Who Keeps the Metric System Down?

In a Washington Post remembrance of the late Reagan Press Secretary Lyn Nofziger, longtime friend and political rival Frank Mankiewicz claims that they worked secretly to kill the metric system in the United States:

... during that first year of Reagan's presidency, I sent Lyn another copy of a column I had written a few years before, attacking and satirizing the attempt by some organized do-gooders to inflict the metric system on Americans, a view of mine Lyn had enthusiastically endorsed. So, in 1981, when I reminded him that a commission actually existed to further the adoption of the metric system and the damage we both felt this could wreak on our country, Lyn went to work with material provided by each of us. He was able, he told me, to prevail on the president to dissolve the commission and make sure that, at least in the Reagan presidency, there would be no further effort to sell metric.

It was a signal victory, but one which we recognized would have to be shared only between the two of us, lest public opinion once again began to head toward metrification.

That's a sorry milestone to be celebrating today, since the closure of the U.S. Metric Board helped keep the U.S. with Liberia and Myanmar as the only countries that won't go metric, but you should never judge a man until you've walked 1.609344 kilometers in his shoes.


Mankiewicz....Mankiewicz. Isn't he that "scurvy, rumpled, treacherous little bastard" in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail?

When we lived in Alabama the state began posting metric distances in addition to the English values.

Some people complained and the governor made the highway department take them down because he didn't want that "foreign system" on the signs.

When I was fourth grade (1975-76), a local bank manager was a firm advocate of the Metric System. She convinced all of our teachers that the US would be completely switched over by 1980. I can still remember her arguments that the metric system was far superior because it did away with useless things like rods and replaced them with useful things like decameters. I was even more amused when I learned that the same people who introduced this wonderful system also changed Notre Dame Cathedral into the "Temple of Reason" and created a new calendar free of ancient mythologies. I have long respected Lyn Nofziger; I respect him ever more now.

um... nobody caught the Simpson's reference on this on?

I was even more amused when I learned that the same people who introduced this wonderful system also changed Notre Dame Cathedral into the "Temple of Reason"

One day you will understand the advantage of the metric system but here is one of the magic clues:

1 liter water ~ 0.1 m3 ~ 1 kg

Simpsons referece loud and clear here! I started singing the song as soon as I read the title.

It occurs to me that too many people perceive the metric system as a joke first, and a measurement system second. This makes such people guilty of contempt prior to investigation.

The metric system is a simple, decimal system of measurement, akin to the decimal system of currency we use. In fact, the U.S. was the first country to adopt a decimal currency, and the rest of the world followed us.

I believe that U.S. adoption of the metric system as its everyday standard of measurement will not only not make us a third-world country, but will keep us from becoming one, because, right now, some countries once considered backward are, like the tortoise in that race with the hare, going to overtake us in science prowess.

The metric system, legal in the U.S. since 1866, was declared by Congress in 1988 to be the preferred system of measurement for trade and commerce in this country.

I'm really tired about the ignorance displayed so consistently by my fellow Americans over the metric system. I think those who oppose U.S. metrication should do some learning before they start in with their scoffing.

I first heard about the metric system in 1975, when gasoline was sold by the liter. It caused considerable confusion, despite conversion factors posted on the pumps. There were metric rulers, scales, etc everywhere. I began using metric immediately. The website is of my body measurements in centimeters. The set in 1980 was originally in inches, from 1983 onward originally in centimeters.

So in masonic code what does 'WE KEEP THE METRIC SYSTEM DOWN' mean?

I think it is sad that such a great nation full of talented people are bedevilled by politicians who seem incapable of assessing the value of something like the metric system purely on merit.
OK so it wasn't invented in America and at the time relations with France were not good.
But it's time to move on now. The USA needs to assess the situation properly and show that you can apply a little common-sense now and then. The metric system is the only truly international system that can facilitate the metrological needs of the world, and the includes the United States.

The fact that the US didn't convert to the metric system 30 years ago has caused considerable damage to the US economy.

The US has gone, in that time, from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation. The US imports far more then it exports. Businesses that want to produce metric for the world market aren't going to bother converting a resistant population, as it is much easier to close down the factories and eliminate the well paying and well benefited jobs and export them to metric countries.

In the mean time the US imports billions of dollars in foreign made metric products, requiring foreign made metric replacement parts when servicing.

Because the American household has lost those high paying metric jobs, they are highly in debt and only a few paychecks away from bankruptcy.

The mistake Americans have made has come back to haunt the US, and conditions will only get worse, not better.

The sad part is that Mankiewicz describes this as if it were a couple of high school students playing a prank on the principal.
This type of childish behavior is still visible today with lobby groups like the Food Marketing Institute who kill any attempts at introducing metric at the retail level. They claim to be "happy" doing exactly that.

The damage that Mankiewicz and Nofziger have done to the future generations of Americans is incalculable. As the globalized economy asserts iself more and more, we're realizing that our insular approach towards measurement is no longer a viable option. Not everyone nowadays wants to buy America's nonmetric products when there are metric alternatives available from other sources. At the same time, American companies dealing in the world markets have to keep two stocks of goods: one customary for the US market and one metric for the rest of the world just to compete. As time goes one, this will become costlier and costlier.

Our preeminent position in engineering, medicine, and the sciences will also erode, as fewer children educated in metric but finding no practical use for it outside of school will chose other professions. These professions are thought to be esoteric enough, and on top of that, they come with the much vilified metric system as their language of measurement.

There are some encouraging signs, like Procter & Gamble marketing more and more their products in hard metric sizes. I hope that where the politicians failed in the 1970's, the corporate world will succeed in the new millenium.

There are two flaws in adopting an exclusively-metric policy. First, the population doesn't want it, which makes force the only option. That would infringe on our right to choose, a uniquely American concept--it would seem. (Remember that Canadians and Brits have been arrested in their own countries for refusing to use metrics.) That's why our metric law of the 1970's allowed for a "voluntary conversion." The second flaw is our misconception about conversion. We wouldn't be able to totally convert to metrics, anyway. If attempted, our current system would need to be accommodated far into the future. Have you ever read a cookbook published in France? One finds "livres" (pounds) and "cuillres soupe" (table spoons) throughout. Canada, like Britain, is only half metric. Conversion to the metric system proved so difficult and costly that the government in Ottawa stopped promoting it in 1984. Many aspects of Canadian life are exclusively in the Imperial system (even after billions of dollars spent). Let's let the public decide what they want. Now, a math lesson: when dividing into quarters and thirds, 12 is the lowest common denominator. Thus, there are 12 hours on a clock, 12 months in a year, and 12 inches in a foot. Yes, you can do this.

I think Mankiewicz and Nofziger did us a favor. If we are going to change, it should be taken to a vote first. The other countries that recently converted didn't allow a referendum. Like language, our measurements are part of our culture and heritage.

Despite the best efforts of (Republican) Frank Mankiewicz and (Democrat) Lyn Nofziger their secret collusion against the metric system came to no avail.

The progress of metrication in the USA has proved to be inevitable as it proved to be in all other nations. It is now impossible in the USA to avoid the metric system in any part of your daily life.

To support this view I suggest that you read the article 'Don't use metric!' that you can find at my website www.metricationmatters.com

Of course, conversions between old and new is costly. How costly? No-one knows. However, my wild guess is that it is costing the USA about 1 trillion dollars a year. See the article, 'Costs of non-metrication at the same address as above.


Pat Naughtin
Geelong, Australia

It's really interesting to see that people feel as strongly about the intrinsic "rightness" of a 10-based single-radix system of measures as they used to about when to celebrate Easter. I recently noticed celebration, by some, of the fact that stock-exchanges have moved from base-2 to base 10. I guess that's because 10-fingers is more common all around the universe than two pincers. Boy will we be in trouble when after all this effort we discover that the rest of the civilized galaxy has standardised on a base-8 number system.

And just as with other religions, political/economic power-grabs use the Metric (or other non-metric) religion to create needless barriers and causes for discord (witness the upcoming deadline for the 2010 European trade-barrier that prohibits dual-unit labelling on product labels). Perhaps now that the EU is taking Alabama's stance (see LARRY's comment above), the U.S. will retaliate and allow only products with non-metric labels. Intolerance is always a good thing for international harmony.

Why is it not surprising that missionaries of the metric religion depict costs as due to non-metrification by those who haven't, rather than cost due to metrification by those who have?

Me - I don't mind, although the fact that many metric units are less "human" is regrettable. Nature isn't really metric - the ratios of human measures - how big things are that fit in your hand vs. how big they are before you can't carry them in two arms, vs. how far you walk in an afternoon or how much a person weighs vs. how much an apple weighs don't have to be multiples of 10 any more than the fact that the Earth doesn't circle the Sun in a nice base-10 multiple of how long it takes for the Moon to circle the Earth, on average. We won't even mention the human-scale of the Pascal. (Oops, guess we did!)

And of course, there's the very metric Euro, whose coins come in amounts of .01, .02, .05, .1, .2, .5, 1, and 2. Oh, how systematically decimal we all are. Or maybe when it comes to making money, the religious zealots of metrification are willing to compromise with humanity.

"Purely on merit", as subjective measures go, the metric system has nothing much over any other one. We now have smart machines and don't have to "cipher" in our heads, never very hard anyway. It does have the advantage of having a single base unit for each quantity, meaning that we can completely drop the stems in the long run - as is happening with "clicks" as a single term for kilometre, kilogram, kph, or whatever After that it's religion and power-politics as usual, and, obviously, entertainment.

the metric system ain't shit

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John's neolithic mentality regarding metrication is largely why the rest of the world perceives Americans as buffoons.

Of course, I'm quite eager to know whether those who oppose the metric system on the grounds of "choice" would be willing to grant marital rights to gays and allow women to terminate their pregnancies...

Sean says:

"Of course, I'm quite eager to know whether those who oppose the metric system on the grounds of "choice" would be willing to grant marital rights to gays and allow women to terminate their pregnancies..."

Sure, so long as that "choice" is being made by the ones most affected. In your abortion example, its the unborn baby.

I think the reason the metric system is slow to be accepted, as brilliant as it is, is because imperial units are easier to visualize. Most adults are between 5 ft and 6 ft in height, making it a neat reference point. This does not really translate neatly into metric, 1.5-1.8 m is reasonably close. The mile, originally 1000 paces, and I discovered recently that to walk 0.1 (modern statute) mile takes 203 steps, very close to the original definition. One mile takes about one minute to drive, few people will walk this distance under ordinary conditions. To drive 100 km might take about an hour, so metric is not really a bad system.
As for body measurements, it gets interesting. Centimeters are good for body parts in which a big number would be an ego boost. Inches work best when a small number feels good.

What about those of us who were taught metric mainly in school? I went to school in Georgia during the 70's and 80's when we were supposed to be converting. We were taught metric solely until my Junior year of High School. I have no concept of how tall I am in feet and inches. I have no concept of how much I weigh in pounds and ounces. I barely have a concept of miles only because of being forced to learn something that I consider foreign. Don't ask me how to add, subtract, multiply or divide a fraction. I couldn't do that if my life depended on it. Put a simple decimal in front of me and I have no problems. I know that 1 liter weighs 1 kilogram. Conversion between base units is simple. Try doing that with US Customary units. One can't. 16 fluid onces doesn't always weigh 1 pound. 16 dry ounces doesn't always have the same mass as 16 fluid ounces. Lets not even get into the British Imperial System. I know that there are 1000 meters in 1 kilometer. I know that my height is 1.91 meters, 191 centimeters, 1910 millimeters, and I weigh 88 kilograms, 88,000 grams, 88,000,000 milligrams. Now how easy is that?. Most people I have met that say they don't like metric is because they try to learn it by doing convoluted conversions that make it much harder. The easiest way to learn Metric is a total and complete change over. I feel that we have been let down by our government for not completing the conversion. I don't want to hear stupid comments from people. I love this country and will not go live in another country just to be able to use metric. We just need to finish up what we started back in 1866. Not just 30 + years ago. I have required my Doctors office to make any and all measurement of me in Metric. I try as much as allowed at work to educate my customers. I even taught my mother the basics of Metric. When shopping for garden hoses recently, she asked me which one was bigger one had 11/32 inch diameter. The other had 5/16 inch diameter. She asked me which one was bigger. I told her I had no idea and to look at the metric measures. One had 15 mm and the other had 19 mm. She immediately saw that the 19 mm was bigger. Metric is that easy. Instant ability to make sound and easy comparisons. Thanks for letting me rant.
Bruce M. Herbertson III

Ronald Reagan sabotaged the universal metric measurement system. USA is out of step with the rest of the world with it's archaic inch, foot, pound, etc.
England, where it all started, dropped it years ago and went metric.
I remember that my speedometer had a larger number to show miles per hour (mph) and corresponding smaller numbers to designate kilometres per hour (kph).
The idea was to educate us about the metric system and so road signs were in mph & kph. The mph was to get smaller in time and the kph larger until the mph was mostly obscured.
But Ronald Reagan said it was too expensive and trashed it. What a disservice to us all !

It seems that the point that everyone seems to be missing is the long term affect on the US economy of not being metric. Since the market crash in 2008, the EU and Asia are the only two regions of the world that have recovered. The US on the other hand continues to bleed jobs, especially in engineering and manufacturing.

Without the metric system, the US will continue to decline in engineering and manufacturing, whereas in the rest of the world, the metric system will turn third world nations into first world nations at the expense of the US?

History will eventually record that it was the refusal to adopt the metric system that accelerated America's downfall and the use of the metric system by others that strengthened their economic and military power.

I not only say that it is way to late for America to change now, but it is best for the rest of the world if they never do. Let those more fit to rule the world surpass the US and let the US continue to decline until it is no longer a world power.

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