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History and Origination of the Metric System

Date: 08/13/2005 at 11:41:31
From: Bob
Subject: Who invented the metric system?

Who invented the metric system?

Date: 08/13/2005 at 23:17:51
From: Doctor Peterson
Subject: Re: Who invented the metric system?

Hi, Bob.

There are several people who might be called the inventor of the
system.  If you go to and search for

  history "metric system"

you will find several histories, such as this:

  A chronology of the SI metric system 

which says

    1670: Authorities give credit for originating the metric system
    to Gabriel Mouton, a French vicar, on about this date.

    1790: Thomas Jefferson proposed a decimal-based measurement
    system for the United States. France's Louis XVI authorized
    scientific investigations aimed at a reform of French weights
    and measures. These investigations led to the development of
    the first "metric" system.

For more detail, see

  A Brief History of Measurement Systems 

which says

    The need for a single worldwide coordinated measurement system
    was recognized over 300 years ago. Gabriel Mouton, Vicar of St.
    Paul in Lyons, proposed in 1670 a comprehensive decimal
    measurement system based on the length of one minute of arc of
    a great circle of the earth. In 1671, Jean Picard, a French
    astronomer, proposed the length of a pendulum beating seconds
    as the unit of length. (Such a pendulum would have been fairly
    easily reproducible, thus facilitating the widespread
    distribution of uniform standards.) Other proposals were made
    but over a century elapsed before any action was taken.

    In 1790 in the midst of the French Revolution, the National
    Assembly of France requested the French Academy of Sciences to
    "deduce an invariable standard for all the measures and all the
    weights." The Commission appointed by the Academy created a
    system that was, at once, simple and scientific. The unit of
    length was to be a portion of the earth's circumference.
    Measures for capacity (volume) and mass were to be derived from
    the unit of length, thus relating the basic units of the system
    to each other and to nature. Furthermore, the larger and
    smaller version of each unit were to be created by multiplying
    or dividing the basic units by 10 and its powers. This feature
    provided a great convenience to users of the system, by
    eliminating the need for such calculations as dividing by 16
    (to convert ounces to pounds) or by 12 (to convert inches to
    feet). Similar calculations in the metric system could be
    performed simply by shifting the decimal point. Thus the metric
    system is a “base-10” or “decimal” system.

    The Commission assigned the name metre-meter-to the unit of
    length. This name was derived from the Greek word metron,
    meaning "a measure." The physical standard representing the
    meter was to be constructed so that it would equal one
    ten-millionth of the distance from the north pole to the
    equator along the meridian of the earth running near Dunkirk
    in France and Barcelona in Spain.

So if you ask who got the first idea that led to the metric system as
we know it, the answer is Mouton.  But his system was not the actual
metric system; its unit of length was not the meter, either in name or
in meaning.  The inventor of the system we actually call the metric
system was a committee.

See also

  Invention of the Metric System 

If you have any further questions, feel free to write back.

- Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum 
Associated Topics:
Elementary Math History/Biography
High School History/Biography
Middle School History/Biography

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