1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Metric System

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METRIC SYSTEM (adapted from Gr. μέτρον, measure), that system of weights and measures of which the metre is the fundamental unit. The theory of the system is the metre is a 110000000 part of a quadrant of the earth through Paris; the litre or unit of volume is a cube of 110 metre side; the gramme or unit of weight is (nominally) 11000 of the weight of a litre of water at 4º C. The idea of adopting scientific measurements had been suggested as early as the 17th century, particularly by the astronomer Jean Picard (1620–1682), who proposed to take as a unit the length of a pendulum beating one second at sea-level, at a latitude of 45º. These suggestions took practical shape by a decree of the National Assembly in 1790 appointing a committee to consider the suitability of adopting either the length of the seconds pendulum, a fraction of the length of the equator or a fraction of the quadrant of the terrestrial meridian. The committee decided in favour of the latter and a commission was appointed to measure the arc of the meridian between Dunkirk and Mont Jany, near Barcelona. Another commission was also appointed to draw up a system of weights and measures based on the length of the metre and to fix the nomenclature, which on the report of the commission was established in 1795. It was not until 1799 that the report on the length of the metre was made.This was followed by the law of 10th of December 1799 fixing definitely the value of the metre and of the kilogramme, or weight of a litre of water, and the new system became compulsory in 1801. It was found necessary however to pass an act in 1837, forbidding as and from the 1st of January 1840, under severe penalties, the use of any other weights and measures than those established by the laws of 1795 and 1799. The metric system is now obligatory in Argentina, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Rumania, Servia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. Its use is legalized in Egypt, Great Britain, Japan, Russia, Turkey and the United States. In 1875 there was constituted at Paris the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, which is managed by an international committee. The object of the Bureau is to make and provide prototypes of the metre and kilogramme, for the various subscribing countries.

In England action has frequently been taken both by individuals and by association of commercial men for the purpose of endeavouring to make the metric system of compulsory. A Decimal Association was formed in 1854, but did not make very much headway. A bill was introduced into parliament in 1864 to make the metric system compulsory for certain purposes, but owing to government objections a permissive bill was substituted and subsequently became law as the Metric Act 1864. It was, however, repealed by the Weights and Measures Act 1878. In 1871 another bill for compulsory adoption was rejected by the House of Commons on the second reading by a majority of five. In 1893 a representative delegation of business men pressed its adoption on the chancellor of the exchequer (Sir W. V. Harcourt), but he declined. But in 1897 a statute was passed, the Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act, which legalized the use in trade of the metric system, and abolished the penalty for using or having in one’s possession a weight or measure of that system.

See also Decimal Coinage and Weights and Measures.