We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

How Did the French Revolution Lead to the Creation of the Metric System?

Margaret Lipman
Published Jun 09, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The metric system, a decimal-based measurement system with origins dating back to the French Revolution, is the standard in global trade and is used worldwide, with the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar remaining notable exceptions by not fully adopting it.

However, before the French Revolution, a vast array of units of weights and measures were used by different countries. There was little standardization within countries or even within regions. In France, for example, there were over 250,000 distinct units of measurement. During the Enlightenment, revolutionaries sought to radically transform society by discarding traditional systems of the ancien régime (or “old order”) and creating new ones based on reason and the natural world.

In 1791, the French Academy of Sciences took on this task, defining the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator. Through the mathematical process of triangulation, they determined the length of the meter along the Paris meridian, which runs through the Paris Observatory.

By the end of the 18th century, the units of the metric system had all been derived from the meter. Metric units included the kilogram for mass, the second for time, the kelvin for temperature, the ampere for electric current, the mole for amount of substance, and the candela for luminous intensity.

Despite the confusion caused by the huge number of measurement systems previously in use, the introduction of the metric system in France faced resistance. People were slow to adopt the new system, preferring their familiar, traditional methods. Authorities in Paris even instructed police to check that marketplaces were using the metric system. In 1812, Napoleon abolished the metric system, but it continued to be taught in schools and was reinstated in 1840. Now, some two centuries later, the metric system in its modern form, the International System of Units (or SI, from the French Système international d'unités), is consistently used across France and in over 95% of the world.

The meter and more:

  • *The word meter is derived from the Greek metron, meaning “measure.”

  • *Located in a suburb of Paris, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures is home to the original kilogram. To keep it safe, the circular weight is stored in an underground vault under three bell jars that are opened using three unique keys, each in the possession of a different individual.

  • *One of the traditional French units of length was the toise, which was said to be based on the distance between the fingertips of the outstretched arms of a man, roughly equivalent to 1.949 meters, or 6.395 feet.

  • *Although the United States continues to use U.S. customary units such as the pound, gallon, and foot, SI units such as grams, liters, and meters are widely used in commerce, science, technology, and industry. And, of course, we tell time using a metric unit—the second!

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
Discussion Comments
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.