“A Pint’s a Pound the World Around”

Secret prophesies from the Great Pyramid…a foreign revolutionary conspiracy against America…a shadowy organization led by a millionaire known as “Mr. Z”…

The latest Dan Brown novel? No, A History of the Metric System Controversy in the United States. This 1971 report, part of the U.S. Metric Study series and issued by the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST), is a serious account of a centuries-long battle to make the metric system America’s official standard of measurement. Lurking among the descriptions of John Quincy Adams’ Report on Weights and Measures and the advocacy of opposing positions by eminent scientists and educators, though, are some …unusual… episodes.

In the 1880’s, the International Institute for Preserving and Perfecting (Anglo-Saxon) Weights and Measures advocated both retention of the traditional measuring system and pyramidology – a belief that the Great Pyramid was a huge measuring device constructed by the Hebrews that also hid prophesies about the future. Despite this odd admixture of beliefs, the Institute proved to be an effective lobbying group in resisting the metric system. It also had a theme song: “A Pint’s a Pound the World Around.”

After World War I, Albert Herbert, a wealthy enthusiast, founded the World Trade Club, which despite its name was really a pro-metric lobbying organization. Herbert operated anonymously, so anti-metric forces quickly labeled him as the mysterious “Mr.Z.” The main opposition, the American Institute of Weights and Measures, also lobbied hard, with the aid of various manufacturing groups fearful of the expense of converting to metric. It inspired such articles as “What Real He-Men Think of the Compulsory Metric System.”

Also threaded through A History of the Metric System Controversy in the United States is the fear that the metric system is an alien one, inspired by the revolutionary French (post-World War I advocates of metric in turn claimed that the traditional system was a German invention). The author, Charles F. Treat, makes the interesting point that historically, enthusiasm for adopting the metric system tends to rise and fall with America’s international engagement or non-engagement.

This book, which takes the story though the late 1960’s, was published too soon to describe the failure of yet another attempt to adopt the metric system for America. Not for anyone without a really intense interest in the subject, it’s still extremely browseable and not without humor, especially when dealing with the topics I’ve been discussing. If you’d like to read it in PDF format, go here. If you’re interested in the movie rights, contact Government Book Talk!

7 Responses to “A Pint’s a Pound the World Around”

  1. Modesta Bernacchi says:

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  2. Phil Plese says:

    Thanks for your concepts. One thing really noticed is that often banks as well as financial institutions understand the spending habits of consumers while also understand that most of the people max away their own credit cards around the holidays. They smartly take advantage of this real fact and commence flooding your current inbox along with snail-mail box using hundreds of Zero APR card offers immediately after the holiday season comes to an end. Knowing that should you be like 98% of the American open public, you’ll leap at the possiblity to consolidate card debt and shift balances towards 0 apr interest rates credit cards.


  3. Roger Lucheta says:

    I’ve been trying to track down the article “What Real He-Men think of the Metric system” for years. Does anybody know what journal or reference it was written in?


    • govbooktalk says:

      According to page 209 of A History of the Metric System Controversy in the United States, this was the title of a compilation of letters to the editor of the American Machinist, one of the most tenacious anti-metric periodicals. It was published in the American Machinist, Volume 52, Number 8, Feb. 19, 1920, pages 415-420.


  4. 19to82 says:

    Sounds interesting!!!


  5. Rob Lopresti says:

    Wow, I’ll have to look that one up. Thanks.


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