Why Don’t Americans Use The Metric System?
Posing an intriguing question about how the US measures up to the rest of the world.
The United States, the leader of the free world and the most industrialized nation on earth, is still way behind the rest of the planet when it comes to weights and measures. This is something of a puzzle to many who see it as a serious flaw in the US system. But the Americans themselves say they have some very good reasons for not changing over to the Metric System…the most important being they simply don’t want to!
To understand this, let’s take a quick history lesson: strange as it may sound, the US actually started considering going metric way back in 1866! Back then the US used meter and kilogram standards brought from France. Shortly after the American Civil War, the metric system was approved and each state was sent guidelines. In 1875, the United States actually became one of the original 17 nations to sign the “Treaty of the Metre.”
In 1893 the metric system was adopted for length and mass in the United States and in 1895 the State of Utah even decreed: “The Metric System shall be taught in the public schools of the State”. This clause was only dropped over 100 years later, in 1987. It wasn’t until 1975 that President Gerald Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act for the US. Despite a slew of public service ads and jingles about metric measurements, there was a lot of opposition, resistance, apathy, and even ridicule…to such an extent that President Reagan cancelled official metrication in 1982.
Mars Orbiter Incident This mix of systems led to a great deal of international confusion…and even a disaster in outer space, as happened with the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998. NASA had specified metric units but one subcontractor used imperial measures instead. This caused the spacecraft to descend too low and burn up in the Martian atmosphere at a costs of millions of dollars.
So exactly why are Americans so stuck on this, let’s face it, ancient system in a generally technologically advanced society? Simply put, Americans feel that their system is the best and most practical and don’t think metric. Meters are “…a yard plus a few inches”. A centimeter is “just over a third of an inch” and a gram is “quite a bit less than an ounce”.
According to Adam Lasnik, a Program Manager at Google, writing in Quora: “As kids (when the idea of going metric was proposed in the 1970’s) we were pretty much fine with this; multiplying and dividing by powers of 10 was a lot easier than slogging through much more confusing conversions within the imperial system. But our parents and grandparents (overall) were apparently furious, even branding the new emphasis ‘un-American’ and (I kid you not) ‘Communist’!”
Labor unions were also strong opponents of metrication, fearing that the switch to a uniform global system of measurement would make it easier to ship jobs to foreign countries, which happened anyway.
So stubbornness, pride and politics…are these the main reasons? There are obviously also sound economic reasons not to make a change now – the old system is so ingrained that a change-over would cost gazillions of dollars. However, there is still a push towards metric in the US as evident from a “We the People” petition to “Make the Metric system the standard in the United States” which gained almost 50,000 signatures. The Government’s official, albeit somewhat timid, response was: “…the use of the metric system is a choice and we would encourage Americans to continue to make the best choice for themselves and learn how to move seamlessly between both systems”.
They seem to feel that even if metric units are superior, Americans’ dogmatic stance on the issue isn’t worth fighting, so using metric in everyday life is left up to the individual. In truth the US is actually more metric than most people realize. American manufacturers produce metric cars, the wine and spirits industry abandoned “fifths” for 75-milliliter bottles and the metric system is now the standard in most industries: other examples include household products – shampoo, mouthwash, and dental floss are now sold in metric sizes, and Power Bars and similar products have always been sold by the gram. The standard method for sizing tires combines millimeters and inches. The question still remains: “Why hasn’t America gone full-on metric?”
And the answer based on all the “official research” seems to be: “Simply, the majority of Americans just don’t want to. The gains have always seemed too little, and the goal too ‘purist’.” And that appears to be the best answer there is.
However, all MySize measurements on our App are available in either Imperial or Metric systems. So any user, wherever they may be, will have no problem whatsoever in this area. It’s just a matter of selecting which system you want to work in…just like the Americans!