Time for the US to go metric


The US has a love affair with imperial units: height in inches, milk in quarts, weight in pounds. You name it, and it’s measured in imperial. The only problem? Imperial is dumb. So let’s cast of those shackles and join the rest of the world by embracing units that make sense. Let’s go metric, once and for all.

Why make the move? A (metric) ton of reasons.

What do you think? Should the USA “go metric”? I’ve been “bi-measuring” since I was a kid and am (mostly) comfortable with both but there’s no doubt metric, with its factors of ten, is much easier to deal with.

  • Mike

    no. And Gizmodo’s arguments aren’t particularly persuasive. My experience is that metric is already used in business and engineering where it’s preferable. Otherwise, who cares? Does it matter if I measure the size of my dining room table in cm or inches? And certainly Celsius is inferior for day-to-day use than Farenheit.

    • “And certainly Celsius is inferior for day-to-day use than Farenheit.”

      How so? In what way?

      • DanPierce

        In Fahrenheit, at 0° you’re really cold and at 100° you’re hot. In Celsius, at 0° you’re cold and at 100° you’re dead.

        • Lorenzo Orlandi

          So what?

        • Sorry but that doesn’t explain how it’s “inferior” to Farenheit.

          • DanPierce

            In Fahrenheit, if it’s in the 70′s, I can wear a short sleeve short. If it’s in the 60′s, wear a long sleeve shirt. 50′s, throw on a jacket.

          • Yeah…you’re still missing the point. The question was about your statement that “Celsius is inferior for day-to-day use than Farenheit”. You just spouting off different Fahrenheit temps doesn’t exactly answer the question.

            But, I’ve asked about it twice and you don’t really seem to have an answer so I’ll drop it.

          • He’s not the one that made the statement, to be fair.

          • You are correct. My apologies to DanPierce.

          • This whole conversation amused me quite a bit.

          • DanPierce

            The point is, in Fahrenheit I have a 5 degree slop when it comes to determining how comfortable it is.

          • JohnDoey

            That is ridiculously stupid.

            Do you think people in Europe and China and everywhere else can’t figure out what to wear day by day because they are measuring the temperature with standard units instead of the antique ones you use?

            It doesn’t freeze where I live (San Francisco) but it also doesn’t get very hot. Our coldest days are about 5 degrees Celcius. Our typical days are 15 degrees Celcius. Sometimes we get a hot day at 25 degrees Celcius. One time in 1998 it dropped to -1 degrees Celcius and the rain turned into snow very briefly, because water freezes at 0 degrees Celcius.

            Do you think you could handle learning the local version of that where you live? I’m not impressed with your intelligence, but I actually think you can learn that.

          • DanPierce

            I think that for people who have lived with English units their whole lives, there is no perceived advantage to going metric.

            As you state, children know what temperature water freezes at. It’s an arbitrary number as far as they are concerned. It doesn’t matter whether whether it is 0 or 32.

            I hope that you don’t think that I am arguing for not switching to metric. Far from it. But I am trying to explain why, at least in my opinion, the US population isn’t interested.

          • Ritha

            I think here the idea of converting to metric is for the metric system to be teach at school and then for the next generations to be able to share a common language. Sciences and maths around the world use the metric system and it makes it difficult to citizens of the US to understand studies or share even basic conversation with Canadian or European for instance. After, which system people use in their every day life does not matter. You’ll never have a police of the metric system that will not allow you to express yourself in the system you prefer for your every day life with your friends. While the US need to ask a lot foreign scientist to come to the US the fill the needs for scientist it maybe time that we teach and promote sciences at a young age at school and use the same system that is use in other countries to build a community of young and passionate learners that can communicate together.

          • JohnDoey

            You can wear all those same clothes if it is 25, 15, or 5 degrees Celcius. At zero or below you will need to cover exposed skin to prevent it from freezing. Too hard for you?

        • Lukas

          Depends on what you’re doing. For warm weather, Fahrenheit is better. For most other things (cooking, chemistry, cold weather), Celsius wins.

          • DanPierce

            Agreed. When calculating the change in length due to a temperature change, metric wins.

          • JohnDoey

            No. Standard units are always better. They are better designed, better executed, more practical, more accurate, and lead to better work output with less effort.

            Also, using 2 systems is flat out stupid. Self-destructive. Especially when one of them is a badly-designed antique that almost nobody understands, not even the few percent of the world that still uses it.

        • Water freezes at 0 C. That alone makes it a more rational system.

        • JohnDoey

          At zero Celsius water freezes and turns into ice — at 100 it boils and turns into gas. What is hard about that? “Cold” and “hot” are terms a child uses — not accurate enough for a measurement system.

          You are not going to win this ancient argument that already happened generations ago. We standardized on metric. Even the inventors of Imperial (UK) long ago switched to standard units. Both because they are better and because they are standardized.

          If you really believe in using Imperial measurements, go and buy a pair of heavy leg weights and put them on 24/7. Same thing. Waste of time and energy. Bravado at best. All smoke, no fire.

    • Lukas

      I care, because calculating lengths using inches and feet and toes (or whatever else there is) sucks.

      • DanPierce

        If only there was a metric system of time.

        Let me re-phrase that, a workable metric system of time.

        • Ritha

          The metric system in a based 10. It’s really workable!!

          Ok the time is based 60 and based 24 but we use it to in the USA.

          What do you mean by a workable metric system of time??

  • JimH

    Now that I am in Canada, I am mostly metric. But every time I return to the states I switch back to imperial pretty fast. The only think that I dn’t have a good feel for (even after 7 years here is the temperature). In certain ranges I understand if it is hot, cold, or whatever. But once I get out of the common temperatures, I have to look it up/calculate to understand. With all that, there is really no reason to start (again) the conversion. Last time we had signs that listed both and the idea was over time to phase out imperial on them. And it would avoid the possibility for mess ups like the time in one of the NASA Mars missions, on engineering team was using imperial and the other metric.

    • JohnDoey

      The temperature outside no matter where you live will almost certainly be between -40 and 40 degrees. If it is raining (not snowing,) that cuts the common range down to between 1 and 40. Water freezes at zero, your body temperature is 37. It is not that hard to learn that roughly 40 degree range.

      Below zero it is always cold. Below -10 it gets dangerous. Below that it gets really dangerous. Below -40 you are either taking very extensive precautions or you are dead really fast.

      Above zero it is much better. A coat and hat makes you warm at 5, a jacket is enough at 15, a shirt at 20, a T-shirt at 25, and at 30, you will be hot even if naked. At 35 it is almost body temperature and you are looking for a pool to jump in. Over 40 you are either taking special precautions or you are about to die very quickly, just like -40.

      With Fahrenheit you are used to an arbitrary range. You don’t realize just how small the variation in your ambient temperature really is. Once you see you are mostly measuring 1 to 40 or -1 to -40 it is not that hard. And most humans never experience less than -10 or more than 40.

  • MrPhotoEd

    Whoop’s, someone thinks the USA is still a British colony. We don’t use the Imperial units. We use the standard or US Customary units of measurement. Some slight difference in values in measurement of liquid and dry unit measurement. Imperial relates only to those members of the British Empire if I remember correctly.

    • JohnDoey

      That is just playing games with semantics. The Greeks invented togas, not the Romans. The British invented feet and inches, not US Americans. Feet and inches are part of the “Imperial” system of measurement. US Americans who use feet and inches are the ones who are confused. Yes, the American version of Imperial is slightly bastardized by time and geographic distance. Makes no difference. Still sucks.

      And even Britain uses metric.

      (Imperial — a “foot” is the length of the King’s foot. Get it? In SI, the lengths are based on natural things like the size of the earth and the boiling point of water.)

      • MrPhotoEd

        So you are saying a human foot, even if it is a King’s, is not a natural thing? Sorry just had to go there. Yes, even though we use a lot of the same terms, the values are different for some of the measurements, with the British measurements Imperial units and the American as Standard or Customary units. A guess on my part is that the Customary refers to US Customs for import duties, etc. Consider it a Yankee thing.

  • Steven Fisher

    I think the US should switch now, because they’re going to eventually anyway. Fifty years after that switch, the confusion will finally end.

  • Jerry Hildenbrand

    The metric system has two very big holes that need filled before it’s ever going to be willingly adopted by people in the US — a standard unit that is about equal to an inch (a CM is too small, and 2.54 is an arbitrary number) and one for a foot.

    Americans minds instantly know how big an inch or a foot is, and cm or meter can’t replace that.

    • Lorenzo Orlandi

      Are you kidding me? That’s pure habit… Believe me, if you ask me how long a “cm” is I can tell you without looking at parts of my body…

      • Jerry Hildenbrand

        Yes it’s habit. But one that isn’t just going to go away. I also know how long a cm is, but that has no bearing on the current culture of the USA.

        People are loathe to let go of what makes them comfortable.

        • It’s not going to go away if you insist on clinging to it irrationally, no. In that respect you are correct. In all other sensible respects you are wrong.

    • Lukas

      People outside of the US get by just fine without inches and feet. Methinks you’re missing the point of the metric system.

    • That makes no flipping sense whatsoever.

    • JohnDoey

      If you speak English, you say “hello,” and if French, “bonjour.” It is the same.

      In Imperial, you say “2 inches,” and in SI, “5 centimeters.” It is the same. Or you can even say “1 inch” or “2.5 centimeters.”

      When you consider the absolute foolishness of common Imperial measurements like “1 and 9 sixteenths inches” and “1 and 1 eighth inches,” you just sound crazy. When you need to go smaller than centimeters, the millimeter (10 per centimeter) is like fresh air by comparison.

      SI is already widely adopted in the US. It is used by military, industry, academia. If you are not using it, someone is drinking your milkshake because of that. You make significantly less money because you aren’t using SI.

      Apple is not making iPhones with almost no gaps between the parts by measuring things in sixteenths of an inch.

      • RyanGray

        No, they would probably be using thousands of an inch.

    • Ritha

      A adult that is using the metric system since is young also know exactly what a cm look like. Children learn a lot of approximation technique in the metric system as well and the base 10 system make it really easy to learn and to teach. A transition moment will be necessary when USA is going to change to metric system. All the product will be first announced in both system. Bot you will be surprise to realized that your grand children will not understand at all what is a inch of a foot as a reference distance. You want to do a test, just ask a European what is a inch or a foot approximation distance, they do not have a single clue. Can you do a approximation of 1 dm? No you can’t but I can.

  • Brandon

    Yes, for love of God, YES! It will be a pain for a little while, but making calculations within the metric system is so much simpler it is worth it! As for familiarity, I think people will catch on quickly.

  • Lukas

    The metric system isn’t perfect, particularly for its non-decimal parts, but the fact that the US is now pretty much the only country not using it makes the answer clear.

  • And, we won’t crash any more spaceships into Mars because we couldn’t manage the conversion — gawd willing…

    • JohnDoey

      If only because of that mission alone, Congress should have outlawed Imperial. America has to have at least some pride.

  • What about football! 9 meters for a first down. 90 meter field! :p

  • John W Baxter
    1. The process of switching to metric was started nicely in 1866 and continued in 1875 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrication_in_the_United_States which I’m trusting here). Progress has been “a little slow”.

    2. In the late 1950s (possibly early 60s) a formal report was submitted at JPL (probably when that was Army Ordnance Corps, pre-NASA) by a frustrated engineer using the furlong, stone, fortnight system. [Reference: statement to my by my mother (PhD type).] The idea did not catch on.

    3. The proper unit of length is the Smoot, based on the length of 1958 MIT freshman Oliver Smoot (5′ 7” or about 1.70 m). Smoot was laid out repeatedly across the Harvard Bridge (length 364.4 +/- 1 ear). The markings have been carefully preserved since. This hazing was clearly important in setting Oliver’s life activities: he became chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and president of International Standards Organization (ISO). Reference http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot and me (I was one year earlier (not in Oliver’s fraternity) and well aware of the prank.

    4. Yes, the US should finish switching to metric. We don’t need to stay with Myanmar and Liberia (Boston and Cambridge do need to keep the smoot).

  • sashk


  • chjode

    Gawker link? Gross.

  • one of the weirdest things about immigrating into this nation is its archaic measuring systems. fahrenheit is the worst but miles and pounds are almost as annoying.

    • JohnDoey

      The US measurements are one thing I could not adopt also. It’s like being told to stand on one foot and close one eye every time you measure something. You have to be indoctrinated from birth into that kind of foolishness.

      I still can’t use the iPhone Weather app because the icon is too disturbing — it says “sunny and 73 degrees” which means the trees are on fire and people are bursting into flames as they open their front doors.

  • David C

    The construction industry will never transition. All U.S. building materials are factors of imperial units. Too bad because metric would make being an architect far easier.

    • rmcq

      Not true at all. In Australia, all builders use millimetres. I can’t understand how your average builder copes having to use 1/16th of a unit, when they can just use 1mm. Something bigger, just move the decimal place around.

      I can tell you that all builders in Australia have no problem with using mm, we converted over in the 1970s, and even then builders that are 70 years old happily use mm.

      It not only makes it easier for architects, it makes it easier for the entire building industry.

    • The construction industry has already transitioned. So has the military. As well as research and most sciences.

  • Celsius degrees are too big! They don’t run a livable range of temperatures from 0° to 100°. Just too dang big, all most 200°F between 0 and 100°C.

    • ChicagoBob

      I came here to say this. Temperature is the only unit where I think imperial units feel more natural. Day to day, no one thinks in terms of boiling vs. freezing as their temperature frame of reference.

      • JohnDoey

        That is incorrect. Day to day, people think in terms of whether water is freezing because that tells them if it will snow instead of rain. It tells them whether they will have to de-ice the plane wings. It tells them whether their freezer is cold enough to make ice cubes. That line is conveniently at zero Celcius.

        People also boil water everyday when cooking. Many recipes call for water to be heated to boiling. Many scientific and industrial processes involve turning liquid water into steam. That line is conveniently 100 degrees Celcius.

        You did not make even one bit of sense.

        • DanPierce

          People don’t boil water by measuring the temperature.

          They put a pot with water on the stove. Turn it to HIGH. And wait until they see it boiling.

      • Ritha

        Well, when you live in Canada it is really important to know the freezing point as a reference, it is a matter of surviving. And if I’m not mistaken Alaska is a US states ;-)

    • Ritha

      Well it depend what you learned at school first. For a kid raised in a metric system celsius are very livable. It’s all a question of adaptation.

  • Of course the US needs to go metric. It’s pathetic that they still burden the rest of the world with needless conversion requirements.

  • Maybe we’ll switch so everyone will quit bitching about us not using metric.

  • As an American, yes, I do think we should change. While I agree with others that the U.S. system may be more natural in certain regards, the fact of the matter is that it being more natural really only matters when you’re first learning the system. Once you’re familiar with a system, regardless of the system, you’ll find objects and frames of reference for relating the various units that’ll feel perfectly natural. Where metric excels is in day-to-day use with conversions, consistency, and other factors, which continue to matter long after you learned a system. There are a handful of exceptions in certain engineering applications (e.g. I have some petroleum engineering friends who swear their undying love for a particular oddball U.S. unit that doesn’t have a true metric equivalent), but by-and-large, metric is the winner.

    More importantly (at least for me as a pedant), however, I’d like to point out that America actually uses the U.S. customary system, not the Imperial system. The Imperial system shares most of its units with the U.S. customary system, since they share a common ancestor in English units, but there are a number of key differences (most of which are due to the U.K. formalizing the Imperial system in 1824, after America had broken away), ranging from how they measure weight, to the U.S. using different measures for dry and liquid measures of volume, to the U.K. having redefined what a “ton” refers to as part of their metrification efforts a few decades back (they refer to a long ton/metric ton as a “ton”, whereas the U.S. has continued to refer to the short ton as a “ton”).

    • JohnDoey

      Nobody cares that the antique US system is slightly different than the antique British system in some ways. The point is the antique, nonstandard nature of feet, inches, miles, pounds, and so on.

      We waste entire human lifetimes with these antique measurements. A solution was created years ago. Set your kids free.

      • It’s as if you didn’t even read what I wrote at all. Why bother responding to someone who agrees with you by disagreeing with them? Yes, America should shift to metric. I outright said that in the very first sentence of my comment. How did you miss it?

        The entire second paragraph was me explicitly playing the pedant, and contrary to what you said, some of us DO care about people getting facts right. That’s the whole reason I wrote that paragraph. It doesn’t change what I said in my first paragraph, however, which it appears that you entirely skipped.

  • JohnDoey

    It’s a ridiculous question. Like saying “should Americans learn to read?” or “should Americans use mathematics?” There is absolutely no excuse for not using standardized measurements other than a recent blow to the head.

    Teaching kids anything other than SI is literally abusive. You might as well use lead paint. That only makes them 2% stupider.

  • lkalliance

    I want the best of both worlds: metric system and for everyone to have 12 fingers and toes, so we can have the easier base-12 counting system.

    As far as the arguments about Celsius and Fahrenheit, I do understand the argument for Fahrenheit below. What the poster is trying to get across, I think, is that each Fahrenheit degree spans a smaller difference in temperature than a Celsius degree, affording us more subtle differentiation in describing temperature. But I’m sure we’d all get used to it.

    • fahirsch

      Celsius users use tenths of degree. A defect of iPhone weather programs is that they only use whole degrees

  • fahirsch

    I live in Argentina, metric for more than 100 years. And I went to an English school, where I had to learn the English coinage (farthings, pennies, shillings, pounds and guineas). I guess that millions of English parents are grateful that they no longer have to explain that! Go metric now! It will take 50 years to make people forget imperial. Your grandchildren won’t have any problems with it.

  • I’ve lived by daily life in metric for years. That being said, a hard transition would be expensive and difficult. Have a requirement that everything be displayed in both Imperial and Metric.

    • No. Change it and move on. Move out of the 1700s already.

  • This is one of those bizarro issues that would create a political firestorm – especially in the current climate. Can you imagine the vitriol from the birthers if Obama supported a switch?

  • “We should continue using whatever system I’m already accustomed to, and I’m prepared to defend its superiority by citing my personal needs.”

    Spoken like partisan tech nerds.

  • Ryan Gray

    It seems most arguments here, aside from being selfish, are for switching or not switching based on how intuitive the relative temperature units are. Wow, that’ll convince them.

  • In 1973 when I was in the fifth grade our math teacher taught us the metric system because the U.S. was going to be entirely switched over by 1976. I remember him showing us a movie about a kid trying to make a model of the solar system who was having a lot of trouble converting between millions of miles and inches. Then the nice narrator introduced him to the metric system (“You only need to move the decimal point!”) and all his problems were solved.

    I am personally starting to make the switch to metric in my kitchen. Like the kid in the film, I find it’s a lot easier to increase or decrease recipe sizes with decimals than with fractions. (Quick: what’s 1 1/3 cups times 1.5?)

  • One thing. Even though we in the UK use the metric system, all roads are still measured in miles.

    This is based on the accepted measurement on how far you have to go before you can stop hearing the French telling you they have a better measurement system