How Did Pirates Delay the Adoption of the Metric System in the United States?

The United States is one of only a handful of countries that have not officially adopted the metric system, formally known as the International System of Units. There have been attempts over the years to bring America into the global norm -- beginning in 1793, when the fledgling nation sought trade uniformity among the 13 original states. Thomas Jefferson, who was Secretary of State at the time, thought that a new French system would solve their problems. France agreed to share, and sent scientist Joseph Dombey across the Atlantic to explain the new base-ten system of weights and measures. Unfortunately, storms pushed Dombey's ship south to the Caribbean, where pirates took the scientist prisoner.

Uniformity lost at sea:

  • Dombey set sail from Paris with two standards for the new metric system -- a rod that was exactly a meter long, and a copper cylinder called a “grave” that weighed one kilogram.
  • The pirates took Dombey prisoner on the island of Montserrat, hoping to get a ransom for his release. No money was paid, and the French botanist and aristocrat died in captivity there.
  • According to the CIA World Factbook, the other countries that have not officially adopted the metric system are Myanmar (Burma) and Liberia.
More Info: NPR

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