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The Metric System: why doesn't the USA switch now?


MickinMD
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Isn't it time for the USA to go metric - for sensible as well as industrial cost benefits?

I'm reminded of how the USA was the ONLY major economy of the 70's and 80's that didn't go to the Metric System.

I just watched a 1980's episode of the BBC Series "Last of the Summer Wine" that included Norman Clegg saying, "I haven't been this confused since Decimalization."

Of course, he was referring to British currency going from Pounds, 20 Shillings to the Pound, and 12 Pence to the Shilling, to Pounds and 100 p to the pound.

But the British also switched to the Metric System!  And our 12 inches to the foot, 3 feet to the yard, 1760 yards to the mile is as cumbersome as Pounds-Shillings-Pence was.

So even the English abandoned English measurements by the 80's - and to their advantage!

In the USA Caterpillar stopped buying 1" (25.4 mm.) thick flooring grates from American Steelmakers when a Swedish company could supply a 25 mm. thick grate cheaper.  The next English measurement available from American companies was too thin.

The excuse for the American resistance to Decimalization was that our huge industrial nation was completely set up for feet, inches, etc. and it would be too expensive to switch to the Metric System.

But we've already partially and maybe mostly done so.  Most of the automobiles sold in the USA require metric tools to work on them.  If you buy a large set of sockets, wrenches, etc., they often come as two sets in one: one set in inches and one set in millimeters - meaning you have to buy double the tools because we were too stupid to switch to the metric system half a century ago!

When Americans manufacture things intended for export that include bolts, nuts, etc. - they have to be manufactured in metric dimensions because no one else uses Imperial Measures anymore!  And our cars are probably the only ones in the world that have two scales on the speedometer - one for mph and one for kph.

So haven't we reached the point where it would be cheaper to go metric altogether?  Our export products would be cheaper since the manufacturer only needs metric-based machinery!

I know, as a chemist, that it is much, much easier in the lab to work with grams, kilograms, milliliters (1 g of water occupies 1 mL) Liters, etc.  You can argue that Fahrenheit is a more accurate measurement to the whole degree than Celsius/Centigrade because there a 9F degrees for every 5C degrees.  But that's not as important as weight and volume for industry and home use - or even in the lab.

Let's go metric!

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It seems all the impetus for conversion died in the 70s or 80s.  I remember in college that my fluid mechanics textbook was in metric and thermo was still in British units, so that drove me crazy.  I guess chemistry had pretty much converted, and I can;t even remember for -physics, probably both in parallel because I definitely remember both ft-lbs and newton-meters.

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1 minute ago, Square Wheels said:

It did for science, it's not needed for anything else.

All of the lasers we designed at work were metric............because many of our customers were and it's much easier to machine things under that system.

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16 minutes ago, maddmaxx said:

 it's much easier to machine things under that system.

I tend to machine things in the Imperial system because when my stepfather retired from tool and die work he gave me all of his micrometers and calipers. I have a few metric calipers but I tend to use the Imperial system the most.

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The US military mostly works in metric, probably due to alliance with NATO countries.  We measured distance in meters & “klicks”, ammo was in MM 5.56, 7.62, 40 mm.  It wasn’t hard for me to convert distance.

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3 minutes ago, ChrisL said:

The US military mostly works in metric, probably due to alliance with NATO countries.  We measured distance in meters & “klicks”, ammo was in MM 5.56, 7.62, 40 mm.  It wasn’t hard for me to convert distance.

When I had a job I had to deal when both systems depending on witch machine I was working on. 

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1 hour ago, Randomguy said:

Agreed.  If we can move on from the idiocy of changing clocks, then we can do this very sensible thing, too!

I would like the world to also standardize what side of the road to drive on and what side of the car the steering wheel is on.

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1 hour ago, Randomguy said:

Agreed.  If we can move on from the idiocy of changing clocks, then we can do this very sensible thing, too!

Speaking of clocks can you imagine the confusion it will cause when we switch to metric time? Only ten hours in a day, ten days in a week, ten weeks in a month? 🤪

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3 minutes ago, Longjohn said:

Try to imagine when we switch to the metric alphabet. Instead of twenty six letters only ten. 🧐

We had a standardized Phonetic alphabet that all NATO countries used.  Some people called it the metric alphabet.  Forgot about that until you posted that. 

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1 hour ago, Philander Seabury said:

It seems all the impetus for conversion died in the 70s or 80s.  I remember in college that my fluid mechanics textbook was in metric and thermo was still in British units, so that drove me crazy.  I guess chemistry had pretty much converted, and I can;t even remember for -physics, probably both in parallel because I definitely remember both ft-lbs and newton-meters.

Someone once said: "When you take thermo for the first time, you think you don't understand it.  When you take thermo for the 2nd time, you think you're beginning to understand it.  When you take it for the third time, you realize you'll never understand it."

I took thermo three times - each at a higher level - and that was my experience.

My college Thermodynamics classes were in metric.  The semester of Thermo in Junior year Physical Chemistry was tough and I was disappointed with how much I understood it, so I audited a Junior year Physics Thermo class in my Senior Year.  Then I went to grad school at IIT in Chemistry and had an incredibly tough 600-level Thermo course: Carnot Cycles, Closed Systems, Mechanical, Phase and Chemical Equilibria, etc.  I only got a B and was very happy with it: it was the minimum needed in every course to keep my full scholarship and teaching assistantship.

At one point, we were given a problem on Saturday (yeah, 9 am, 3 hour, Saturday morning classes!) that the professor couldn't solve and were told we'd get a 10 point (of 100) bonus on the next test if we wrote down and pushed the solution under his office door by 9 am Monday morning. There went my weekend. It was difficult enough that my chemical engineer grad student roommate was no help.  I think I got 3 hours of sleep and solved the problem, slipping the solution under Dr. Brown's door around 8:45 am Monday:  So did about 1/4 of the class: that's how desperate we were for points!

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19 minutes ago, Randomguy said:

I would like the world to also standardize what side of the road to drive on and what side of the car the steering wheel is on.

Great idea!  Outside the USA and Canada, I've only driven a car in France and all drive on the right.  If I do one of those driving tours of Ireland, where they drive on the left and you stay in a pre-arranged set of b&b's each day, I wonder if I'm going to turn at an intersection and drive on the right without thinking, cross over a hill and then BAM!

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3 minutes ago, MickinMD said:

Great idea!  Outside the USA and Canada, I've only driven a car in France and all drive on the right.  If I do one of those driving tours of Ireland, where they drive on the left and you stay in a pre-arranged set of b&b's each day, I wonder if I'm going to turn at an intersection and drive on the right without thinking, cross over a hill and then BAM!

Traffic circles are fun too.

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“Chemical engineer”. The motto I learned in college was when you are with chemists, talk aboot engineering. When you are with engineers, talk aboot chemistry. When you are with other chemical engineers, talk aboot beer. (The original saying was talk about wimmin but I am now a sensitive new age guy. ). 

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59 minutes ago, Longjohn said:

Try to imagine when we switch to the metric alphabet. Instead of twenty six letters only ten. 🧐

That will make Wordle a lot easier!

I think the expense of changing things over will always keep us from going to metric - at least for my lifetime.  Every road sign with distance or speed, every scale at every supermarket, every gas station pump and sign, every home gas and water meter, it's all going to have to be changed and people/govt agencies will balk at the cost - or, things are going to be upgraded "at the end of their useful life" and in that time I think confusion will increase, not decrease, with the lack of uniformity.

Honestly, I don't see what's so bad about our current system of measurement, nor do I see a huge problem with changing clocks, for that matter.  Maybe I'm too easy-going.  Or lazy?  "A little from Column A, a little from Column B..."

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16 minutes ago, TrentonMakes said:

That will make Wordle a lot easier!

I think the expense of changing things over will always keep us from going to metric - at least for my lifetime.  Every road sign with distance or speed, every scale at every supermarket, every gas station pump and sign, every home gas and water meter, it's all going to have to be changed and people/govt agencies will balk at the cost - or, things are going to be upgraded "at the end of their useful life" and in that time I think confusion will increase, not decrease, with the lack of uniformity.

Honestly, I don't see what's so bad about our current system of measurement, nor do I see a huge problem with changing clocks, for that matter.  Maybe I'm too easy-going.  Or lazy?  "A little from Column A, a little from Column B..."

WRONG!

Why do you hate America?

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When President Carter proposed it, I didnt care much one way or the other but I didnt want to but 2 sets of tools.  Here we are 45 years later, and I have 2 sets of tools.  I think I would adapt to distance measurements the easiest, then temperature.  Maybe weight or volume after that.

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12 minutes ago, maddmaxx said:

Metric is un American.  End.  Perhaps someday we will be dragged kicking and screaming up into the 20th century

Are you this grumpy all the time?

 

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9 minutes ago, Kzoo said:

Are you this grumpy all the time?

 

Mostly when stupid ship prevails. There are whole industries in this country that operate on the metric system because we buy and sell across the entire globe.  Convince me that we haven't stayed with our system because metrics are un American.

Living with a dual supply system is a nightmare.  You will always get some tech trying to screw a 4/40 into an M3 hole and costing a bunch of money.

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3 hours ago, bikeman564™ said:

no

I'm surprised coming from you.

It was a huge deal when Canada switched in the 1970's..and even as an early teen (when one doesn't give a damn about real world issues),  I remember the kerfkuffle nationally, and right down to the provincial level where mandatory school basic curriculum is defined.  

I still think in bits, in imperial...tsp., cup... my own weight and height.  But then I have fully converted for outdoor temperature, mileage.  I still think of housing size in imperial.

It doesn't bother me....maybe it's just the way my brain wishes to go naturally.

It may also be a reflection of finding order quickly for each person's brain:  When I already speak 2 languages for real:   Your brain  learns to cope.   Each person naturally gravitates to habit 1, then if needed goes to proper way (which means I have to look up conversion table).   I can see how difficult if your brain is not forced to think across 2 different ways.  I'm using bilingualism / multilingualism as an example of brain flexbility where  a person's knowledge becomes instinctual...certain words in both languages,  whereas other words person only knows 1 language.

So converting to metric...is kind of the same learning:  A new language of measurement.  

 

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1 hour ago, Thaddeus Kosciuszko said:

The Imperial measurement system is fine.

It's not like anybody's going to crash an expensive satellite into a planet, say, Mars, or something because they should have used the metric system, already.

Are you familiar with the story behind the engineering masterpiece Hubble telescope? They polished the mirror backwards. Needed a corrective lens to function. 

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20 minutes ago, shootingstar said:

I'm surprised coming from you.

 

:D at work we deal in english & metric. Growing up I'm used to inch measurements, that's difficult to change.  We convert metric for use internally (yes it truncates the tolerance for rounding in).

I don't know what it means to switch to metric as a country.

What I find funny is car tires. The width is metric, yet the rim diameter is inch:blink:

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2 minutes ago, bikeman564™ said:

:D at work we deal in english & metric. Growing up I'm used to inch measurements, that's difficult to change.  We convert metric for use internally (yes it truncates the tolerance for rounding in).

I don't know what it means to switch to metric as a country.

What I find funny is car tires. The width is metric, yet the rim diameter is inch:blink:

21st century schizoid taar.

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21 minutes ago, bikeman564™ said:

:D at work we deal in english & metric. Growing up I'm used to inch measurements, that's difficult to change.  We convert metric for use internally (yes it truncates the tolerance for rounding in).

I don't know what it means to switch to metric as a country.

What I find funny is car tires. The width is metric, yet the rim diameter is inch:blink:

I don't think the US will convert to metric nationally. There's too many people there who resent anything imposed by govn't / law. (Same thing, it's govn't that makes law.) The hardline folks have become even more hardline over the last few yrs. 

So U.S. will remain an outlier...for another century. Seriously, I really believe this.  

Remember Canada by law, has 2 official languages...English and French. Children are required to learn French for a few years in elementary school and up, in all provinces.   So many of major Canadian company food labels are bilingual...or even trilingual. (English, French and Chinese).

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10 minutes ago, shootingstar said:

There's too many people there who resent anything imposed by govn't / law.

 

I wouldn't say that.  But let's say for bleeps & giggles, this happens today. What would it mean for my company? I'm having trouble figuring this out?

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6 minutes ago, bikeman564™ said:

I wouldn't say that.  But let's say for bleeps & giggles, this happens today. What would it mean for my company? I'm having trouble figuring this out?

Probably not much unless your company produces products for international markets or wants to export. Then it's alot easier to have the labels, designs (and the workers who do inspections) understand  metric for international markets.  And oh yes, occasionally for customer service for certain questions from overseas...including Canada.

The younger CAnadian generations are fully metric. They really are.

 

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Just now, shootingstar said:

Probably not much unless your company produces products for international markets. Then it's alot easier to have the labels, designs (and the workers who do inspections) understand  metric for international markets.

We ship globally, a lot actually. But any inspection internally can still be in english. That's my point. It would mean nothing :)

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30 minutes ago, bikeman564™ said:

I wouldn't say that.  But let's say for bleeps & giggles, this happens today. What would it mean for my company? I'm having trouble figuring this out?

Do you make anything in metric now?  Do you sell world wide.  Do you buy world wide?  It's a big deal in many industries.  If you sell insurance it means nothing.  

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38 minutes ago, shootingstar said:

There's too many people there who resent anything imposed by govn't / law. 

Why would I change I'm doing OK with the system that we have :D

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2 minutes ago, maddmaxx said:

Do you make anything in metric now?  Do you sell world wide.  Do you buy world wide?  It's a big deal in many industries.  If you sell insurance it means nothing.  

We manufacture metric threads, and as aforementioned, we sell all over the globe. We don't purchase too much off shore, but we do, and those are specified in english. If a part is metric, the PPAP will be in metric, but we can inspect it any way we want. Threads use go no-go gages.

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1 hour ago, bikeman564™ said:

We manufacture metric threads, and as aforementioned, we sell all over the globe. We don't purchase too much off shore, but we do, and those are specified in english. If a part is metric, the PPAP will be in metric, but we can inspect it any way we want. Threads use go no-go gages.

Well, the laser industry, as much of the electronics industry as I'm aware of and most of the automotive world are metric.  I know we had a couple of legacy products in inches and every now and then, someone would drop a 4/40 screw and it would find it's way into the m3 ready bin hiding among all the rest and some poor slob would find it and promptly wipe out a $15k laser body during assembly.  Our Asian customers didn't like to see helicoils in the finished goods. The only time we were allowed to use them was to reinforce screw holes used in clamping the indium seals used to keep the vacuum in.  We couldn't wait to ban inch fasteners from the building.  For a while the resistance to metric was all of the inch standard stuff being made here but as the globalization continues there's less and less of that.

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2 hours ago, shootingstar said:

So U.S. will remain an outlier...for another century. Seriously, I really believe this.  

No, we have had metric soft drinks for years and metric engines. When they started making smaller engines they made them metric so nobody would know how small they are. Yea my 1600CC engine is a almost as big as the 427 CI I used to have. All our digital measuring devices were in both at the touch of a button. Our most common foot race is a 5K. We are getting there.

Speaking of different languages I know a little Spanish. Itsaso was sitting at the dining room table with me last night talking with one of her friends on the phone. I didn’t understand one word she was saying. Turns out she is from the Basque region of northern Spain and she speaks the Basque language. I told her I loved listening to languages I don’t understand. She saughed.

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It seems that after WWII, because we won we sort of rammed our system into places like Aviation.  To this day they measure altitude in feet, fuel flow in lbs and of course just to be strange, airspeed in knots.  Some countries do it in metric but that isn't the international standard.  It's a mess though as Airline mechanics need to have both SAE wrenches and metric ones too.  

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Altogether interesting.

****By the way, I have not fully converted to metric in my head. So I'm 1 of the folks  living in 1/2 world.

Dearie, who  was16 yrs. older than I (and he was around LJ's age),  was already studying engineering  as an adult, during the time I was young teen.  So he didn't learn metric as a  child at all. By the time I  met him, he was  fully converted in his head. If he weighed himself, his food  it was metric values he would announce or his height.  If he  cooked, he could  follow/estimate metric values of ingredients.

He actually found my only 50% adjustment amusing.

I don't rail against the metric, I just accept my own personal deficiencies. I don't expect the rest of the world to bow to  me in this particular area of human-based standard.

I support metric for cost savings  in world markets in production, numbers conversion..

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14 minutes ago, Wilbur said:

It would cost a shit-ton of money to convert to metric in the us.  

Would that be a metric shit-ton or a Imperial shit-ton?

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