Just three countries- the United States, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and Liberia, still resist the metric system. Ever wonder why? Watch Mr. Beat's video anyway.
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Footage used from:
Flying the Nest
All other images owned by Matt Beat, used under fair use guidelines, or found in the public domain
Music by Electric Needle Room (Matt Beat)
The story of the metric system begins in Belgium, where this dude, Simon Stevin came up with the idea.The British philosopher John Wilkins expanded on Stevin’s idea and helped promote it further, but it wasn’t until the French Revolution it became a reality. The revolutionaries who overthrew the French monarchy decided the time was right to get everybody on the same measuring system. Before this, it’s estimated that around a quarter of a million different units of measure were used in France. Dang dude. The idea was, that if everyone was on the same page, less people would be ripped off and everything would be more efficient.
The French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet famously proclaimed the metric system to be “for all people for all time.” And yet, it was hard for the new French government to enforce this new system. People were resistant to change, and old units were sometimes used locally. After Napoleon took over, the metric system expanded as the French Empire expanded across the continent. After Napoleon fell, many European countries decided to keep it because they kind of liked it, and it made trade easier. Eventually, as these European countries started colonizing the rest of the world, the metric system spread across the globe.
But not to the United States. After the French first established the metric system, Americans thought about doing the same. Thomas Jefferson, the secretary of state at the time, straight up rejected the metric system, saying it was too French. And here TJ was a France fan. I should note that he actually was cool with a different standardized decimal system that used traditional names for units. Regardless, even as the metric system spread, this precedent set by Jefferson held. Sure, there were still plenty of attempts to adopt it later on. Congress even passed The Metric Act of 1866, in uh, 1866 to legalize use of the metric system in the United States.
In the early 1900s, famous people like Alexander Graham Bell testified before Congress, urging them to adopt it. In 1927, Americans sent over 100,000 petitions to Congress begging them to officially adopt it. That year, those countries who had officially adopted the metric system were still in the minority.
But most Americans resisted, calling metric system proponents elitist and thinking the rest of the world should follow them, not the other way around. And besides, the United Kingdom used the imperial system, too, so nah nah nah nah nah nah. But in a shocking turn of events, in 1973 the UK officially required the country to use the metric system to help their economy.
Partially in response to this, President Gerald Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act into law in 1975. This law declared the metric system the best for trade and commerce and set up the United States Metric Board to help transition the country into the metric system. And yet, because the law was voluntary, the United States has yet to fully implement it, which is why there is only one random highway in Arizona that has all metric road signs. Surprisingly, by some estimates, half the country does use the metric system in some form or another.
So why don’t all Americans get on the same page? Basically because the transition would be a pain in the butt. It would cost a lot and take a lot of time to transfer everything over, and the infrastructure and many industries within the country rely on the imperial system. Momentum is a hard thing to reverse.
Myanmar resisted the metric system and used more traditional forms of measurement for so long due to their isolation. Now that they are more open, that’s changing.
What about Liberia? Well, Liberia was founded by Americans, yo. It was settled by thousands of free African Americans during the 1800s, and they brought American culture and traditions with them, including the imperial measuring system.