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NNP Blog

Jan 02 2021

History of the Metric System Controversy

Numismatists tend to score higher in age demographics, and many readers will no doubt recall the 1970s metric system discussion in the United States. The Commerce Department created a number of studies at the time, few of which led to any substantial changes in the day to day lives of ordinary Americans, who continued to accumulate pounds (not the monetary kind), drive more miles, and drink gallons of sugary soda. Newman Portal recently added one of these studies, A history of the metric system controversy in the United States : U.S. metric study interim report, published by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1971. Thomas Jefferson considered the question of decimal coinage and measures together, noting “…the citizens of the United States may be induced to undertake a thorough reformation of their whole systems of Measures, Weights and Coins, reducing every branch to the same decimal ratio….” Jefferson got his way with the coinage in the Mint Act of 1792, but was unsuccessful in driving this further into other areas, and this report serves as a useful summary of the abortive attempt to unite all of the U.S. measures around a decimal standard.

Link to History of the Metric System Controversy on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/593538

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