What Is a Centimeter?

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  • Written By: Kathryn Pless
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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A centimeter is a unit of measurement in the metric system. The metric system of measurement is based on 10 as opposed to the imperial system of measurement which is based on units of 12. A centimeter is a unit of length equal to one hundredth of a meter; i.e. there are 100 centimeters in a meter.

One centimeter is equal to .4 inches. Conversion of a centimeter to inches is achieved by multiplying the centimeter by .39. Distance normally is measured in meters so that one mile would be the equivalent of 1.6 kilometers, or about 160,000 centimeters.

In 1795, the French Academy of Sciences developed a system of measurement to standardize measurements in France. Before this standardization, measurements varied from area to area. In 1875, the Treaty of the Meter was signed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measurements conference. Since that time the metric system has been adopted by many industrialized nations.

The scientific community uses the International System of Units (SI), which is a modern form of the metric system. This enables scientists from different countries and regions to duplicate research and gather data. Many scientists around the world have adopted the SI as a standard system of measurement.


Great Britain adopted the metric system in 1965. The United States government passed the Omnibus Trade and Competitive Act in 1988 that required the federal government and businesses to adopt the metric system by 1992. Still used by most people in the U.S., the imperial system continues to reign supreme. Globalization of the world economy however may force the metric hand on the rest of the U.S., essentially replacing the imperial system with the metric system.


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