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J. K. Upton in 1878 on present and proposed standards and countries' adoption of the metric system

Following is a March 6, 1878 report by J. K. Upton, chief clerk of the Treasury Department, on the problems with the existing standards of measurement, the proposed standard — the metric system — and the status of various countries' measurement systems at that time.


This was written as a reply to the US House of Representatives resolution of November 6, 1877, which read:

Resolved, That the heads of the executive departments of the government be, and that they are hereby, requested to report to this House, at as early a date as practicable, what objections, if any, there are to making obligatory in all governmental transactions the metrical system of weights and measures, whose use has been authorized in the United States by act of Congress, and also how long a preliminary notice should be given before such obligatory use can be introduced without detriment to the public service; and that they are also requested to state what objections there are, if any, to making the metrical system obligatory in all transactions between individuals, and what is the earliest date that can be set for the obligatory use of the metrical system throughout the United States.

Reply of J. K. Upton, chief clerk of Treasury Department.

Treasury Department,
Office of the Secretary,

Washington, D.C., March 6, 1878.

Sir: In compliance with your verbal request that I present to you, in writing, any suggestions that may occur to me in the matter of the proposed introduction into this country of the metric system of weights and measures, that the same may be transmitted to Congress with your reply to the resolution of the House of Representatives dated November 6, 1877, I have the honor to submit the following:


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The necessity of uniform standards for measuring distances, weights, capacity, and values among people intimately associated is universally acknowledged, and the Constitution of this country has wisely given to Congress the power to fix these standards. This power has not been freely exercised, and consequently there is no uniform or authoritative standards of measurement throughout the country.

In measuring length, the yard, derived from ancient arbitrary standards of England, is an accepted standard. In scientific theory this yard is supposed to rest upon a law of nature. The inch, the 136 of the yard, is said to be contained 39.13929 times in the length of a pendulum that in a vacuum, and at the level of mid tide in the latitude of London, vibrates seconds. It is, in fact, the distance between two points on an actual bar of brass which the law has declared to be a yard, the distance to be taken when the temperature of the bar is at 62° Fahrenheit. This bar was obtained from England in 1827 for the survey of the coast, and is deposited in the office of the Coast Survey in this city. On it has been copied the standard English yard, and it affords a standard which has been adopted by the executive departments of the government and by several States for all purposes of linear measurements. In practice the yard is variously subdivided and other derivative standards employed.

In the actual government standards at the custom-houses, the yard is divided into tenths and hundredths. Surveyors and engineers employ neither the yard nor the inch, but the foot, the one-third of a yard, and its decimal subdivisions. Mariners measure by the cable-length (240 yards) and fathom (6 feet). Land-surveyors employ the chain (22 yards) and the link (7.92 inches). Artificers and architects reckon by the foot and the inch, subdivided into halves, quarters, and eighths. Muslins and dry goods generally are measured by the yard, subdivided into halves, quarters, and eighths; clock-pendulums by the line (112 of an inch) and the point (172 of an inch), and the height of horses is measured by the hand (4 inches).

In measuring weight, the standard for coinage purposes is the troy pound. Like the yard, it is derived from arbitrary standards of England. In 1827 Congress declared a certain brass weight, procured that year by the minister of the United States at London, to be the standard troy pound of the mint of the United States, conformable to which the coinage of the country should be regulated. This pound weight is identical with the troy pound of England. It is assumed to contain 5,760 grains, and investigation shows that 252.458 [need to double-check the second digit] of these units in brass will be in just equilibrium with a cubic inch of distilled water when the mercury stands at 30 inches in a barometer, and in a thermometer of Fahrenheit at 62°, both for the air and water. A pound avoirdupois contains 7,000 of these grains.

Copies of both pounds have been furnished the several States and adopted by them as standards, thus securing uniformity in standard units of weight. The troy pound used in weighing precious metals is subdivided into the ounce (480 grains), the pennyweight (24 grains), and the grain also is subdivided decimally. Apothecaries, in compounding medicines, employ the scruple (20 grains), and the dram (60 grains); but in all ordinary commercial transactions the pound avoirdupois is employed, being subdivided into the ounce (437.5 grains), and the dram (27.35 grains); the ounce being also by usage subdivided into halves and quarters.

A weight called a quarter, consisting of either 25 or 28 pound units, is also used, and a hundred weight is 100 or 112 pound units, and a ton 2,000 or 2,240 pound units, according to the substance weighed and the party weighing it. Coal, for instance, is purchased by the ton of 2,240 pounds and sold by the ton of 2,000 pounds.

In measuring capacity, three units, also adopted from England, are employed — the bushel, the wine-gallon, and the beer-gallon. For measuring fruits, grain, salt, &c., the bushel (2150.42 cubic inches) is used, subdivided into the peck (537.60 cubic inches), the gallon (268.8 cubic inches), the quart (67.20 cubic inches), and the pint, ½ of a quart. This bushel is identical with the old Winchester bushel. The imperial bushel of England now used in that country is equal to 1.03152 of the Winchester bushel. The value of a bushel as a unit of weight will be hereafter considered.

For measuring liquids, except ale, beer, and milk, the wine-gallon, containing 231 cubic inches, is used. It is subdivided into fourths, called quarts, these quarts into halves, called pints, and the pints into fourths, called gills. There is also in this system a barrel of 31.5 gallons, a tierce of 42 gallons, and a tun of two pipes or of eight barrels.

For measuring ale, beer, and milk, the beer gallon, 282 inches [sic], is the unit, divided, like the wine-gallon, into quarts and pints. There is also in this measure the barrel of 36 gallons, the hogshead of 54 gallons, the puncheon of 72 gallons, and the butt of 108 gallons. None of these units are identical with any units of the other capacity measures. To add to the confusion, there are in different parts of the United States a barrel for beer, consisting of 32 gallons; the barrel for corn, of 5 bushels; for fish, of 220 pounds; for flour, 196 pounds; for lime, 320 pounds; and for lamp-oil, 43 gallons. The imperial gallon used in Great Britain contains 277.274 cubic inches, thus differing in size from any gallon used in this country.

In measuring solids, ordinarily the cubic inch, foot, and yard are used as units. In measuring round and hewn timber, tons of 40 and 50 cubic feet are respectively used. For shipping purposes, a ton of 42 cubic feet is used; and in measuring wood, the cord-foot (16 cubic feet) and the cord (128 cubic feet) are employed.

Appended to this report are tables, marked A, B, C, showing the units of each measure and their values in terms of a common unit of the system to which it belongs, and also their equivalants in terms of the metric system.

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It will be seen that, in measuring length, twenty-five units are employed, three of which, although under different names, have like values, the others having different names and values, but bearing no useful relation to each other. In measuring-weights, eighteen units are employed, three of which are duplicated, as the troy pound, the apothecaries' pound, and the avoirdupois pound, two of which are identical in weight; others have the same name but are of different values. Those duplicated reduce to that extent the number of units for the several purposes, but the fact of their duplication confuses rather than simplifies the system.

In the measurement of capacity, twenty-seven units are employed, though but nineteen have different names. None of these are duplicated, however, except in names; and the gallon has three distinct values, so also have the quart and pint. The bushel appears to have but one value, but in nearly every State and in the customs-tariff of the general government the term is also employed as a unit of weight, the law fixing the number of pounds according to the substance weighed. Table D, herewith appended, shows the value of the bushel under the laws mentioned, prepared from latest information accessible. It will be seen that the most common products of the earth have no uniform standards of measurement. In the contiguous States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, a bushel of oats, for instance, is, respectively, 32 pounds, 28 pounds, and 2150.42 cubic inches, and like confusion exists throughout the country.

As no trade restrictions exist between the several parts of the country, the disadvantage of having so common a standard as the bushel mean one thing in one State and another in another is easily seen. But even in local transactions one meets with troy weights, apothecaries' weights, and avoirdupois weights; with long tons, short tons, and shipping tons; with wine gallons, beer gallons, and dry gallons, and with barrels of undefined sizes, making in all an aggregate of appalling confusion.

A system consisting of a single unit for each measure, bearing simple relations to each other and having uniform subdivisions and multiples, would evidently be far superior for all purposes of measurements, local or throughout the States, and if superior for local and national use, it would also be preferable for international purposes, if, at the same time, it should be in harmony with the systems of other countries.


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After several years of investigation, in 1795 France invented and adopted a system under which, for everything susceptible of being measured and weighed, there should be only one measure of length, one of weight, and one measure of contents; their subdivisions and multiples to be expressed decimally, and all to repose for verification upon a unit of length, which should be an aliquot part of the circumference of the earth. To obtain such a unit, measurements of an arc of a meridian were made, and the length of the quadrant meridian having been obtained, its one ten-millionth part was adopted for the purpose. This unit, equivalent to 39.37+ English inches, is called the meter, upon which are based all other measures constituting what is known as the “metric system.”

The gram is the unit of weight, and is the weight of a cube of water of maximum density, each edge of the cube being 1100 of the meter.

The liter is the unit for measuring capacity, and is equal to the contents of a cube whose edge is the tenth part of a meter.

The ar is the surface measure, equal to a square whose side is 10 meters. [Note: This was later spelled “are,” but is rarely used today except as the hectare.]

The ster is a cubic meter used in measuring certain solids. [Note: This was later spelled “stere,” but is no longer used.]

Each of these units is divided decimally and larger units are formed by proceeding decimally. The subdivisions are designated by the prefixes deci, centi, and milli, and the successive multiples by deka, hecto, kilo, and myria, each having its own significance and no other.

The adoption of this system in the United States is now proposed. Compared with our existing systems, its superior advantages would seem to consist (1) in having an invariable standard taken from nature; (2) in having a single unit for all weights and a single unit of measures of capacity for all substances, wet or dry; (3) in having decimal subdivisions and multiples of its units; and (4) in the uniformity, precision, and significance of its nomenclature.

(1.) The only advantage of having the unit an aliquot part of the earth's polar circumference would appear to be in its application to geography and astronomy. But the dividing of the quadrant of the meridian decimally into hundreds and thousands, as proposed, has been found impracticable and the project has been abandoned. To that extent the metric system has proven a failure. Recent experiments have also demonstrated that the length of the quadrant meridian was not accurately ascertained at the time of the adoption of the metric system, and consequently the actual meter established is not the aliquot part of the meridian, as supposed. Future investigations may eliminate other errors of calculation and again change the theoretic standard. For all practical purposes a platina rod kept in Paris is the standard meter, and it has no special advantage over that of the brass rod kept in London for a standard yard.

(2.) In having one unit for weights and one unit for all measures of capacity, the metric system enjoys a superiority over all others. To the English system belongs two measures of weight, the troy pound and the avoirdupois pound; and three measures of capacity, the wine-gallon, the beer-gallon, and the bushel, containing eight dry gallons. This diversity of measures originated in an effort to make a measure of capacity also a measure of weight; for instance, a gallon of wheat and a gallon of wine each to weigh eight pounds avoirdupois. But the effort failed, and the law long ago fixed the dimensions in cubic inches only.

The metric system has only one measure of weight and one measure of capacity, and experience has proved these to be sufficient for all purposes desired.

(3.) To the English system belongs also the disadvantage of an irregular scale of progression between units of the same measure. In measures of length we ascend by the factors 12, 3, , 40, 8, 3, or else by 7.95, 25, 4, and 80. In weights we have three series, avoirdupois, troy, and apothecaries, the common unit being the grain. In the first, the factors are 271132, 16, 16, 25 or 28, 4, and 20; in the second, 24, 20, and 12; and in the third 20, 3, 8, and 12. The factors in other measures are equally as various. To learn these many scales of unequal progression requires much time and labor, which can be better applied to other purposes.

In the metric system, however, we ascend and descend in all cases by the common factor 10, thus placing the system for all purposes of calculations upon the basis of simple numbers. Pull quote The decimal system in numeration has already asserted and maintained itself, and to it has given way one by one the schemes of different nations. In countries where not adopted it is frequently used. Even in England, where pounds, shillings, and pence constitute the currency of the country, merchants count in cents their interest, discount, and dividends. Slowly, but surely, all standards of measurement are in practice being divided into tenths and hundredths. The decimal system, once adopted, has in no instance been abandoned; and whether we will or not, it will ultimately prevail to the displacement of all other systems.

(4.) In the English system of weights and measures there are also found 74 units in common use, having 56 names. The ounce, the drachm, and the grain are indefinite parts of an indefinite whole. The pound avoirdupois is heavier than the pound troy, but the ounce avoirdupois is lighter than the ounce troy. In the confusion numbers even lose their identity. A dozen, for isntance, may mean sixteen; twenty-eight signify twenty-five; and one hundred and twelve a hundred; thus making the whole less than the sum of its parts. A gallon of wine is not so much as a gallon of milk, and a ton of coal is sometimes one weight and sometimes another. The bushel for measuring products of the earth has 130 different sizes in this country, and none of them of the size of the bushel of England, to which country most of our surplus products are shipped in quantities measured by bushels.

In the vocabulary of the metric system there is but one word to denote a unit of length, one to denote a unit of weight, one for a unit of capacity, one for surface, and one for cubic measurements, and the words have no other significance. Thus the word meter means an established unit of length and nothing else. It cannot be the measure of one length in one country and of another length in another country. The gram is a specific weight everywhere and under all conditions the same, and the liter denotes a vessel of specific cubic contents for the measurements of all liquids, and is never used for any other purpose.

The multiples of these units are denoted by prefixing to them respectively four syllables from the Greek language, indicating decimal progression; the subdivisions by prefixing four syllables from the Latin language, indicating decimal fractions, and thus five words indicating units and seven prefixes indicating numbers make up the vocabulary of the system. Of whatever superiority, however, the metric system may be possessed, to make its use obligatory by law for public purposes and in transactions between individuals will be a harsh exercise of legislative authority.

Weights and measures have been aptly ranked as necessities of life, and no system of them, however objectionable, can be wholly eradicated, except by long periods of time.

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Appalled at the prospective confusion which the abolition of our existing system would bring into every household in the land, John Quincy Adams, after an exhaustive review of the whole subject, advised Congress in 1821 to take no steps with a view of such abolition, and, while he eulogized in glowing terms the merits of the metric system, he could only recognize the system as an experiment, and its adoption, at best, a matter of doubtful expediency. Since that day, nation after nation has, by imperative law, abolished its system of weights and measures, and substituted the metric system, with only the best results. Throughout the civilized world, and even in pagan lands, this system has found recognition and welcome. At the risk of tediousness, I beg to set forth in detail a statement showing its wonderful expansion.


Argentine Republic.—(Until 1828 with Uruguay.)—The metric system of weights and measures introduced for customs purposes according to the customs-tariff laws of 7th October, 1872, and 11th October, 1873, and is used in the assessment of duties.

Bolivia, Republic of.—(Once South Peru.)—Weights and measures the same as in Peru, which see.

The coin-weight, at least since 1871, is the French gram.

Brazil.—(Rio de Janerio and Pernambuco.)—Since January 1, 1874, the weights and measures of Brazil are the French metric.

An imperial decree of 26th July, 1872, approved a law voted by both chambers upon the introduction of the metric system, which, after a permissive use of ten years, should be generally in force. According to a decree of 18th September, 1872, the new system went into obligatory effect, with 1st of July, 1873, a delay of half a year, however, to be allowed for the execution of the decree; therefore, with the 1st of January, 1874, the metric system is definitely established with all its consequences, and since this time only metric measures and weights are used. Diamonds, however, are still permitted to be sold according to the old Portugese outava.

The French meter has already for many years been commonly employed for manufacture, but often, as now, the English yard is used, and sometimes the old Parisian aune. Stone-coal is sold, at wholesale, by the English ton of 2,240 pounds, avoirdupois— the tonelada—reckoned equal to 70 arrobas, old weight; so, also, bone-ashes; also, ships' freights are, for the most part, settled according to the English ton.

The interval from the date of the decree of 26th July, 1862, introducting the system, to that of the 18th September, 1872, declaring the use of the system obligatory, is nine and two-thirds years; from the earlier date to 1st July, 1873, is eleven years, and to 1st July, 1874, the date from which its issue is obligatory, twelve years.

Chili, Republic of.—(Santiago de Chili.)—A law of 29th January, 1848, introduced the French metric system of weights and measures. For coin-weight the system came at once into use, but for other purposes its enforcement was delayed.

By a decree of the President of the Republic of 31st May, 1862, and a decree of the administration of 19th Decmeber, 1862, the system came into force for customs purposes from 1st January, 1863.

The interval from the date of the law introducing the system to its enforcement for customs purposes was fifteen years.

In trade and for the purposes of common life the old system is generally employed.

Silk and woolen goods are sold by the vera; sugar by the arroba. Stone-coal is sold by the ton (tonelada) of 1,000 kilograms; copper ore by the 100 kilograms; pig-iron is sold by the Spanish ton (tonelada) of 20 quintales (920 kilograms); so, also, is guano.

Colombia, in its broader sense.—(Republic of Colombia, 1822 to 1831.)—The three republics, now constituting Colombia:

1. United States of Colombia (formerly the confederation of New Grenada, until 1863; before that, the Republic of New Grenada, until 1858).

2. Ecuador.

3. Venezuela.

United States of Colombia.—(Bogotá; Sante Fé de Bogotá.)—In conformity with the law of 8th June, 1853, the French metric system has been in force since 1st January, 1854 (including for shipping). For coinage the weight has been the French gram since 1848. This law introducing the metric system is still permissive for private persons and is used at pleasure in their extensive business transactions. Consequently in large transactions the old standards are also used.

Ecuador, Republic of.—(Quito, or Francisco de Quito.)—According to the laws of 5th December, 1856, the metric system has been that of the repulbic since 15th October, 1866 (ten years). Since the last-mentioned date the metric system alone appears in official transactions.

A later law, that of 14th April, 1857, again orders the use of the metric system generally in all business transactions throughout the republic.

According to the law of 1856, once in every two years, on the 15th October, the weights and measures of each of the provinces, districts, and communes of the republic must be verified.

Guatemala.—(Central American States; Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica).—In Guatemala and Costa Rica, since 1858, the French metric system is legally in force, and in San Salvador the French weight, at least for coin purposes, which also in Honduras, since 1869, is employed as the coinage weight; but in fact in Guatemala and Costa Rica the old Spanish-Castilian system is in use and controls, as well as in the other Central American States.

Martinique.—(A French Antilles island in the West Indies).—French weights and measures (metric) legal, yet other systems are much in use, the old Parisian and the English.

Mexico.—The weights and measures of the States of the republic are legally the French metric. A decree of President Commonfort of the 15th March, 1857, ordered their introduction; requiring that six months after the date of the proclamation they be exclusively used in all governmental transactions (which was not done), and from 1st January, 1862, should be obligatory for all the inhabitants.

The law of the 15th March, 1861, ordered anew the exclusive use, for all purposes, of the French system of measures, from 1st January, 1862, but this law appearing to remain almost without effect for private working, an imperial decree was issued in November, 1865, again declaring the use of this system alone valid (or in force) throughout the States.

The use of the new system appears to be extending to more and more places, at least in the wholesale trade (1873), the old weights and ell-measures being still employed.

The new measures retain the names of the corresponding old with the prefix “new.”

Peru, Republic of.—(Lima.)—The weights and measures of Peru are legally the French metric.

The introduction of the metric system has for many years been ordered, but as yet almost wholly without effect.

Later, in the year 1869, its adoption was again ordered, and for customs purposes it is in use. In general, the earlier or old Spanish-Castilian system, with some exceptions and peculiarities, is used. For coin wieght the French gram (metric) is used.

United States of America.—The French metric system of weights and measures rendered permissive by law of 28th July, 1866. To the 5-cent copper nickel-piece was given the metric weight of 5 grams (77.16 grains), by law of 16th May, 1866 [still true of today's nickel, which despite its color is mostly copper — refer to the US mint's specifications of circulating coins]. To the silver coins of the United States of smaller denominations than one dollar was given metric weights, by the law of 12th February, 1873. For postal purposes one-half ounce equals 15 grams, and so on in progression.

Uruguay, Republic of.—(Montevideo.)—(“Oriental Republic of Uruguay.”)—French metric system of weights and measures legalized by decree of 20th March, 1862. This system is in use for customs purposes, but for other purposes does not appear to have been brought into common use. It is employed to some extent for coinage.

Venezuela, Republic of.—(Caracas.)—In the year 1872, through an executive order of 18th July of that year, the French metric system was introduced, in conformity with which already, since the beginning of the year 1873, entries for customs settlements are required to be made.

Coin weight is the French gram (metric), in conformity with the coin law of 30th May, 1848. The weights and measures have been legally for many years (about ten years prior to 1874) the French metric, but in practice the metric system had found no place, and even the customs tariff of 12th May, 1867, took the earlier system of weights and measures as its basis. According to a governmental decree of 17th September, 1869, the metric decimal system was to be brought into use in all the customs transactions of the republic, and likewise by the consuls of the State in certifying goods and manifests.


Austria.—In conformity with the law of 23d July, 1871, the French metric system of weights and measures was made obligatory from the 1st of January, 1876. The interval from the date of the authorizing law to the date from which it was made obligatory was about four and a half years.

Belgium.—(Antwerp.)—The metric system of weights and measures was introduced with old denominations during the union of Belgium with the Netherlands—that is, by the law of 21st August, 1816, and the royal decrees of 29th March and 30th November, 1817. By a Belgian law of 18th June, 1836, these names were withdrawn and French names introduced. A law of 1st October, 1855, created from 1st January, 1856, the exclusive use of the French system (including also the French medicinal weight).

Denmark.—The unit of commercial weight since the law of May 1, 1863, is the pfund of 500 grams or the one-half kilogram. The unit of coin weight, in conformity with the Scandinavian coin convention of 18th December, 1872, and the law of 23d May, 1873, has been since 31st May, 1874, the metric gram; the convention to be in force until the end of December, 1884—ten years. The introduction of the complete metric system of weights and measures is in prospect.

On the 3d of October, 1876, the minister of interior recommended to the Parliament a project of a law according to which the use of the metric system of weights and measures was to be permissible for three years, after which its use should be compulsory throughout the kingdom. The coin weight, under the coin law of 4th June, 1873, is the French metric, the kilogram.

France.—The system of weights and measures known by common consent as the “metric system” was proposed by the Prince Talleyrand, then bishop of Autun, in the year 1790. This system was declared the only system of weights and measures in France and in the French colonial possessions by the law of 1st of August, 1793.

The organizing law for the new measures and coins of the metric system was adopted on the 7th of April, 1795.

Under the organizing law of 7th April, 1795, and supplemental law of 15th August, 1795, money is reckoned since 1st July, 1796, and definitely since the coin law of March 28, 1803, in francs of one hundred centimes.

The metric system of weights and measures was definitely introduced through the law of 10th December, 1799, the organizing law, as before mentioned, bearing date 7th April, 1795.

For small or retail trade the “système usuel” was introduced and permitted through decree of February 12, 1812, and the order of the minister of the interior, of 28th March in the same year, and was allowed to continue in use until by the law of 4th July, 1837, its use was forbidden from 1st January, 1840. Although forbidden from this date, the “système usuel” was actually much in use as late as 1861.

The interval from the antecedent organizing (constitutive) law of 7th April, 1795, and the law definitely introducing the metric system of weights and measures into France of 10th December, 1799, is four years and eight months.

The interval from the decree of 12th February, and the ministerial order of 28th March, 1812, permitting the temporary use of the so-called “système usuel,” and 1st January, 1840, the date from which its use was forbidden, is nearly twenty-eight years. (Twenty-seven and three-fourth years.)

The interval from the date of the law of 4th July, 1837 (interdicting or forbidding the use of the “système usuel” after the close of the year 1839), to 1st January, 1840, the date from which the use of the complete or pure metric system was made compulsory, was two and a half years.

Germany.—The customs pound (500 grams), the standard customs weight of the Customs Union, became the national weight on 1st July, 1858, throughout the greater part of Germany, and for a shorter time throughout the present empire.

It was also made the postal weight of the German Postal Union, and the railroad weight (for freight) of the Customs Union, and since February, 1852, the customs weight of the Austrian Empire, and through the Vienna coin treaty of 24th January, 1857, the coin weight in nearly all the German States, and also in Austria.

A decree relative to weights and measures for the North German Union was promulgated 17th August, 1868. This decree made the use of the metric system of weights and measures permissive from 1st January, 1870, and compulsory from 1st January, 1872. By a subsequent law of the German Empire, the same was re-enacted and extended throughout the realm. Bavaria adopted it by a law of 29th April, 1869.

The interval from the date of the decree for the North German Union to the date when the use of the system became obligatory was three and one-third years; and from the date of the law of Bavaria to its compulsory use was two and two-third years.

In Rhenish Bavaria the metric weights and measures were introduced in the year 1840. Outside of the Rhenish provinces the system was non-metric until the metric system was declared optional from 1st January, 1870, and obligatory from 1st January, 1872.

In Baden, the weights and measures made commensurable with the metric system by law of November, 1810, came gradually into use, until, by order of 21st August, 1828, their use was made compulsory with the year 1831, exxcept as regards medicinal weights, which have been metric from July 1, 1864.

In the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg, until the end of 1871, the system of weights and measures in different placed differed. Only the metric weight by the law of 19th June, 1857, was made common from and after 1st July, 1858, an interval of one year. In Lubeck this weight was introduced later.

For customs purposes the new pound (½ kilogram) and the centner (50 kilograms) have been used in all the States of the German Zollvereign (Customs Union) since 1st January, 1854, divided, however, as to the pound, into thirty loth. From the same date the pound (½ kilogram), divided into thirty loth, was adopted by the German-Austrian Zollverein for postal purposes.

By a union of several of the German States the metric pound and the centner were adopted in 1856. Since 24th January, 1857, the coin pound of 500 grams has been employed for the purposes of coinage. Metric medicinal weight has been used since 1858.

Great Britain.—The French metric system of weights and measures is permissive by law of 1864.

Greece.—(Athens.)—French metric system of weights and measures introduced by law of 28th September, 1836, but with the common Grecian names. In the Ionian Islands, however, the English weights and measures have been legalized since 1829.

Hungary.—The use of the new Austrian (metric) system of weights and measures was made permissive from 1st January, 1873, and obligatory from and after 1st January, 1876, an interval of three years. Article VIII, of the law of 1874, provided for the introduction of the new metric system, to be in force January 1, 1876.

Italy.—Since the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy (17th March, 1861), the weights and measures are the French metric. This system has been compulsory over the Italian peninsula and Sicily since 1st January, 1863. It was introduced into Venetia (Venice) by the law of 11th March, 1869. It was introduced into Lombardy and Venice, when under the French dominion, in the year 1803, but came into permanent use only for governmental or administrative purposes. On the island of Sardinia t has been in legal use since 1st January, 1846; in Genoa since 1st March, 1847; in the rest of Piedmont since 1st April, 1850; in the continental part of the former Kingdom of Naples since 1st January, 1861. In the earlier Papal States its introduction was ordered in 1848 to take effect in the year 1850, but prior to the end of 1870 has not been much employed.

In the former Duchy of Parma, since 1854, the Austrian (or German) customs-weight (the pound of 500 grams) has been employed for customs purposes. In Leghorn the metric weight for wholesale purposes has been still longer in use. In the former Duchy of Modena the metric system of weights and measures was introduced first in 1808, and re-established in 1849.

Netherlands.—The French metric system of weights and measures was introduced by the law of 21st August, 1816, and the royal decrees of 29th March and 30th November, 1817. The length measure to be in force since 1821; square and field measure since 1821; fluid measure since 1830; commercial, medicinal, and apothecaries' weight since 1821.

The metric system established by the law of 1816 and decrees of 1817 applied the old designations to the metric units. The law of 7th April, 1869, established from the commencement of the year 1870 a new series of international names, with the optional use for the first ten years of the old denominations.

Norway.—In the Norwegian Parliament, on the 22d of April, 1875, the government moved for the introduction of the metric system of weights and measures.

Portugal.—The French metric system of weights and measures compulsory since 1st October, 1868. Metric measures of length and surface have been legally in use in Lisbon since 1st January, 1860; in the provinces since 1st March, 1860; for capacity and weight throughout the whole land since the end of 1862. For customs, tonnage-dues, warehousing, and the assessment of taxes, the French system has been in force in Lisbon and Oporto since September, 1860; so also for the measurement of shipping by a decree of 25th August, 1860.

Roumania.—(Bucharest.)—According to a royal edict of 27th November, 1874, the government is charged with the duty of introducing the new or French metric system of weights and measures, but its use is not yet accomplished. For railroad purposes they reckon according to the French kilometre.

Sweden.—The French system of weights and measures will be obligatory with the year 1883, permissive during the years 1881 and 1882; and for customs and postal purposes, also for railroad transportation, obligatory from the commencement of 1881.

The coin weight is in conformity with the Scandinavian coin convention of 18th December, 1872—the French metric. The medicinal and apothecary weight is the French metric gramme weight, in conformity with the law of 1864.

Spain.—(Madrid.)—French metric weights and measures, introduced by a law of 19th of July, 1849, to go into operation in November, 1852. For a portion of the provinces the new system was in force on the 1st January, 1855, and in all Spain, from 1st January, 1859.

Switzerland.—By agreement or convention of 17th August, 1835, known as the “Maass concordats,” entered into between twelve Swiss cantons, other cantons, joining later, a modified form of the metric system was established, to go into operation generally with 1st January, 1840, an interval of four and a half years, but in Lucerne in the year 1838, an interval of two and a half years.

The federal law of 23d December, 1851, introduced for the whole of Switzerland the system of the “Maass concordats” of 17th August, 1835, to be in force in all the cantons at the latest by December 31, 1856, an interval of five years. The facts are that almost eveywhere it has been enforced since 1st January, 1853, an interval of one year; in Neufchatel, however, since March 1, 1858, an interval of six years. In June, 1868, the federal council by law made the use of the pure metric system optional side by side with the present system of the “Maass concordats.”


British East India.—(Calcutta.)—In the year 1859 the British East India Government recommended the introduction of the French metric system of weights and measures, but as yet without result.

An act to provide for the ultimate adoption of a uniform system of weights and measures of capacity throughout British India was passed by the governor-general of India in council in 1871. The act orders:

Art. 2.—The primary standard of weight shall be called a ser, ‘a weight of metal equal when weighed in a vacuum to the weight known in France as the kilogramme.’”

Art. 3.—The units of weights and measures of capacity shall be, for weights, the said ser; for measures of capacity, a measure containing one such ser of water at its maximum density, weighed in a vacuum.”

Art. 4.— * * * Every weight or measure of capacity other than said units ‘shall be an integral multiple or integral submultiple of one of the units aforesaid.’”

Unless otherwise ordered “the subdivisions of all such weights and measures of capacity shall be expressed in decimal parts.”

The use of metric weights and measures is permissive, and the local governments are empowered to make it compulsory at discretion.

Turkey.—(Constantinople.)—The French metric system of weights and measures introduced by the organizing law of September, 1869, to go into effect for all purposes in the administration of the empire from March, 1871. Its use optional to the public from March, 1871, to March, 1874, from which date its use was to be obligatory.

The interval from the date of the organizing law to the use of the system for purposes of the government is one and a half years, and the interval from the date when made permissive to that when made generally obligatory is four and a half years.

Japan.—Weights and measures in general are non-metric, but for coinage, in part, the metric unit of weight is employed. “The gold yen, the unit of account, contains of fine gold one grain and a half and weighs one grain and two-thirds, being of nine-tenths fineness,” consequently the decagram of gold in the ordinary standard of nine-tenths fineness is equivalent in value exactly to six yens. It is stated to be the intention of the government to introduce into Japan at an early period a new system of weights and measures based on the decimal system of France.


Egypt.—In July, 1875, the introduction of the metric system of weights and measures was ordered. For coinage, the gramme-weight has already for some time been in use. For a measurement of shipping, the Turkish, the metric ton of 1,000 kilogrammes, is used.


Algiers.—Since March 1, 1843, the metric system of weights and measures is legalized. The use of the older system is strongly forbidden, but it continues to a great extent in use.

Reunion, Isle of (formerly Isle of Bourbon, and from 1809 to 1814 Isle of Bonaparte), Africa.—Weights and measures, the old Parisian, but more and more the new metric coming into use. The metric weight, the half kilogramme, has for many years been in general use.

Senegambia (Africa).—In the French Senegal colony, by a decree of 15th June, 1826, the use of the old weights and measures is forbidden, with the exception of capacity measures for fruit, and the French metric system introduced.

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To us, then, the metric system is no longer an experiment. Already its use is obligatory in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Roumania, Spain, and Switzerland; in the Argentine Republic, Brazil, Peru, San Domingo, United States of Colombia, and Uruguay—countries aggregating a population of 181,000,000—while its use is partial or legalized in Austria, Azores, Maderia and Cape de Verde Islands, Central American States, Denmark, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Spanish Possessions, Great Britain and the British Possessions, and our own country, aggregating a population of 375,000,000 more.

In view of these facts the obligatory use of the metric system in this country seems feasible, and, in my opinion, it is desirable. Not only will such use bring about compete uniformity of standards throughout the country, but the system will prove especially valuable for international purposes.

From table E, herewith appended, it will be seen that for the year ending June 30, 1877, the value of our imports from countries where the metric system is obligatory amounted to $177,807,469; partially in use, $17,378,735; legalized, $265,211,585; not legalized or in use, only $23,804,140. Of the amount received from countries where its use is legalized, Great Britain and British Possessions furnish $185,667,400. With these countries our present system is partly in harmony, but unfortunately the builk of our trade with them, as before stated, is made up of articles measured by the bushel and gallon, neither of which standards corresponds to any bushel or gallon of this country. It should be borne in mind that the only legalized system of weights and measures in this country to-day is the metric system, and that this system is the only one we possess in harmony with that of any other country.

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Of the time necessary for the government and the people to prepare for its obligatory use there may be some diversity of opinion. Considering the experiences of other nations and the admitted aptness of our people for adapting and utilizing improved methods of business, I am clearly of opinion that a notice of two years will be sufficient to enable the government to prepare for the adoption of the system in all administrative transactions, and that a notice of ten or fifteen years will be sufficient to enable the country to prepare for its obligatory use in transactions between individuals. Possibly, for a while thereafter, a compromise with vulgar fractions and existing terms may be necessary, but meanwhile the new system will be taught in our schools, explained in the public press, and exemplified by our experience, and in a comparatively brief time the use and terms of the old system will disappear as have those of English money before the advance of our decimal coinage.

Very respectfully,

Chief Clerk.

Hon. John Sherman
Secretary of the Treasury.

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