The Modernization of Metric

People of the United States: Throw out your measuring cups and make way for metric.


It might seem like the SI has been around forever, but that's hardly the case. Many different measurement systems have been used over centuries, and it wasn't until the 1790s and the Revolution in France that the French devised the primitive basis for the modern metric base-10 system. Easier than the unwieldy and nonstandardized systems that had preceded it, this new system had several things going for it:

  • Fractions and long strings of zeros were unnecessary.
  • It was simpler to manipulate than systems that relied on conversions between different units of measure applied to the same characteristic.
  • Hundreds of disparate units were made obsolete through the set system of prefixes.

As these new, simpler units of measure slowly gained momentum, they evolved as well. In fact, the SI is frequently examined and tweaked to make it more accurate or more applicable. It wasn't until 1960, at the General Conference on Weights and Measures, that the system's current incarnation with the seven standard base units was hammered out and Le Système International d'Unités was once again affirmed as the world's gold standard.