By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Whatever happened to the metric system?
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News


I guess I will go ahead and date myself.

When I was in elementary school, everything was going along fine. Well, I say fine, but I always struggled in math ... right up until college when I completed the only math class required for my degree.

After that, I pulled out my calculator and have never felt particularly math-challenged since.

Then again, it's not as if I strike up math conversations with my “math-type” friends.

Back to childhood math class. Things were moving along and, all of a sudden, our teacher made a major announcement.

America would be phasing out the number system as we knew it. We were “modernizing” like the rest of the world.

Yes, we progressive Americans would soon be implementing the metric system.

Everybody seemed thrilled with the thought of our new advancement as a nation.

Our road signs would use kilometers to mark the speed limit and the distance until we reached Florida. All recipes would use liters instead of cups and pints.

If it was 105 degrees outside, you would have to learn that was 40 degrees Celsius. If you could drive, you better learn the system quickly since road signs were being converted.

Everybody seemed really excited and I was pretty thrilled myself. Foolishly, my 11-year-old brain reasoned that maybe this whole metric thing would be easier than our current confusing math system.

Maybe the Europeans were onto something. This could be my chance to finally understand math and numbers in general.

Then came the conversions. For me, I am pretty sure learning Mandarin would have been easier.

It wasn't just me who struggled with the metric system. In fact, our teachers never seemed comfortable with the whole thing, and thus never inspired much confidence in us about the new system.

I don’t remember when the metric system sort of fizzled out, so I did some research to see what happened.

Apparently, the government agency that oversaw the “metrication” of America was the U.S. Metric Board. This was established after Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act of 1975.

The metric board was responsible for coordinating, planning and educating all of us about the many wonders of the metric system. I suppose they figured teaching children would be the easiest way to begin.

Is it surprising to anybody that when the government is in charge of something that big, it doesn’t work?

It took the metric board a few years to figure out that we were still asking for “foot-long” hot dogs at summer fairs instead of ordering a “30-centimeter” one.

But eventually they did realize their efforts were not working. In fall 1982, the board was disbanded and everybody went back to using their yard sticks and measuring cups.

My research into the disbanding of the metric system revealed something I find rather astounding.

Did you know that the U.S. is one of just three countries that doesn't use the metric system? Any guesses?

We, along with Burma (Myanmar) and Liberia refuse to go metric.

And I didn’t think we had much in common with those countries.

I realize if you travel overseas, or work in certain industries, you have to be familiar with the metric system.

For me, I hope to use it only when I go to England.