Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/April 1879/Shall We Adopt the Metric System?
|←Experiments with Living Human Beings II||Popular Science Monthly Volume 14 April 1879 (1879)
Shall We Adopt the Metric System?
DURING the second session of the Forty-fifth Congress, a great amount of evidence bearing on the question whether or not it would be wise to introduce the metric system into the United States was brought forward. This evidence is given in reports, etc., from the heads of the various executive departments, and the most important bureaus of the Government, and it is likely to remain buried in the vast mass of fugitive public documents known only by the "printer's number."
The editor has been at some pains to collect the scattered pieces and reports, and to put them into a continuous if not a connected form, with the object of making them available for reference in future. This it seems amply worth while to do for various reasons; chiefly because these contributions to the solution of the really important question at the head of this article have a unique and special value. They have been written by officers high in position in the Government and entirely free from prejudice. Their recommendations were not influenced by any considerations as to their personal convenience, and their judgments were based on the actual operations of their several departments. It is somewhat singular, in examining their reports in detail, to find that there is so little repetition. For these reasons it appears that no such important additions to the literature of this subject have been made for many years. In what follows, brevity has been studied, and omissions have been freely made whenever possible, the object being to present only the most important arguments. The bills introduced into Congress are first given, and then follow the detailed reports of the heads of executive departments. No attempt has been made to answer the important questions considered, that having been left to the reader.
Mr. Muldrow introduced on November 3, 1877, a bill "to promote the establishment of the metric system of coinage in the gold coins of the United States of America.
"Whereas, The metric system of coinage, based on the gramme as the unit of weight, is now almost universally acknowledged to be the best; and—
"Whereas, The gold coinage of the United States can be brought into exact conformity with the metric system by a change amounting to less than one third of one per centum: therefore—
"Be it enacted, etc., That the gold hereafter coined by the United States shall contain, for each dollar of denominational value, one and one half gramme of pure gold, and shall weigh, for each dollar, one and two thirds gramme, the proportion of alloy to the entire weight being thus kept as one to ten.
"Section 2. That such coins shall be legal tenders in payments arising from contracts made at anytime after the 4th day of July, 1878.
"Sec. 3.That such coins shall have stamped upon them, in addition to other devices, their weight in grammes, and the inscription, 'nine tenths fine.' "
Mr. Maish introduced on January 25, 1878, a bill "to establish the metric system in the post-offices and custom-houses of the United States.
"Be it enacted, etc., That on and after January 1, 1879, for all postal purposes, fifteen grammes shall be substituted for half an ounce, and so on in progression.
"Sec. 2.That on or before January 1, 1879, the Postmaster-General shall furnish all post-offices with postal balances denominated in grammes of the metric system, at an expense," etc., etc.
"Sec. 3.That on and after January 1, 1880, the metric system of weights and measures, as legalized in section 3,569 of the Revised Statutes shall be obligatory in the assessment of duties on imported commodities in the custom-houses of the United States."
Mr. Stephens introduced, January 29, 1878, a bill "to enable importers to use the metric weights and measures."
"Be it enacted, etc., That the ad quantum duties upon all articles imported from foreign countries which are invoiced according to the weights and measures of the metric system shall be levied, collected, and paid at rates appropriate to the weights and measures of said system, that is to say:
"The rate per gramme shall be," etc. . . .
"The rate per kilogramme shall be," etc. . . .
"Section 2.That the quantity of weight, gauge, or measure stated in the return of any weigher, ganger, or measurer employed in the service of the customs revenue may be stated in metric denominations," etc., etc.
Mr. Stephens introduced, March 29, 1878, a bill "to promote the general use of the metric system."
"Whereas, The metric system of weights and measures has made little progress in actual use, notwithstanding its great merits and its authorization by law, by virtue of the act of Congress of July 27, 1876; and—
"Whereas, It is believed to be capable of simplification, so as to remove many impediments to its general use, yet retain its valuable features, and so to promote the great and desirable reform contemplated by the foregoing act: therefore—
"Be it enacted, etc., That the use of the modified metric system, set forth in the following tables marked A, be, and is hereby, authorized; the values of the metric units, so far as they are retained, remaining unchanged, and the continued use of any system now permitted by law not being prohibited, the true intent and meaning of this act being not to enforce any particular system, but to provide for the public convenience by adaptation to its circumstances and exigencies.
"Section 2. The metric system being capable of indefinite expansion to suit the ever-enlarging uses of mankind in business and science, the accompanying scale of units, names, and values is provided, marked B, on the scale of ten and its powers, and the use of all and any of them is hereby permitted and authorized.
100 hairs make a nail.
100 nails make a metre.
10,000 square metres make a great acre.
100 drops make a spoon.
100 spoons make a quart.
100 seeds make a corn.
100 corns make a nut.
|Metric name.||New name.||Value in English measure.|
|Metric name.||New name.||Value in English measure.|
|100.....||Centare||Square metre||Square yards||1||∙196|
|Metric name.||New name.||Value in English measure.|
|10. . . . .||Drop, 1⁄160 cubic inch||Cubic inch||0||∙0061|
|10. . . . .||Millilitre||Die = Nail cube, 1⁄16 cubic inch||Cubic inch||0||∙0610|
|10. . . . .||Centilitre||Spoon, 5⁄8 cubic inch||Cubic inch||0||∙6102|
|10. . . . .||Decilitre||Wineglass||Cubic inch||6||∙102378|
|10. . . . .||Litre||Quart = hand cube||Cubic inch||61||∙023378|
|10. . . . .||Decalitre||Pail||Pecks||1||∙135|
|10. . . . .||Hectolitre or
|. . . . . . . .||Kilolitre or
|Metre cobe||Cubic feet||35||∙31658|
|Metric name.||New name.||Value in English measure.|
|1,000. . . .||Gas unit, 1⁄70000 grain||Grain||0||∙000015|
|10. . . .||Milligramme||Seed = pin cube, 1⁄70 grain||Grain||0||∙0154|
|10. . . .||Centigramme||Grain||0||∙1543|
|10. . . .||Decigramme||Corn = drop, 11⁄2 grain||Grains||1||∙5432|
|10. . . .||Gramme||Die = nail cube||Grains||15||∙43235|
|10. . . .||Decagramme||Nut, 31⁄2 ounces||Ounces||3||∙5276|
|10. . . .||Hectogramme|
|10. . . .||Kilogramme||Bip = han cube, 21⁄5 pounds||Pounds||2||∙2046|
|10. . . .||Myriagramme|
|10. . . .||Quintal||∙|
|. . . . . . . .||Millier or ton-
This system is understood to be the invention of Mr. Samuel Barnett, of Washington, Georgia.
It is believed that no other bills were introduced in relation to the metric system. It is perhaps worth while to quote a bill "proposing a reward for a new foot-measure," as a sample of what may be laid before Congress:
"Be it enacted, etc., etc., That the Congress of the United States of America will vote an appropriation, the same as a reward, to be paid the American citizen who shall produce a new foot-measure which shall divulge, in it, the truth of the meeting of parallel lines in exceeding great length."
A resolution of the House of Representatives (November 6, 1877) provided "that the heads of the executive departments be, and they are hereby, requested to report to this House, at as early a date as practicable, what objections, if any, there are to making obligatory in all governmental transactions the metrical system of weights and measures whose use has been authorized in the United States by act of Congress; and also how long a preliminary notice should be given before such obligatory use can be introduced without detriment to the public service; and that they are also requested to state what objections there are, if any, to making the metrical system obligatory in all transactions between individuals, and what is the earliest date that can be set for the obligatory use of the metrical system throughout the United States."
This resolution addressed directly the officers best qualified to judge of the questions involved, and their answers are given below, abridged when possible.
The Secretary of State reports: 1. That the obligatory use of the metrical system, so far as the operations of the Department of State are concerned, and especially its consular and commercial relations with foreign governments, while of convenience and utility with respect to those countries which have already adopted the metrical system to the exclusion of all others, would be of no benefit with regard to those countries which have not so adopted it, and would introduce detrimental confusion, in particular in its commercial relations with Great Britain and other countries where the system of weights and measures is the same as that of the United States, with which countries the bulk of our foreign commerce is at present carried on.
2. That should the obligatory use of the metrical system in governmental transactions be enacted, two years' preliminary notice of the change would suffice to bring the system into harmonious and uniform use in this department and its dependencies abroad.
3. That the Department of State does not seem to the Secretary of State to be in a position to express an authoritative opinion as to the obligatory adoption of the metrical system in all transactions between individuals, inasmuch as its relations directly with the people of the United States are not of a character to be either beneficially or injuriously affected by the suggested change. He ventures to remark, however, that even in those countries, like France, where the system has been obligatory beyond the memory of the present generation, the tradition of the old system clings among the people and defies complete eradication; and that in other countries, like Spain, where the metrical system is adopted in governmental transactions and legalized for those of individuals, the innovation is practically disregarded by the people and but partially conformed to by the Government, which is compelled to recognize the validity of the old standards, in which the continuing transactions of the nation, such as the registration of landed property, the assessment of industrial taxation, etc., are still, and must be of necessity for many years, recorded. While recognizing that the proposed measure is one mainly affecting the people, and therefore properly to be legislated upon by the popular representatives, the Department of State, being called upon for a specific opinion on the subject, is, on the whole, indisposed to recommend the obligatory use of the metrical system in all transactions between individuals.
4. That should its obligatory use as between individuals be enacted, a period of not less than five years should be allowed to elapse before the act takes effect; and that even then provision should be made for the recognition of the legal validity of transactions according to the present lawful systems of weights and measures.
The Secretary of the Navy reports: "If it were desired to make the metrical system of weights and measures obligatory in all government transactions, the Navy Department perceives no objection to it except in so far as it regards the soundings given on charts. If it were applied to these, it would probably involve a total loss of all charts and chart plates now in use. The alteration of these would give them no increased value: and as lone: as English charts remain in fathoms and feet it would be in fact prejudicial, and prevent that free use and interchange of charts which seem essential to navigators.
"So far as this department is concerned, no longer notice would be necessary than was sufficient to furnish the standard weights and measures adopted for government use.
"Respecting the last inquiry submitted by the resolution, 'What objections there are, if any, to making the metrical system obligatory in all transactions between individuals, and what is the earliest date that can be set for the obligatory use of the metrical system throughout the United States?' the department is unable to give a definite answer, inasmuch as it is not informed as to the present intention of the English speaking peoples in regard to the adoption of the proposed change. However desirable or advantageous in theory the change might seem, if adopted by us and not by the other peoples speaking the English language, it would seem probable that a mutual disadvantage would exist growing out of diverse weights and measures.
"It may be assumed that a more general intercourse will exist between peoples speaking a common language than between peoples who speak different languages. And looking at the present geographical extent of the countries wherein the English language is used, and the importance of their commercial intercourse, and also its future importance, as compared with any other of the spoken languages, at a period not at all remote, if regarded historically, it would seem to be of doubtful expediency to separate ourselves from what is now common in weights and measures with other people who speak our language, and with whom it is desirable to increase rather than diminish our commercial intercourse. Experience would indicate that we should hold ourselves in accord with them, rather than adopt other standards, however theoretically advantageous, for it will be impossible to escape many practical disadvantages if our standards vary from theirs, so long as our intercourse shall continue."
The Postmaster-General reports as follows: "In reply to the request contained in the resolution of the House of Representatives, I have to say that the only objections to making the use of the metric system of weights and measures obligatory throughout the domestic postal service, which occur to me as having been made or as likely to be made, are two: one based on the expense incident to the change of systems, and the other based on an apprehension that the practical workings of a new system will fail to give satisfaction, owing to the lack of knowledge of the metric system and experience in its use and application on the part of postmasters and of the public at large.
"In order to ascertain the probable force of the first objection, I have caused an estimate to be made of the probable number, grade, and cost of the balances and scales of the metric system which should be provided to take the place of those now in use in case a change is ordered. The estimate is that the sum of $124,788 would be called for as an immediate outlay to provide for the change.
"In regard to the second objection, it is not to be denied that the metric system of weights and measures corresponds in principle with the decimal system long in use in the United States for coinage and money valuations, and that presumptively no greater inherent difficulty is likely to be encountered in the application of the decimal system to our weights and measures in the domestic postal service than was met in the change from the English system of coinage and money valuations to the present one. The latter is certainly the simpler one, and has for some time past been in use for the foreign mail service of this department. The objection, then, is in my opinion founded on an apprehension that mistakes, and consequently resulting annoyances, and possibly losses, would occur in the practical application, and not on any well grounded objection to the principle of the metric system. This apprehension would, I believe, be greatly lessened, if not altogether abated, were sufficient time given for familiarizing postmasters and the general public with the practical workings of the new system before discontinuing the use of the old one.
"I have only the same means that any other citizen has of forming a judgment in regard to the last inquiry made in the resolution of the House, and I therefore deem it proper not to attempt to make an answer to it in this connection."
The Secretary of War replies by forwarding the reports of his chiefs of bureaus.
The Inspector-General reports: "Although I have had no practical experience in the use of the metrical system of weights and measures, yet, in my judgment, the compulsory change from the present system would be inexpedient, as involving a large outlay of money without adequate comparative results."
The Quartermaster-General reports: "In reply to the reference of the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 6th instant, in regard to the objections which may exist to making the use of the metric system of weights and measures obligatory, first, in all government transactions, and, second, in all transactions between individuals, and the length of preliminary notice desirable before such metric law goes into operation in the United States, I have the honor to say that if the law makes the use of the metric system obligatory in all government transactions it can be adopted by officers of the Quartermaster's Department as soon as notified by general orders.
"Such an order can be distributed to every military post within the space of one month from the time of its publication, and, if the telegraph be used, within one week.
"The objections thereto which at once occur to me are:
"1. It will very considerably increase the labor of computation, for, in practice, all sellers to the United States will make their deliveries in accordance with the English measures now in general use, and the officers, using the ordinary scales for weight, and the yard, foot, and inch, and bushel, gallon, quart, and pint for measures, will first ascertain the quantities and sizes in the present weights and measures, and then, by the use of tables to be distributed, will reduce them to metric quantities in their statement of their vouchers, receipts, and accounts, which will, it appears to me, be a perfectly useless labor.
"2. This reduction, involving additional calculations and transfers from one set of units to another, unfamiliar and much less convenient, will infallibly be the source of many mistakes, to the loss of the disbursing-officer of the Treasury, or of the person who sells supplies to the United States.
"3. It will be necessary, in order to make the operation of such a law really successful, to throw away all the hay-scales and other platform scales whose beams are now divided according to the American standard units of weight, and all the rules and measures divided according to the yard, foot, and inch, and all the weights, pounds, ounces, or grains, of avoirdupois, troy, and apothecaries' weight, and to purchase, distribute, and substitute new scales and new weights according to the metric system. These changes will be expensive. The trouble and labor I do not speak of, as such labor will, in case of the passage of a law, simply be the duty of all officers and employees of the United States.
"4. If the metric system is made obligatory in government transactions and not in transactions between individuals, then continual confusion and misunderstanding will be caused by the use of one standard by the Government and another by the people. All packages are put up by merchants, manufacturers, and producers in accordance with the actual legal standards, pounds, ounces, grains, yards, feet, inches. The transactions of the United States, large as they are, are insignificant compared with those of private trade. Manufacturers and consumers, and the people, will not change their customs at the call of the officers of the United States.
"In regard to making the metric system obligatory in transactions between individuals:
"1. I do not believe that this is within the power of Congress. It will be looked upon by the people as an arbitrary and unjust interference with their private business and individual rights, and I do not think that they will submit to it. It will inflict, if it can be enforced, a great loss upon many, especially upon manufacturers and mechanics whose shops are filled with costly tools, standard gauges, dies, and machines, all constructed upon the basis of the foot and inch.
"Every geared lathe in the United States depends upon a screw of a certain number of threads to the inch, and all the screws it produces are gauged in pitch and diameter by the inch.
"The metre is not commensurate with the inch, foot, or yard; all reductions are approximate only. The law of July 27, 1866, makes the use of the metric system permissive, legal, but not obligatory, and establishes for the reduction of metres to inches, and the reverse, the ratio of one metre to thirty-nine and thirty-seven hundredths inches, which is not absolutely correct. To alter all this machinery, to change all these machines, gauges, dies, screws, and other parts of engines, will be the work of years—will cost millions of dollars.
"The metric system is not a convenient one for common use. Its measures are not of convenient length. The yard, half the stature of a man, is of convenient length to handle, to use, to apply. It, and the goods measured by it, can be halved, quartered, subdivided into eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, sixty-fourths, etc.; or it can be with equal facility divided into tenths, hundredths, thousandths. Half a metre is no dimension; half a centimetre is an unknown quantity; but half a yard, half a foot, half an inch, half a bushel, one fourth of a bushel, of a quart, of a pint, etc., are recognized. If half a litre, of a decilitre, or a quarter, eighth, or sixteenth of these quantities is provided for, then the metric decimal system is abandoned at once.
"In calculation the metric system applies admirably to money and accounts of money; but even here the Government has been obliged to abandon for the convenience of the people the true, strict, decimal system, and to coin half a dollar, half an eagle, the quarter of a dollar, etc.
"In the use of weights and measures, however, there are not so great advantages in the decimal system. The unit is too large, and the numbers produced and used in the calculations of the engineer are tedious to write and are beyond the limits of ready apprehension.
"The ciphers and figures 0·00000073 convey no idea to a mind trained in the English and American system, and yet such combinations are common in French works of science and mechanics.
"The true scientific natural basis of the metric system has been abandoned. The metre was intended and enacted to be the ten-millionth of the quadrant of the terrestrial meridian of Paris. In the progress of geodesy and science, it is ascertained that the standard metre bears no (exact) relation to that quadrant, and, though it is probably very nearly the ten-millionth of the quadrant of the meridian in which New York lies, it is not probable that it is the ten-millionth of either of the three other quadrants of that meridian, or of any quadrant of any other meridian.
"The fact is, that the metre is quite as arbitrary and unscientific a standard as the foot or yard. It is of less convenient length than either of them, and its compulsory adoption would derange the titles and records of every farm and of every city and village lot in the United States; would put every merchant, farmer, manufacturer, and mechanic to an unnecessary expense and trouble, and all, it seems to me, for the sake of indulging a fancy only, and a baseless fancy, of closet philosophers and mathematicians for a scientific basis of measures and weights which (as the metre is not a ten-millionth of the Paris quadrant, is not what it professes to be and was enacted to be) can not be found in the French metric system.
"1. The unit of length: The metre is 3·280890 + feet, or 39·37079 + inches.
"2. The unit of area: The are is 119·60332+ square yards.
"3. The unit of liquid measure: The litre is 0·26418635+ gallon, or 1·0567454+ quart, or 2·1134908+ pints.
"4. The unit of space: The stere is 1·308764+ cubic yard, or 35·386636+ cubic feet.
"5. The unit of weight is: The gramme = 15·43234874+ grains troy.
"6. The unit of roods is: The kilometre = 1,000 metres = 0·62138+ mile.
"7. The unit of land-measure for farms and city lots is: The hectare = 2·47114+ acres.
"8. The commercial unit of weight is: The kilogramme = 1,000 grammes = 2·20462125+ pounds avoirdupois.
"What will our farmers, citizens, merchants, tradesmen, and mechanics do with these figures? And will they submit to being obliged to reduce acres, feet, inches, pounds, and ounces by multiplying or dividing by the above figures?
"I think that to make the French metric system obligatory between individuals in this country will be an impolitic and arbitrary interference with the rights, interests, and habits and customs of the people."
The Surgeon-General reports: "In compliance with instructions from your office calling for reports as to objections to making the use of the metrical system of weights and measures obligatory in all government transactions, and also obligatory in all transactions between individuals, I have the honor to report as follows:
"1. As to the first of the questions submitted in the resolution, I feel constrained to express the opinion that the gravest inconveniences would immediately result from an attempt to render obligatory upon government officers only the use of a system of weights and measures whose units are so entirely different from those which have heretofore been, and would then continue to be, in general use among the people. I pass by the enormous difficulties which would result from compelling government officers to use a different unit for the measures of length from that used by the people. This would not only throw into confusion the whole system of land measurement as practiced in the United States, but would produce the most serious inconveniences from the resulting effort to use in all government works tools and machinery gauged by a different standard from those in common use. These and similar inconveniences, some of them of the most deplorable kind, would be felt so much more severely by other departments of the Government that the duty of representing the force of these objections may safely be left to them. I confine myself, therefore, in this report, to a brief statement of the disastrous inconveniences which would result to the medical department of the army from the measure in question. This measure would compel the substitution of the metric system of weights and measures in prescribing and dispensing medicines in the army for the system of apothecaries' weights and measures at present in use by the medical profession of the United States.
"In all the medical and surgical works of any importance printed in the English language the doses are expressed in apothecaries' weights and measures. The immediate effect of compelling medical officers of the army to substitute the metrical weights and measures would be, to force them to make a series of arithmetical calculations every time they attempt to use the prescriptions or doses laid down in any medical work written in the English language. This thankless and unnecessary labor would waste much precious time, and an error might cost life. Moreover, the strength of the various medical tinctures and solutions in use in England and America has been so adjusted that the proper dose is expressed in even minims, drachms, or fluid ounces. Merely to substitute for these simple quantities the corresponding fractional numbers would be a silly waste of labor; and in order that a proper dose might be expressed in an even number of cubic centimetres, a revision of the Pharmacopœia would be necessary, and this would have to be followed by a corresponding revision of all the medical books in common use before the new Pharmacopœia could be conveniently used. In my opinion the best interests of sick officers and soldiers require that the medical staff of the army should, in all its operations, act in the most complete harmony with the medical profession of the United States, and I can not do otherwise than express my belief that the discordance in practice, which would be imposed by such a statute as is suggested, would be fraught with the most unfortunate consequences.
"2. As to the second question, while I admit that the enforced introduction of the metric system would produce less detriment to the public service if it were rendered obligatory upon the whole people than if its use were simply compelled in government transactions, I must express the opinion that great public inconvenience would result if at the present time its general use were rendered obligatory by the exercise of an arbitrary act of power, I leave to others to point out the disorders likely to result in the land measurements, the railroad interests, and the general machinery interests of the United States, in all of which the units at present employed are incommensurable with those of the metric system, so that the use of long decimal fractions in the most ordinary transactions would become imperatively necessary as the only road of escape from still greater evils. I confine myself merely to the question of the interests of the medical profession of the United States, and must express the opinion that it will be time enough when they have asked for it to impose upon that body a change which will put all their operations out of harmony with the similar proceedings of other English speaking nations. For assuredly many of the inconveniences which would be felt by government officers, if compelled to use a system of weights and measures not used by the people, would be felt by the whole people if they are compelled to use a system so materially different from that employed by other English-speaking people. These inconveniences would only be reduced to the minimum, if, by an international convention between the United States and Great Britain, a mutual agreement were entered into to bring the system simultaneously into use among all English-speaking people. Unless some such international arrangement can be effected, I think it would be wiser for the friends of the metric system to remain for the present content with the law which has legalized its use by those who may find it well adapted for their own particular work. If it possesses the great advantages claimed for it over the older system, its use being already authorized by law, it will gradually extend until it has crowded all others out of existence, and no further legislation than that already had will be necessary to secure ultimately its general introduction. If, however, its advantages are so far counterbalanced by its disadvantages, at some of which 1 have briefly hinted, that, its use having been legalized, the people will not employ it of their own accord, its enforced introduction would be a great public wrong."
The Commissary-General of Subsistence reports: "I have the honor to state in reply to the first branch of the inquiry covered by the resolution, that to make obligatory, in government transactions, the metrical or any other system of weights and measures not in use by the people, and consequently not familiar to or generally understood by them, would not only involve great confusion and great extra labor in making reductions from the system in use by the people to the system adopted for the Government, but I believe that the people would look with grave suspicion upon government transactions based on a system of weights and measures which they did not understand; and that to adopt a system exclusively for the Government would have a tendency to remove the Government further from the people, and weaken, if not nearly destroy, their confidence in the integrity of the officials and agents of the executive departments.
"To the second branch of the inquiry covered by the resolution, I would respectfully submit that I not only believe great detriment would ensue from the adoption of the metrical system exclusively for the use of the Government, but that it would be, also, inexpedient for the United States to make the system obligatory between individuals, unless in cooperation with Great Britain, with whom we are so intimately connected by language, literature, and commerce.
"The change to a new system of weights and measures, based upon units widely different from and incommensurable with those upon which the system now in use is based, must necessarily require a great effort, and should be preceded by a long period of preparation, say twenty years. Even with the most thorough preparation, the change, when made, will bring with it almost inextricable confusion and wellnigh intolerable inconvenience, however superior to the existing system the metrical system may be by reason of its decimal character, its symmetry, and its consequent simplicity."
The Paymaster-General reports: "I believe that the eventual introduction into common use of the metrical system is highly desirable, and is fast becoming still more necessary in our intercourse with foreign nations, especially if it is destined, as seems likely, to pervade the world. The great objects attained by it will be, fixed standards, uniformity, and the extension of the decimal system, found so useful in our money standards.
"I am satisfied that it will be advisable to begin first with legislation making the metric system obligatory in certain (not in all) government transactions. In the collection of customs, in the postal system, and in fixing the rates of coinage, and in all international transactions, it should now be made obligatory from the 1st of July, 1879. I do not recommend its adoption in the land system, and in purchases for the army and navy, and for the Government, at so early a date.
"By this first proposed legislation, a stimulus would be given for the system being taught in all the schools. Thus in six years the rising generation would be initiated and accustomed to it. It would be time enough then for legislation making its use obligatory in all remaining government transactions.
"After a full trial of these measures the people might be prepared for its voluntary introduction in domestic transactions, and for legislation making it obligatory. But it is desirable that there should be no premature legislation of this last-named character, creating discontent and an unfortunate repeal of untimely laws enacted in advance of public sentiment. The preliminary measures referred to would prepare the public mind gradually for final legislation."
The Chief of Engineers reports: "The resolution presents two main inquiries: first, as to the adoption of the metric system in the government offices; and, secondly, as to its adoption in transactions between individuals.
"So far as the proposed change would affect the works carried on under charge of the officers of the Corps of Engineers, it need only be said that while any change in the ordinary and accepted standards must be an inconvenience, yet there is no other reason why the change should not be made, provided sufficient time is given for preparation. It is thought that the French metric standards should not be adopted, to the exclusion of the present standards, in this office within a less interval of time than five years after the passage of the act. This limit is fixed as the minimum, in order to allow for the proper careful manufacture, comparison, and distribution of standards, and their duplication in various forms for ordinary use, for the necessary changes in tables and formulæ, and more especially to allow a sufficient interval of time during which a practical familiarity with the new standards may be acquired, particularly by those with whom the business of the engineer department is transacted and who are not in the public service, as well as by those not in the public service who use the maps, charts, etc., of the department.
"In regard to the compulsory use of the metric standards in the transactions of individuals, certain additional considerations present themselves. It is to be borne in mind that there is nothing in the proposed change which will in any way favorably affect the usual course of private business in this country, and that the demand for a change from the present system does not come from business men, but is made in furtherance of a project designed for the general public good in international intercourse. There is no pressing necessity for immediate change, and it would undoubtedly be better, if the change should be made, to make it by concerted, simultaneous action on the part of all English-speaking people.
"The relations of trade between this country and Great Britain are such that the adoption of new standards of weight and measure by the one without the concurrent action of the other is extremely undesirable.
"As to the general question whether it is desirable to adopt a decimal system of weights and measures, there will probably be but little difference of opinion, since its adoption will to some extent simplify existing tables, and tend to establish a uniformity of practice throughout the world. As an actual practical fact, its adoption is a matter of no immediate importance, and certainly should not be made obligatory upon individuals before it has become generally understood by being adopted in the government service and taught in all public schools.
"The French decimal metric system has been adopted and made compulsory in France, Belgium, Holland, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Chili, and the Argentine Confederation and Uruguay.
"Great Britain and the United States have legalized the system, but have not made it compulsory. Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Austria use partial decimal systems, but with different units of length and of measure."