We're going metric!

February 23, 2021

Did you know metric is the preferred system for all U.S. agencies, and required for interactions with commerce?

I feel fortunate that my employer is based in Australia. It's continued to push me to re-evaluate my ehtnocentric view of the world.

One small example was a recent thread in our “Makers” channel discussing where and when we see imperial and metric measures used, some of them left the question there for us “Is the US really that averse to metric? Don't they sometimes use both types of measures?”

Turns out the United States is already a “metric nation” and has been since 1880's or 1970's depending on your interpretation.

So if the U.S. Government is metric, why isn't the nation?

Us. Me.

So read on to see how our household is moving forward!

The U.S. Metric Timeline

Because many American's, like my peers abroad did not even know Metric was a thing in the U.S.

did not know the US had even cast their eyes on metric at all let alone had made some moves toward trying to shift to it

But we did, we have, er we've tried?

  • 1866: Congress authorizes metric system, and even gives set of standard weights and measures to every state.
  • 1875: U.S. is one of first 17 signatures of “Treaty of the Meter” (a.k.a. Metric Convention)
  • 1893: Metric was adopted as “the fundamental standard” and imperial measures (pound, foot, etc) are now defined in reference to the kilogram, meter, etc.
  • 1968: Congress authorizes 3 year study to feasibility of full conversion to metric. The study concluded it was not only possible, but inevitable.
  • 1975: Congress passes the “Metric Conversion Act of 1975”, however a 10 year conversion period was scrapped, and encouraged “voluntary conversion.” Those efforts were largely ignored by American public.
  • 1981: The “Metric Board” came back to Congress to admit defeat, success would require a Congressional mandate.
  • 1982: Rather than make said mandate, Congress just dropped the comittees efforts and disestablished the Metric Board.
  • 1988: As part of “Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988”, Congress amends the 1975 act, stating metric as “preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce.”
  • 1992: The deadline for all U.S. Agencies to use the metric system in their procurement, grants and other business related activities. Not required of private sector, it was intended to be catalyst for conversion within the country's commerce.
  • 2021: Most American's have no idea how to use the metric system, and could not give an accurate metric estimate to save their life.

Summary Today

OK, my 2021 take was cynical I suppose, here's a more legitimate summary from USMA:

  • Metric is now required along with customary units on most consumer products. (See USMA’s Consumer Products page for examples of products packaged in rounded metric quantities, as well as many other products that are measured in metric.)
  • About 50% of measures in the US are metric. (Many of those measures are used in the fields of science, engineering, manufacturing, and international trade.)
  • All customary measures are defined and calibrated to the SI metric system. (Customary units are currently based, by the US government, on the metric system.)
  • Metric is used predominantly in the rest of the world, with the US being the only major holdout. (See USMA’s International page for how most other English-speaking countries switched in the 1970s and are now using metric.)
  • The Metric Conversion Act, first passed in 1975 and amended in 1988, is still in effect in the US (The metric system is the preferred system of measurement in the US, and is encouraged by the government.)

Source: https://usma.org/usma-mission-and-activities

NIST summary of Metric Continuum

Source: https://www.nist.gov/blogs/taking-measure/busting-myths-about-metric-system

The U.S. Household

Ok, so as we know U.S. Congress is inept, and will never pass any law that slightly inconviences industry. So to push from the other side this U.S. Family is taking it upon ourselves to learn, adopt, and evangalize SI - the international system of measure!

To that end I'm making a marked effort to standardize on metric in our home with the support of my wife and children.

  • No more fahrenheit for us!
  • Height chart in the doorway? It's metric!
  • Printer, you better believe it's A4!

Ok, I'm not sure about the last one, obviously there will be some real friction as we adopt what is still largely unacknowledged. Below are some hopefully more practical steps we'll take.

Join Us (the world..)

If you're looking to jump-start your adoption of metric and standard measures, I am including some found and created resources to help my family see, size, estimate, write and speak in metric measures!

But our measure makes American unique!

I mean, yeah but…

Anyway, more importantly it is not American! It's Imperial, as in British Imperial. The measures of our very nemesis we threw off to found this nation. (Love you now, just making apoint here! )

It's probably for those reasons early fore fathers tried to convert to metric before the country grew larger.

Plus accepting standard measures is better for consumers and industry alike in the long term as more products standardize and expand markets.

Talking Temp

The easiest way to expose in our daily lives. 25F is a cold winter day, but 25C is a great day for the beach. Encourage your family to convert F to C wherever you see it. (bank signs, smart phones, news reports, etc)

We're not treating this as “conversion” but just a high level mapping. Not getting specifically accurate, but generally close (cold, warm, hot).

I didn't want to start with conversions because my children 3 & 5 are too young for quick maths, and ideally young enough to just start with metric as their baseline.

TIP: Set your home assistants (Google, Alexa, Apple) to use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit.

Estimate Everything

How much does that car weigh? How long is that bridge? How much milk in your cup? Use everyday objects to discuss estimating size in metric.

TIP: nist.gov has a great “everyday estimations” page. Have your children draw each of the objects as you talk about the measure. Hang the results as a handy chart!

Sources and Resources

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

NIST has an entire site dedicsted to Metric measures and adopttion, including videos, reading materials and even experiments.


US Metric Association (USMA)

The USMA advocates completion of the ongoing US conversion to the metric system, officially known as the International System of Units (SI).



Some sources I used…

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