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Metric System

measures, weights, metre, standard, country, time, divide, foreign, english and imperial

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METRIC SYSTEM is the name given to the system of weights and measures based upon the metre, a French word meaning " measure." Its adoption in this country in place of the imperial system has had, for many years, the support and advocacy of the leading interested classes. The chambers of COMMCITC, trades unions, school-boards, elementary teachers, and the Colonial premiers have all joined in its support. The system has three chief clahns to adoption in this country. The first is that the metre, its unit, is a natural and Unvarying standard ; the ten-millionth part of the arc between the equator and one of the poles. This claim is perhaps its weakest, for the standard metre is a certain bar of metal deposited at Paris which does not actually correspond with the latest measurements of that arc. In this respect, therefore, the standard metre is as arbitrary a standard as, for example, the standard yard upon which our, or the imperial, system is based. The second claim, -that the metric system is a logically decimal one, is more real than the first. The metre i3 divisible into 100 centimetres and into 1000 millimetres; it can be squared for superficial, and cubed for cubic measurement. The litre is the standard measure of capacity, and is divisible into 10 decilitres and 100 centilitres. The kilo is the standard measure of weight, and is divisible into 1000 grams. A kilo is the weight of one litre of cold water, and a 1000 kilos (about 1 ton) of 1 cubic metre.

The third claim is that the metric system is the modern international system, and that it behoves Great Britain, if she desires to maintain her com mercial position amongst the nations of the earth, to emerge from her com parative isolation in this regard and adopt the system used by her leading competitors. It was as an attempt to introduce international standards that the metric system had its origin in 1790. Certain geodetic measurements were then carried out in Peru and elsewhere, ancl these led up to a measure raent of the meridian passing through Paris. The result of that measurement was the appointment of a committee by the French National Assembly, and that body, by decree of 1793, made the use of metric weights and measures, based on the metre or ten-millionth part of the meridian passing through Paris, the only legal system in France. So it remained, but with some con siderable interruption, until 1810, when the French finally made the use of the-metric system compulsory. Perhaps this third claim, based upon inten• national convenience generally, and the necessity in particular for Great Britain to fall into line with modern methods, is that which has the greatest force. Our imperial system of weights and measures is in a most complicated and unsatisfactory condition. And this is not by any means a matter of academic interest only, for the present state of affairs is a distinct and serious drawback to our commerce, especially to our foreign traAle. The imperial system differs from that used in every other European nation, and of these nations each one, except Russia, has adopted the metric system. And so also has the metric system been adopted by practically the majority of non-European countries with which this kingdom trades. The United States, where a system founded on the English units exists in geneial practice, is the most remarkable instance, apart from Great Britai», of non-adhesion to the metric system, though in 1866 an Act of Congress was passed which made the use of the metric system lawful, and defined the weights and measures in common use in terms of the units of that system. But there, in 1895, a Commission was engaged in the investigation of the subject at the same time that a Parliamentary Committee was at work here. In neither country, however, has there been any resulting comprehensive legislation of a compulsory nature ; in England the only resnit up to the present time has been the Act of 1897 referred to below. But, for pharmaceutical purposes only, the Government of the United States has passed an Act rendering the metric system compulsory. The evidence taken by the English Committee showed

clearly that not only is our foreign trade in every branch seriously handi capped, but that our home trade would be benefited if more simple and uniform standards of weights and measures thfui those now existing were adopted. The adoption of the metric system would have the inestimable advantage of putting us in direct relation, in our weights and measures, with most civilised nations. The I3ritish merchant and manufacturer, and especially the latter in engineering work, would be able to deal with both the foreign and home trade in one system. He ould no longer have to work the two systems side by side, at an unreasonable additional expenditure of time and money, or in default lose all prospect of retaining the greater part of his foreign trade. In 1895 it was calculated that countries compris ing a total population of over 445,000,000 were then using metric weights and measures; and this total now amounts to over 480,000,000. It is, moreover, a fact that in no single instance has any country given tip the metric system after once adopting it ; on the contrary each country desires to retain it, and tends more and more to do business only with other countries in a like position. Thus the British Diplomatic Agent in Bulgaria has recently re ported that several cases have come to his knowledge " in which merchants have been deterred from buying what they wanted in England from the in comprehensibility to them of English Catalogues, giving only English weights and measures." And the present state of affairs is also very deplorable when regarded from the point of view of education. A most serious loss of time is incurred by English school children in having to learn the complicated system of tables of existing weights and measures, and it has been authoritatively estimated that no less than one year's school time would be saved if the metric system were taught in place of that now in use. In the primary schools on the continent there is nothing more impressive than the great simplicity of their arithmetic as compared with ours. In the first place, the scholars are taught to count by units, tens, hundreds, &e., and then to add, subtract, multiply, and divide whole numbers decimally, as in this country ; for, after all, our system of notation is decimal, as it is based on counting by tens, and when we write down figures in a row we know that the farthest to the right represents so many units, the next to the left so many tens, the next hundreds, and so on. Up to this point we do the same as our foreign neighbours ; but when we want to express fractional parts of a unit we gene rally adopt another system altogether, and use vulgar fractions. On the Continent, however, the unit is divided into tenths, hundredths, and thou sandths, and a point or comma is placed between the whole numbers and the fractions. The figures are then added together, subtracted, multiplied, or divided, just as if they were all whole numbers. Not only is there a great saving of figures in the metric system, but there is more accuracy. With the imperial weights and measures there are a great many reductions and involved calculations, but with the metric system there is only a simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. To add together tons, cwts., quarters, pounds, and ounces in the weights now used, it is necessary first to add up the ounces and divide by 16, then the pounds and divide by 28, then the quarters and divide by 4, then the cwts. and divide by 20, and in each case to carry forward a number resulting from the reduction. By the use of the metric system, any number of tons or kilogrammes, and any number of fractional parts can be added together by simple addition. The same is true of measures of length, surface, and capacity ; in all cases the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, decimally can be done by simple arithmetic.

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