Why doesn’t the United States use the Metric System? Answer: Pirates.
When the US was still brand new, the states were using their own systems of weights and measures. A pound in New York could weigh less than a pound in Virginia. Interstate commerce was difficult.
This was such a major problem that in 1790, President George Washington said in his first State of the Union address that “uniformity in the currency, weights and measures of the United States is an object of great importance.”
Secretary of State at the time was Thomas Jefferson who liked a new “decimal based” system being used in France. This “metric system” would make all measurements would be divisible by 10: an inch a tenth of a foot, etc. Jefferson invited French scientist Joseph Dombey to the US in 1793 to preview “a small metallic cylinder with what looked like a handle on top. This was the official ‘kilogram,’ and weighed one kilogram.” This copper object was called a “grave”.
Jefferson planned to use it to demonstrate the metric system to Congress, to the states, to the citizenry and, hopefully, convert the entire system of the United States to metric.
Dombey never made it to America.
Dombey’s ship hit a storm and was blown South toward the Caribbean. Who was lurking in the waters in the 18th century Caribbean? Pirates. That’s who.
Technically, they were British privateers charged with harassing American shipping lanes. The swashbucklers captured Dombey and imprisoned him hoping to score a ransom. Instead, Dombey died in prison.
The official metric objects didn’t arrive, and the US moved on, instead embracing the current system: the “United States Customary” system which is based on the British Imperial system.
Technically and officially, America is indeed a metric country, but colloquially US Customary is still widely used in the States.
Let’s find out why.
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