For the majority of my life, I’ve always wondered why the U.S. has their own measuring system instead of using the metric system like the rest of the world. Because of school, I have been forced to bounce between the metric system in science class, and back to the U.S. system for every other subject. Even after about five years of science class, I still don’t know how long a meter is, or how to measure weight in grams and kilograms. Life for Americans, especially American high school and college students, would be much easier if the U.S. adopted the metric system and discontinues the use of the U.S. customary system.
The most common question regarding the U.S. customary system is “how was the U.S. customary system created?” The answer is rather complex. The idea of a consistent measuring system came from George Washington in 1790. Shortly after America gained its independence from Great Britain, Washington expressed the need for consistent measurements and currencies. As the metric system made its way to France, the new measuring system quickly caught the attention of Thomas Jefferson. John Adams was also an advocate for adopting the metric system in the U.S., calling it “worthy of acceptance…beyond question.” Even with Jefferson and Adams’ compelling arguments for the metric system, they lost the battle when the U.S. adopted a measuring system to closely match that of Great Britain known as the British Imperial System, which is still being used today (now known as the U.S. Customary System).
The British Imperial System was implemented in the U.S. in 1826, and has remained in effect for nearly two centuries. With the growing number of Americans pursuing science and engineer-related careers, people wonder why the U.S. is still using their own system of measurement rather than simply adopting the metric system. The main reasoning behind this is because it would take too much time and money to make the switch. Whenever a bill was presented in Congress regarding switching to the metric system, the opposing votes always outweighed the in-favored votes because of large corporations and citizens who don’t want to spend their time or money on switching. Another common theory is that the U.S. wants to be set apart from other countries and be presented as a leader and not a follower by using their own system of measurement.
The United States made an attempt to switch over to the metric system under President Ford in 1975. However, the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 didn’t ban the use of the U.S. Customary System, but simply stated that the metric system would be the preferred measuring system. This act remained in effect until 1982 when president Reagan stripped the Metric Board of their funding, ending the push to switch. The cut was justified as a general cut in federal spending rather than opposing switching to the metric system.
With more Eastern students choosing to take AP-level science courses, not knowing the metric system is a major issue. “[I expect students] to know and understand [the metric system], but being able to grasp it takes practice,” Trevor Sprik, Eastern’s AP bio teacher, explained to me. Sprik also said that he “[goes] over the basics of [the metric system] every year because it’s not hard – you just have to multiply and divide everything by ten.” However, students still struggle to grasp the different units and converting from one system to another. Sprik believes that this is because “they don’t practice it [outside of school].”
Similar to cursive, difficult math concepts, and grammar, the metric system won’t ‘stick’ without consistent practice. If the metric system is not integrated into the day-to-day lives of Americans, it will slowly disappear. If Americans continue to resist using the metric system, we will forever remain separate from the rest of the world and have a constant disadvantage in the science and engineering fields.
Works cited (APA 7 Style)
Fuller, Tracy. “Failure to Convert: Why the United States Still Uses Imperial Measurement.” CBC.ca, 3 Jan. 2021, www.cbc.ca/radio/costofliving/the-metric-system-housing-markets-inflation-and-paying-for-roads-we-answer-your-questions-to-kick-off-2021-1.5859911/failure-to-convert-why-the-united-states-still-uses-imperial-measurement-1.5859929.
Hogeback, Jonathan. “Why Doesn’t the U.S. Use the Metric System?” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/story/why-doesnt-the-us-use-the-metric-system.
“Measurement System – the English and United States Customary Systems of Weights and Measures.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/science/measurement-system/The-English-and-United-States-Customary-systems-of-weights-and-measures.
“Statement on Signing the Metric Conversion Act of 1975. | the American Presidency Project.” Www.presidency.ucsb.edu, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/statement-signing-the-metric-conversion-act-1975.
Washington, District of Columbia 1100 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 1300B, and Dc 20036. “PolitiFact – Lincoln Chafee Says Ronald Reagan Talked about Converting to the Metric System.” @Politifact, 7 June 2015, www.politifact.com/factchecks/2015/jun/07/lincoln-chafee/lincoln-chafee-says-ronald-reagan-talked-about-con/. Accessed 20 Oct. 2021.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.