Frederick A. P. (Frederick Augustus Porter) Barnard.

Metric system of weights and measures [electronic resource] an address delivered before the convocation of the University of the state of New York, at Albany, Aug. 1, 1871 online

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Online LibraryFrederick A. P. (Frederick Augustus Porter) BarnardMetric system of weights and measures [electronic resource] an address delivered before the convocation of the University of the state of New York, at Albany, Aug. 1, 1871 → online text (page 1 of 14)
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THE



METRIC SYSTEM



OF



WEIGHTS AND MEASURES.



THE



METRIC SYSTEM



WEIGHTS AND MEASURES;



AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BEFORE THE CONVOCATION OF THE

UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,

AT ALBANY, AUGUST 1, 1871 ;



BY FREDERICK A. P. BARNARD, S. T. D., LL D.,

President of Columbia College, New TorTc City ;

MEMBKR OF THK NATIONAL ACADEMY OP SCIENCES ; AND OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY,

PHILADELPHIA ; ASSOCIATE MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES,

BOSTON ; CORRESPONDING MEMBER OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OK

SCIENCES OF LIEGE, BELGIUM, iC., AC.



EEVISED EDITION.

PRINTED BY ORDER OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA COLLEGE.




CONTENTS.



PAGE

Preface 3

Origin and Nature of the Metric System 7

ADDKESS, Part I Kecent Progress of Metrological Beform 17

" Part II Objections to the Metric System considered 71

APPENDIX A On the Unification of Moneys 117

" " Notes Supplementary :

Note 1 Effect upon existing Contracts of a Change in

the Legal Weight of Coins 151

Note 2 The new System of Coinage of the Japanese

Empire 152

APPENDIX "BNote 1 On Capacity Measures and the Weight of a given

Volume of Water 153

" " Note 2 On EATER'S determination of the Weight of a

Cubic Inch of Water 167

APPENDIX C On the Legislation of Great Britain and of British India in

regard to the Metric System 179

APPENDIX D On the Extent to which the Metric System has been

already adopted 191



PREFACE.



ON the eighth day of August, 1866, the Convocation of the
University of the State of New York, being then in session at
Albany, was addressed by the Hon. JOHN A. KASSON, a mem-
ber of the House of Representatives of the Congress of the
United States from Iowa, and Chairman of a Committee of
that body appointed to consider the possibility of securing a
uniform system of Coinage, Weights and Measures for all
nations. Congress had then recently (July 27th, 1866),
passed an act legalizing the use of the metrological system
known as "The Metric System of Weights and Measures,"
in all business transactions in the United States; and, two
years earlier, a similar act had passed the British Parlia-
ment. It was known that the system had met with large
acceptance on the continent of Europe, and also in the
greater portion of the American continent south of our own
territory; and it was also known that the use of this sys-
tem was becoming more extended every year.

The aim and hope of Mr. KASSON had been that he might
enlist the large body of enlightened educators forming the
University Convocation, in an active effort to advance the
cause of metrological reform in our country, by diffusing
among the people information in regard to the Metric Sys-
tem ; by pointing out the merits of this system ; and by meet-
ing the objections with which the proposition to naturalize it



4 PREFACE.

here, like every other threatened innovation upon established
usages, however in its own nature desirable or prospectively
beneficent, is sure to be encountered. And the appearances
at the time were certainly favorable to the fulfilment of this
hope; for the address of the honorable gentleman was re-
ceived with evident marks of approval.

A committee was accordingly appointed, charged with the
duty of reporting on the subject to the Convocation at a
future meeting. This committee consisted of the Hon. JOHN
Y. L. PEUYN, LL.D. (Chancellor of the University), CHAELES
DAVIES, LL.D., Professor Emeritus of the Higher Mathe-
matics in Columbia College, and KOBEET S. HALE, LL.D.,
one of the Regents of the University. Prof. DAVIES, who
was charged with the preparation of the report, states that
it originally " seemed to be the unanimous opinion of the
committee that a report would be made favorable to the in-
troduction of the [metric] system into general use;" but that
reflection and inquiry led to a modification of views, espe-
cially on his own part ; and that the conclusion was reached
that the Convocation should not " commit itself hastily to
the great and radical changes which the introduction of the
metric system would occasion." It was not, therefore, until
after three years of deliberation, that the committee present-
ed their report ; and the report then made, which is said to
have been partial, was apparently oral.

This committee was thereupon discharged, and a new one
appointed, consisting of Prof. DAVIES, Regent HALE, and Prof.
JAMES B. THOMSON, LL.D. It is stated in the preface to the
final report, that Prof. THOMSON did not act with the com-
mittee. The report of this reconstructed committee was
presented to the Convocation at the session of August, 1870.
It consisted mainly in an argument to demonstrate the inex-
pediency and impracticability of introducing the Metric



PREFACE. 5

System of Weights and Measures into the United States.
By order of the Convocation this report was published and
extensively circulated.

The Trustees and Faculty of the College with which the
chairman of the Committee held formerly an official, and
holds still an honorary, connection, have for some years been
upon the record as advocates of legislation by the Congress
of the United States, favorable to the unification of the
Moneys, Weights and Measures of the world. In their view,
the object desired, so far as it regards Weights and Measures,
is most likely to be secured through the universal acceptance
of a metrological system which is already generally received ;
and that is the Metric System. To them it appeared that
the publication of a report prepared by a gentleman in nom-
inal connection with them, maintaining an opposite opinion,
was likely to produce an erroneous impression in the public
mind in regard to their own position. At a meeting there-
fore of the Trustees, held on the first day of May, 1871,
a resolution was adopted, on motion of the Hon. SAMUEL
BLATCHFORD, LL.D., Judge of the United States District Court
for the Southern District of New York, requesting the Presi-
dent of the College to attend the meeting of the Convocation
to be held in the August next ensuing, and to state to that
body how far the views set forth in the report of the commit-
tee above referred to are in harmony with those entertained
by the Faculty of the College.

It was in obedience to this resolution that the address
contained in the following pages was prepared. The address
was listened to with evidently interested attention by the
Convocation; and, by the courtesy of the Regents of the Uni-
versity, it was immediately published, in advance of the report
of the Proceedings of the Convocation, in pamphlet form.
Some copies of this publication having been laid before the



6 PREFACE.

Trustees of Columbia College at a meeting held on the second
day of October, 1871, it was, on motion of Judge BLATCHFOED,
resolved, that a revised edition of one thousand copies be
printed for general circulation. In the present edition, is-
sued in conformity with this order, some slight modifications
have been made in the original text ; and some additional
information presumedly of interest has been appended in the
form of notes.




ORIGIN AND NATURE



METRIC SYSTEM OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES.



No cause, since the earliest organization of. civilized
society, has contributed more largely to embarrass business
transactions among men, especially by interfering with the
facility of commercial exchanges between different countries,
or between different provinces, cities, or even individual citi-
zens of the same country, than the endless diversity of in-
strumentalities employed for the purpose of determining the
quantities of exchangeable commodities. For the incon-
venience and confusion resulting from this cause, but one
effectual remedy can possibly be suggested ; and that is the
general adoption throughout the world of one common sys-
tem of weights and measures. Until nearly the close of the
eighteenth century, nevertheless, no movement appears to
have been anywhere made, looking to the immediate or pro-
spective application of this remedy. It was one of the pro-
jects entertained by the Constituent Assembly of France, at a
time when the revolution had not yet passed into that san-
guinary phase which but too soon succeeded, to engage the
nations of Europe in a united effort to create, for the com-
mon use of all, a new metrological system, founded upon
standards determined with scientific accuracy, and con-



8 ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE

structed in its details according to a scientific method. Nor,
amid all the succeeding excitements attendant on the down-
fall of the monarchy, and the inauguration of the republic
and the " Terror," was this important object ever lost sight
of by the men who held successively in their hands the des-
tinies of France. And though the convulsions which, for
many successive years during that stormy period, agitated
the continent of Europe, prevented the participation of all
the nations in the prosecution of this great and beneficent
work, still the work itself was prosecuted, though with some
interruptions, to a satisfactory completion ; and the result is
seen to day in the Metric System of Weights and Measures ;
a system which, after the lapse of only three quarters of a
century, has been adopted for use by more than half the in-
habitants of the civilized and Christian world.

The principles according to which this system has been
constructed are set forth in the following statement,
adopted from the report on the subject made by the Honor-
able JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, Secretary of State of the United
States, to the House of Representatives of the Sixteenth
Congress, under date of February 22d, 1821.

1. That all weights and measures should be reduced to
one uniform standard of linear measure,

2. That this standard should be an aliquot part of the cir-
cumference of the globe.

3. That the unit of linear measure, applied to matter in
its three modes of extension, length, breadth, and thickness,
should be the standard of all measures of length, surface,
and solidity.

4. That the cubic contents of the linear measure, in dis-
tilled water, at the temperature of its greatest contraction,



METRIC SYSTEM OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. 9

should furnish at once the standard weight and measure of
capacity.

5. That for everything susceptible of being measured or
weighed, there should be only one measure of length, one
weight, one measure of contents, with their multiples and
subdivisions exclusively in decimal proportions.

6. That the principle of decimal division, and a propor-
tion to the linear standard, should be annexed to the coins
of gold, silver, and copper, to the moneys of account, to the
division of time, to the barometer and thermometer, to the
plummet and log-lines of the sea, to the geography of the
earth and the astronomy of the skies ; and, finally, to every-
thing in human existence susceptible of comparative esti-
mation by weight or measure.

7. That the whole system should be equally suitable to
the use of all mankind.

8. That every weight and every measure should be desig-
nated by an appropriate, significant, characteristic name,
applied exclusively to itself.

The following is the succinct account given by Mr. ADAMS,
of the early history of the movement in which the Metric
System had its origin :

" In the year 1790, the Prince de Talleyrand, then Bishop
of Autun, distributed among the members of the Constitu-
ent Assembly of France, a proposal, founded upon the
excessive diversity and confusion of .the weights and meas-
ures then prevailing all over that country, for the reforma-
tion of the system, or, rather, for the foundation of a new
one, upon the principle of a single and universal standard.
After referring to the two objects which had previously been



10 ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE

suggested by Huyghens and Picard the pendulum, and the
proportional part of the circumference of the earth he
concluded by giving the preference to the former, and pre-
sented the project of a decree. First, that exact copies of
all the different weights and elementary measures used in
every town of France, should be obtained and sent to Paris.
Secondly, that the National Assembly should write a letter
to the British Parliament, requesting their concurrence with
France in the adoption of a natural standard for weights
and measures ; for which purpose, Commissioners, in equal
numbers from the French Academy of Sciences, and the
British Royal Society, chosen by those learned bodies re-
spectively, should meet at the most suitable place, and
ascertain the length of the pendulum at the forty-fifth degree
of latitude, and from it an invariable standard for all measures
and weights. Thirdly, that, after the accomplishment, with
all due solemnity, of this operation, the French Academy of
Sciences should fix with precision the tables of proportion
between the new standards, and the weights and measures
previously used in the various parts of France ; and that
every town should be supplied with exact copies of the new
standards, and with tables of comparison between them and
those of which they were to supply the place.) This decree,
somewhat modified, was adopted by the Assembly ; and, on
22d of August, 1790, sanctioned by Louis the Sixteenth.
Instead of writing to the British Parliament themselves, the
Assembly requested the King to write to the King of Great
Britain, inviting him to propose to the Parliament the for-
mation of a joint commission of members of the Royal
Society and of the Academy of Sciences, to ascertain the
natural standard in the length of the pendulum. Whether
the forms of the British Constitution, the temper of political
animosity then subsisting between the two countries, or the



METRIC SYSTEM OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. 11

convulsions and wars which soon afterwards ensued, pre-
vented the acceptance and execution of this proposal, it is
deeply to be lamented that it was not carried into effect.

*****
" The idea of associating the interests and the learning of
other nations in this great effort for common improvement
was not confined to the proposal for obtaining the concur-
rent agency of Great Britain. Spain, Italy, the Netherlands,
Denmark, and Switzerland were actually represented in the
proceedings of the Academy of Sciences to accomplish the
purposes of the National Assembly. But, in the first in-
stance, a committee of the Academy of Sciences, consisting of
five of the ablest members of the Academy and most emi-
nent mathematicians of Europe, Bprda, Lagrange, Laplace,
Monge^and Condorcet, were chosen, under the decree of the
assembly, to report to that body upon the selection of the
natural standardjind _ojher jprincipleg^proper for the accom-
pliahmfvrii _o| Jfoigjjhj^ftf- Their report to the Academy was
made on the 19th of March, 1791, and immediately trans-
mitted to the national assembly, by whose orders it was
printed. The committee, after examining three projects of a
natural standard, the pendulum beating seconds, a quarter
jrfjthe equator, and aTquarter of the meridianTftad, on a full
deliberation, and with great accuracy of judgment, preferred
the last, and proposed that its ten-millionth part should be

unit of linear measure that, as a



second standard of comparison with it, the pendulum vibrat-
ing seconds at the forty-fifth degree of latitude should be
assumed, and that the weight of distilled water at the point
of freezing, measured by a cubical vessel in decimal propor-
tion to the linear standard, should determine the standard of
weights and of vessels of capacity." j

This report having received the sanction of the assembly,



12 ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE

committees of the Academy of Sciences were appointed to
make with all the necessary precision the determinations
upon which were to rest the standard units of the new
metrological system. The most laborious of these deter-
minations consisted in the trigonometrical measurement of
an arc of the meridian extending through France from
Dunkirk to Barcelona ; an operation which occupied seven
years. The design of this was to determine with exactness
the length of the linear base, called the METRE. But the
assembly did not wait for the completion of this great work
before giving to the system a legal and a practical existence;
the length of the degree of latitude being already known
with a sufficiently near approach to exactness to make any
possible error of the metre founded upon it entirely insen-
sible for the ordinary purposes of life. The system was
therefore provisionally established by a law of the 1st of
August, 1793 ; and the nomenclature which now distin-



guishes it was adopted on the 18th Germinal, An. III., (7th
April, 1795).

In the seventh year of the Kepublic (1799) an inter-
national commission was assembled at Paris, on the invita-
tion of the government, to settle, from the results of the
great Meridian Survey, the exact length of the " definitive
metre." In this commission were represented the governments
of France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain,
Savoy, and the Koman, Cisalpine and Ligurian Republics.
After the completion of its labors, the commission proceeded
on the 4th Messidor, An. VII. (22d June, 1799), to deposit,
at the Palace of the Archives, in Paris, the standard metre-
bar of platinum, which represents the" linear base of the
system ; and the standard kilogramme wpiorTif, also nf pi a-
tinum, which represents the unit of metric weights.

Of these prototype standards, numerous copies have been



METRIC SYSTEM OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. 13

taken, which, after having been compared with the originals
with the severest exactness, have been made standards of
reference and verification in the various countries in which
the system has been adopted.

THE METRIC SYSTEM, founded on the metre as the unit of
length, has four other leading units, all connected with and
dependent upon this. Hence we have
^~

1. The METRE, which is the unit of measures of length.

2. The ARE, which is the unit of measures of surface, and

is the square of ten metres.

3. The LITRE, which is the unit of measures of capacity,

and is the cube of a tenth part of the metre.

4. The STERE, which is the unit' of measures of solidity,

having the capacity of a cubic metre.

5. The GRAMME, which is the unit of measures of weight,

and is the weight of that quantity of distilled water,
at its maximum density, which fills the cube of the
hundredth part of the metre.

Each unit has its decimal multiples and submultiples, that
is, weights and measures ten times larger or ten times
smaller than the principal unit. These multiples and sub-
multiples are indicated by prefixes placed before the names
of the several fundamental units. The prefixes denoting
multiples are derived from the Greek language ; and are deka,
ten ; hecto, hundred ; kilo, thousand ; and myria, ten thousand.
Those denoting submultiples are taken from the Latin ; and
are, ded, tenth ; centi, hundredth ; and mitti, thousandth.

The following table embraces all the weights and measures
of the system :



14 ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE

RELATIVE LENGTH. SURFACE. CAPACITY. SOLIDITY. WEIGHT.

V ALL'S-

10, 000 Myria-m etre

1,000. . . . Kilo-metre Kilo-litre Kilo-gramme.

100 Hecto-metre. .Hect-are. ...Hecto-litre Hecto-gramme.

10. .. .Deka-metre Deka-litre. . . Deka-stere . Deka-gramme.

UNIT. METEE, ABE. LITRE, STEEE, GEAMME.

.1 . . .Deci-metre . . .Deci-are Deci-litre Deci-stere. .Deci-gramme.

. 01 . . Centi-metre. . . Centi-are . . . Centi-litre Centi-gramme.

.001. Milli-inetre Milli-litre Milli-gramme.

The denominations of solid measure beyond the first
multiple and sub-multiple by ten are not in use. The term
stere itself is in fact rarely employed, measures of solidity or
volume being usually expressed in cubic denominations of
the linear base. Of agrarian measures, the only derivatives
of the unit in use are the hectare, the deciare, and the centi-
are.

VALUES OF UNITS.

UNIT OF LENGTH.

Myriametre 10,000 Metres.

Kilometre 1,000

Hectometre 100

Decametre 10

METRE 1 "

Decimetre 0.1 or T V of a metre.

Centimetre 0.01 " ^ "

Millimetre "... 0.001 " TTJ Vo "

The METRE is equal to 3.280899 feet nearly ; or to 39.37079
inches.

The unit of Itinerary measure is the KILOMETRE, which is
equal to 0.62138 miles.

UNIT OF SURFACE.

Hectare 100 Ares or 1000 Square Metres.

ARE 1 " "100 " "

Deciare 0.1 " " 10

Centiare. . 0.01 " " 1 "



METRIC SYSTEM OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. 15

The ARE is equal to 119.60332 square yards ; the HECTARE,
the Agrarian unit, to 2.47114 acres.

UNIT OF CAPACITY.

Hectolitre = 100 Litres.

Dekalitre = 10 "

LITRE =1 "

Decilitre = 0.1 " or T V of a Litre.

Centilitre = 0.01 " " T ^ " "

Millilitre = 0.001" "



The LITRE is equal to 0.28418635 gallons, or 1.0567454
quarts, or 2.1134908 pints.

UNIT OF WEIGHT.

Kilogramme ......... 1000 Grammes.

Hectogramme ........ 100

Dekagramme ........ 10

GRAMME ............. 1

Decigramme ........ 0.1 " or T V of a gramme.

Centigramme ........ . 01 " T -J T "

Milligramme ......... 0.001 "



The GRAMME is equal to 15.43234874 grains.*
The KILOGRAMME, which is the unit of commercial weight,
is equal to 2.20462125 pounds avoirdupois.

* This is the Gramme as derived from the weight in vacuo of the platinum Kilo-
gramme of the Archives, asdetermined by Prof. MILLER of London, in 1844, and adopt-
ed by the Standards-Department of the British Government. See APPENDIX B.



THE METRIC SYSTEM



WEIGHTS AND MEASURES.



I. Recent Progress of Metrological Reform.
INTRODUCTION.

GENTLEMEN OF THE CONVOCATION :

The sense of the right of property is an instinctive
feeling, of which the existence is co-extensive with
intelligence. We find abundant evidence of its pres-
ence in the lower animals as well as in ourselves.
The dog, for instance, when he has satisfied his hunger,
carefully stores up the superfluous bone of to-day, in
prudent provision for the anticipated wants of the
morrow. The beast of the forest bears his prey to the
lair which he has appropriated to himself ; and the
birds defend with spirit the nests which their own
labors have constructed. In the social animals, as the
beaver, and the social insects, as the ant and the bee,
we see the principle more broadly developed. In



18 THE METRIC SYSTEM OF

these cases, the dwelling which the common toil has
constructed or prepared, and the stores which the
common industry has gathered, are the common prop-
erty of all ; and are apportioned for the benefit of
individuals upon principles which we probably do not
understand. But the lower animals, though they
appropriate to themselves articles which seem desir-
able, and assert a right of property in the objects
thus appropriated, never propose to relinquish one
possession in consideration of an equivalent offered in
the form of another. They have no notion of com-
merce or exchange even in its simplest form. The
commercial idea makes its first appearance in man.
It is present in every stage of human civilization. Its
earliest practical illustration is in the form of barter,
in which objects supposed to have value are exchanged
one against the other ; or a single one of a certain
description for several of another. But as wealth
increases, and as its forms become more diversified,
the necessity of determining equivalents by quantity
rather than by tale, becomes manifest ; and out of this
necessity springs the creation of conventional stand-
ards, by means of which quantities may be always and
everywhere verified, and definite quantities be cor-
rectly ascertained. Hence have arisen the various
systems of weight and measure which have prevailed
among different peoples, some form of which has been
found to accompany even the rudest civilization.
Such systems having originated before anything like



WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. 19

intellectual culture existed, have been constructed
without any thought of scientific method, and have
owed their earliest form to accident or caprice. As
social and political institutions have become more fully
developed, legislation has stepped in from time to
time to alter if not to improve these primitive systems;
to change the value of their unit bases ; or to modify
the relations to these bases of the derivative denomi-


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryFrederick A. P. (Frederick Augustus Porter) BarnardMetric system of weights and measures [electronic resource] an address delivered before the convocation of the University of the state of New York, at Albany, Aug. 1, 1871 → online text (page 1 of 14)