it rather than bothering to learn theirs.
Human InertiaJon Billheimer
May 3, 2002 8:47 AM
Even here in Canada, after 25 years of government sanctioned metric conversion we're still functioning with a mixed bag of weights and measures, particularly in the retail sector. Being a dinosaur myself, until last year I still had my bike computer set on miles rather than kilometres. We're all creatures of habit, and unless forced by decree or peer pressure we're loathe to change.

I heard an amusing story years ago that in a U.S. Congressional committee when metric conversion was being discussed that some old very reactionary Congressman labeled metric conversion as a communist plot! Needless to say, that killed the whole initiative. Don't know if it's true or not, but the story illustrates our knee jerk reaction to change.
re: The United States and the metric system.LO McDuff
May 3, 2002 10:47 AM
I was an undergrad Physics major and everything was metric. I had one prof who smugly posted his office hours in metric time (sheesh). In grad school (Civil Engineering) I was very suprised to find that most of the dimensions were in english units (except in Chemistry related calculations).

I don't think the US will ever change. Until recently most shopkeepers in Merrie Olde England still used pounds and ounces.
Metric Time???biknben
May 8, 2002 12:23 PM
Help me out here. What is the metric unit for Time?

Isn't the minute and second used in both.
Metric calendar, too?DougSloan
May 8, 2002 12:40 PM
Sure, can't every aspect of reality be neated divided into multiples of 10? Metric calendar, metric time, metric computer code (throw out binary), metric Bible, metric telephone numbers, ...
Metric Time??? -- Unfortunately, yesLO McDuff
May 8, 2002 2:45 PM
Sorry it has taken me a while to get back to this.

Yup, it goes something like this:
10 metric hours in a day
100 metric minutes in a metric hour
100 metric seconds in a metric minute
10 days in a metric week
(called a dekade)

For more information you can check out
I'm doing my partDuane Gran
May 5, 2002 6:05 PM
I set my bike to km instead of miles, so I figure I'm doing my part, except that my riding buddies look at my with a certain scorn when they ask how far we have ridden. ;)

Personally I work just as well with distance, mass and temperature, but volume escapes me. I know how much a gallon or quart is, but I don't think I'll ever get mentally aclimated to litres, but I do know that there are 3.8 litres per gallon, thanks to the conversion listed on most public urinals. That is the extent of my comprehension of metric volume.

When talking with my international friends (there are plenty in DC) I'll speak in metric, but I respect the units of the land and use imperial units around fellow yanks. I prefer metric, but what can you do?

Here is a fun thing to consider. Why do airlines call them "frequent flyer mile" programs? Doesn't this seem a rather US-centric way of presenting a worldwide program to an international audience? What does a mile mean to someone in Latvia?

I've also heard that "mileage" isn't actually a word. Does this mean that "cleavage" isn't a word? I digress...