Date: Thu, 02 May 2002 11:32:43 -0400

Author: James Frysinger

Subject: Re: units of measurement


The United States Metric Study, initiated in 1968 as directed by Congress,
was completed in 1971. It's report to Congress was titled, "Report to the
Congress: A Metric America, A Decision Whose Time Has Come". This 13-volume
report concluded that the U.S. should go metric and should do so in a
deliberate manner over a 10 year period through a carefully controlled
national program.

In 1974, the Education Amendments of 1974 (Public Law 92-380) urged schools
to prepare students to use of the metric system.

In 1975, the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-168) formed the
U.S. Metric Board to coordinate the voluntary conversion to the metric system
that was already taking place. However, no target dates were set. President
Jimmy Carter ensured the board would have the power and teeth of a euglena by
carefully constructing a board of pro- and anti-metric "shareholders"; this
excellent balance resulted in a net force of zero. (Physics in your everyday

BATF required wine and liquor producers to use only certain metric container
sizes in 1979 and 1980 respectively. Today, soft-drink and "spring-water"
bottles are increasingly going to rational metric sizes, as are many other

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan defunded and disbanded the U.S. Metric
Board, passing its duties to SecCom (who tasked NIST to act for him).

In 1988, the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 (Public Law
100-418) strengthened and amended the Metric Conversion Act and required all
federal agencies to metricate, except where to do so would be impracticable
(waiver required), by 1992.

In 1988, NASA issued a "Metric Directive" that requires all programs started
on or after that date to be designed and operated in metric units, unless
doing so would be unreasonably costly (waiver required). The Human Space
Flight program predates this so it has inherited a lot of non-SI software,
procedures, and designs. New add-ons, such as Canada Arm 2 for the shuttle
orbiter are often all metric, however. So was the Mars Climate Orbiter, for
which Lockheed-Martin provided non-SI data, resulting in its loss.

In 1991, President George Bush (Senior) signed Executive Order 12770, Metric
Usage in Federal Government Programs, requiring all federal agencies to go

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) was passed in 1994, requiring dual
labeling in order to make the public aware of metric quantities and to get
used to using them. (An amendment to this has been drafted and is now in the
preliminary stages of preparation for presentation to Congress to allow
metric-only labeling.)

In 1996, the National Weather Service shifted to the Celsius temperature
scale for recording and transmitting all surface temperature observations.
The NWS uses millibars (= hectopascals, exactly) for pressures.

In 1999, the National Conference on Weights and Measures (the association of
the various states' weights and measures officers) amended the Uniform
Packaging and Labeling Regulation to allow metric-only indications (markings
indicating the contents of packages). This is a model regulation and 14
states automatically follow it. Most of the others accept it or portions of
it by overt actions to revise their laws or regulations. Over half of all
Americans now live in states that allow metric-only indications on goods not
regulated by the federal government. See

In 1999, the European Union, at the urging of the Trans-Atlantic Business
Dialog (a cabal of multinational corporation CEOs, largely representing US
interests), granted a third delay in the implementation date for ED
80/181/EEC for barring the importation or manufacture for sale in the EU of
any good containing non-SI indications on the product, its packaging, its
documentation, or its advertisements. The due date is now the last day of
2009. Australia, Japan, and South Korea (among others) already ban non-SI
indications (markings).

In 2000 Congress cancelled the impending due date for all state highway
authorities to metricate. Some stayed the course so that today more than half
of our country's highway dollars are being spent on metrically designed and
built highway projects. Some states had metricated but then reverted!

The trend in the U.S. is towards metrication but it is uneven and
uncoordinated. My web page that provides a timeline of the history of the
metric system in the U.S.
is not yet finished. The above extends that timeline. The information on that
web page might be useful to teachers in their lessons on the SI, though,
allowing them to bring the history of the SI into the classroom along with
its technical details.

Teachers might wish to brush up on the SI if they are under the mistaken
impression that the following units are SI or accepted for use with the SI:
calorie, molar, molal, micron, fermi, degree Kelvin (it's just kelvin now),
ppt, ppm, ppb, VDC, VAC, amp (it's ampere, not amp), torr, lambda, gamma,
rem, rad, or curie. See


On Thursday, 2002 May 02 0929, you wrote:
> Greetings,
> I think that you will find that it was even earlier than that. I think I
> remember an article in Readers Digest from 1964 about being all metric
> in 1964. I still do my part for in my classroom, as just the mention of
> an English unit of measurement .....
> Dick
> "Science is nothing more than learning how to communicate with nature in
> such a manner that it will talk back."
> Helping teachers who facilitate, motivating students who learn.
> Dick Heckathorn 14665 Pawnee Trail Middleburg Hts, OH 44130
> 440-826-0834
> Physics Teacher CVCA 4687 Wyoga Rd Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44224
> 330-929-0575 VM 120
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] On Behalf Of Duane Warn
> Sent: Monday, April 29, 2002 1:25 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: units of measurement
> Good Morning Jim,
> In the 70's, the federal government decreed that in the next 10 years
> the US will be converted completely to the metric system, so all science
> and math teachers should teach it. So I did my part with some
> interesting feedback. The students didn't want to learn that "communist
> system", they just wanted their " 'Merican system". Actually they
> didn't want to learn ether. Well, 30 years has passed with little
> improvement, but their grades are much higher.
> Duane
> Boise State.

James R. Frysinger University/College of Charleston
10 Captiva Row Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
Charleston, SC 29407 66 George Street
843.225.0805 Charleston, SC 29424
Cert. Adv. Metrication Specialist 843.953.7644