Campus News

History professor acknowledges America’s use of metric system

Stephen Mihm, professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Science Department of History, contributed to a conversation surrounding the use of the metric system in the U.S. with The Wall Street Journal.

The longstanding debate over whether the United States should transition to the metric system or not does not seem to be any closer to a resolution. While many consider the Imperial System the primary measurement system, the United States has supported hybrid measurements for decades.

“We’re much more bilingual than we want to admit,” said Mihm, who has spent time researching U.S weights and measurement. “We don’t think anything of going into a grocery store and buying half a pound of turkey and two liters of soda and putting them in the same grocery cart and walking out. That’s just what we do.”

Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, spent time in transition through the 1960s and 1970s, but largely adopted the metric system by 1980. They continue to use imperial units for speed, distance and liquids, most notably continuing to order a pint of beer. Nihm stated, “The upshot was a hybrid system as well, but one where metric predominates in official business of government and industry.”

Historians and researchers agree that America will remain in a state of hybridization for seven or more generations before fully adopting the metric system, if ever.