3 minutes 29 seconds
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As you'll likely be aware, the United States is 1 of the few countries in the world that doesn't use
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the metric system. Instead, it uses US customary measurements, which is similar to the imperial system used in Britain. Sort of. But given that the overwhelming majority of nations have adopted the metric system, this raises the question, why didn't the United States ever do the same? So, as of American independence, the new nation unsurprisingly used the same system of measurements as the British.
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And since even after the war, Britain was still the United States' main trading partner, it made sense to keep the system to help facilitate trade. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had looked into adopting a new system in 1776, but given that they were, you know, busy, it wasn't a priority. President James Madison was a fan of the metric system, but when its use was abolished across Europe in
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he and many others believed that the system would die out. In the early 19th century, the British sought to standardise the measurement system its empire used, and so it created the imperial system which had some differences to the units that Americans used. Britain had hoped that the United States would adopt the imperial system as well, But the Americans didn't fight and win a war against the British just so they could keep taking orders from them, so no. As the United States continued to grow as a chunk of international trade, many of its businesses started to trade with more and more nations. These countries used the metric system which meant that US businesses were using both.
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As such, to facilitate this and to lessen trade reliance on Britain, President Andrew Johnson passed the Metric Act, which formalized conversion rates and allowed businesses to use both. So did this formal recognition of the metric system change anything? Well, not really. As the 20th century approached, American feelings towards the metric system hadn't changed. However, academic and scientific communities pressured successive presidents to adopt the system.
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But they were denied for 3 primary reasons. The first was that doing so would require effort, and nobody wanted that. The second was that the late 19th and early 20th centuries were a fairly isolationist and patriotic period and many Americans didn't want to adopt the foreign metric system when they were already using the American system. The argument was that other societies were worse than America and they used the metric system and thus by adopting it in the United States it would only serve to diminish the country. The third reason was that many policy makers and manufacturing leaders in the United States believed that it was an inevitability that not only would America rise to the top of the great powers, but would eventually eclipse them all.
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And so why go to the cost and effort of replacing US customary measurements when the rest of the world would inevitably change for America. This line of thinking continued into the 1970s. This was when President Gerald R. Ford went the extra
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metres in order to swap the United States over to the metric system. First, he passed a law which placed the metric system as America's preferred system. He and Congress also established the Metric Conversion Board whose purpose was to guide industry in the country into a permanent adoption of the metric system. The problem was that the board couldn't agree on how to adopt the system and also, nobody listened to it. And when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he ended the board, seeing its work as un-American, and thereafter the attempts to change to the metric system have been unenthusiastic and unsuccessful, meaning that the United States would stay as 1 of the few countries in the world that didn't use the metric system.
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I hope you enjoyed this episode and a special thanks to my patrons James Bizonette, Kelly Moneymaker, Sky Chappell, Korsha Wolf, Jerry Lambdin, Jordan Longley, Adam Stalter, Marcus Arsner, YNHockey, Spencer Lightfoot, Rod D. Martin, Words About Books Podcast, Captain Psydog, Gustav Swan, Marvin Casal, Camoon Yoon, Winston K. Wood, Boogily Woogily, Daniel Tobian, Miss Isette, Aaron the White, Corey Turner, The McWhopper, Alex Schwin, Anthony Beckett, Copper Tone, Maggie Patskowski, Shuenin, Spinning 3 Plates, and Charles the First.
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