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Old 12-14-2008, 01:35 PM   #1
Michael Rowley
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Default Metric systems

Marjolein:

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We've used the metric system a bit longer than some other countries
As a matter of interest, when did the Netherlands adopt the metric system? We tend to assume that every European country was an early adopter, but Germany, for instance, did not adopt it as a whole until about 1890 or so.

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 05:05 AM   #2
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As a matter of interest, when did the Netherlands adopt the metric system? We tend to assume that every European country was an early adopter, but Germany, for instance, did not adopt it as a whole until about 1890 or so.
See here. Clearly earlier than Germany.

At first, simply because we were a part of the French republic. After the end of French rule (Waterloo, 1815) it was up in the air again, but in 1816 it was reintroduced by law, by the then independent Dutch republic, so effectively it was practically continuous since it was first introduced by the French. See the Dutch Wikipedia article for more details - this Google translation should help a bit.

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 06:27 AM   #3
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Marjolein:

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Clearly earlier than Germany
That is to be expected, since German unification didn't take place until 1870. The map you showed us (through the URL) is misleading though, because it mixes up the metric system, based on cgs, with the SI system, which is relatively young, though the cgs system and the MKSA systems were used in parallel some years before SI.

Incidentally, USA isn't as black as it is painted, since the US customary units have been tied in to the metric system since about the middle of the nineteenth century.

Our maths master in the sixth form (an Irishman from Cork) used to refer to cgs units as 'the French units'—in 1948.

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 08:35 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Michael Rowley View Post
the US customary units have been tied in to the metric system since about the middle of the nineteenth century.
Could you elucidate? What do you mean by "tied into the metric system"? They still use inches, feet, miles, pounds and fahrenheit, except in scientific circles--is that what you mean?

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 10:42 AM   #5
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Could you elucidate? What do you mean by "tied into the metric system"? They still use inches, feet, miles, pounds and fahrenheit
I mean that the US Customary units were defined in the nineteenth century in terms of the metre and kilogram; the other basic units of SI (the kelvin, ampere, mole, and candela) never differed. The degree Fahrenheit has never been defined, but everyone assumes that that it is 9/5 degrees Celsius plus 32*; Fahrenheit invented the mercury-in-glass thermometer, which was sold particularly well in England, but he didn't get round to defining his scale.

US Customary units of length and mass are the same as Imperial Units, and both have been defined relatively recently (previously the two units of length varied very slightly) in terms of SI. SI differs from the previous metric system in that all seven of its basic units are coherent.

SI units are legally obligatory for Federal agencies now.

The full story is told by NIST, which was known as NBS in my time (and probably in yours).

*That's wrongly defined, but you'll know what I meant.

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 10:53 AM   #6
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Ha! I found the thread, in spite of its having been moved.

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 11:15 AM   #7
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Fahrenheit invented the mercury-in-glass thermometer, which was sold particularly well in England, but he didn't get round to defining his scale.
I remember one of my science teachers telling us that Fahrenheit calibrated his thermometer by setting 0 as the freezing point of salt water--but he neglected to specify how much salt. He then simply drew evenly-spaced tick marks above and below the 0, so that boiling point just happened to land on 212. It may be an apocryphal story but if it's true, it would be a pretty boneheaded way of setting a standard.

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 12:32 PM   #8
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Howard:
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I remember one of my science teachers telling us that Fahrenheit calibrated his thermometer by setting 0 as the freezing point of salt water--but he neglected to specify how much salt. He then simply drew evenly-spaced tick marks above and below the 0, so that boiling point just happened to land on 212. It may be an apocryphal story but if it's true, it would be a pretty boneheaded way of setting a standard.
That's a bit over-simplified. Fahrenheit described his method to the Royal Society, see

Philosophical Transactions (London), volume 33, page 78 (1724)

However, he described it Latin, as was still the custom (and he was a German born in Danzig, who worked in the Netherlands).

He didn't need to say how much salt: it was a saturated solution of ammonium chloride, but he says sea salt will do. But the 96 ºF mark was a bit wobbly, I think, as he used a human under-arm temperature. He doesn't mention his wife.

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 12:39 PM   #9
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Could you elucidate? What do you mean by "tied into the metric system"? They still use inches, feet, miles, pounds and fahrenheit, except in scientific circles--
Except when it's NASA intent on losing a Mars orbiter

   
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Old 12-15-2008, 04:44 PM   #10
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I remember being told in my youth that while the metric system was legal in the USA (Congress had legalized it so no one would be penalized for using it) that the English system had never been legalized in the same way. Although from your statement
Quote:
I mean that the US Customary units were defined in the nineteenth century in terms of the metre and kilogram
it sounds like that is not quite true. I mean if the US Customary units are defined in terms of metric units and they are legal then the maybe the US Customary units are legal also.

   
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