Author Options:

Why do Americans still use the "imperial" system versus the metric system? Answered

I am wondering this because (and this is coming from an American) it just seems so inefficient compared to the metric system. Is it something political? Or is it just abstinence?


It is their unwillingness to be like the rest of the world ;)
They lost space probes, ships and a lot more due to the confusion of using the imperial system but also calling in people that only use metric.
Imperial is not precise, makes very little sense and just thinking of the idead of using fractions for distances and diameters is a bad joke.
But hey, the US finally realised that climate change is real, maybe one day they will wake and actual use a working measuring system.

Spoken from a country that has done little of anything that merits notice, aside from advertising sharks, kangaroos and koala bears. ;)

Imperial is exactly as "precise" as metric. Its just different, and not a rational system.


2 years ago

There was a war between America and almost everyone else at one time or another.

Just like some medieval wars the arrow notching was designed so that attacking armies could not use missed arrows against the castle defenders.

That is one thing but in a machine shop the parts are made to a tolerance that makes no difference weather the part in the end is metric or regal measurement.

In Canada some standards were just converted from regal to metric so a standard sheet of paper is 7 x 11 or 178 x 279 mm.

The big challenge in the US is democracy the speed limits from state to state don't agree, in one state cars 75 and trucks 55 other states cars and trucks 55, and then other states cars and trucks 75. Then just to make things more fun one state can claim it is an excessive burden on the state and not approve the cost to change all the signs.

Here in Canada parliament said change and to bad if it is too expensive.

Idk, I was raised on metric; nowadays I use a mix of the two.

Inches for any smaller measurements like in carpentry vs km for longer distance. lb's for anything heavier then 2lb's vs Grams for anything smaller. only time I use gallon is when I grab some milk :P

I never got the whole Fahrenheit thing though. Celcius just seems soo much simpler.

I went to school during the transition from Imperial (Canadians used Imperial) to metric. So I know both but I don't convert from one to the other, too easy to make a mistake.

If those politicians in your parliament were not re-elected then I can see why our lot is soo fearful of such decrees :-)

Most of them get in by default in Canada, only about 33% of the Canadian people vote. that works out to about 10 million people divided among 5 parties and independents. We vote Oct 19.

That problem could be easily solved by a retrofit cap that would fit over the notch end and stay behind with the string when the arrow is loosed. Much like changing sockets to fit different size bolts.

Goes against the army that is not ready..


2 years ago

Official measurement systems are set and established and enforced by governments.

Scientific standards of measurement are set by the consensus of the majority of those who are considered to be authorities. In order to share theories and experiments that can be verified all parties conform to the standard.

Common systems of measurement are determined by the common people who use it every day. It doesn't really matter if it is the same as the official standard as long as the people using it can understand what the other is saying.

Dunno. The UK managed it. Ironically, the Imperial units are defined in SI units these days, ie, an inch IS 25.4mm.

I don't know about Steve, i think he is a bit of a light weight :-)

Most people in the UK will know their weight in stones and pounds (14 pounds to a stone.)

All doctors will weigh you in Kg

So I was 14 st 7 this morning or 92.25 Kg.

Despite initial resistance and recent relaxation of the rules re weight most people seem to have got a grip of metric fairly quickly.

Many shops still display weights in Kg and pounds.

I know. I just think that 12 inches in a foot and such is so ridiculous!

You have to understand that the Imperial units actually have a basis in usability. A foot is, pretty well, the length of the average man's foot, a yard, the length from the thumb of his outstretched arm, and the tip of his nose. The volumetric units are based on other "rules of thumb". The use of base 12 renders arithmetic operations easier, since 12 can be divided by 4,3,2 and 6, base 10 can only be divided by 2 and 5.

In fact, fractional units of length in Imperial, are generally binary multiples 1/2 1/4, 1/8 1/16, 1/32, 1/64.

So Imperial is a fairly rational system for carrying about in everyday life, it is not a rationalised system like SI, though, and much harder to use for scientific work.

Even countries which are nominally metric, like the UK, still use "pints, miles and gallons" to describe somethings - and the French (and Germans), the inventors of the SI system still have a familiar unit which is around 450grammes, or 1 pound....

@steveastrouk: at least in Germany Pfund (pound) is always used in the sense of 500g. It's just faster than asking for a 'Pfund' of something at the market than asking for 'ein halbes Kilogramm' (half a kilogram).

Even the metric system has it own quirks, because of the multiplies of 12 thing. For example when you buy a sheet of ply or steel, or any other building materiel, it comes in 1200x2400 sheet or 1200x3600 sheets. Other common sheet sizes are, 600, 400, 300, 200 and 150.

Yes, but that's directly related to the nearest imperial sizes. Since a lot of plywood products comes from the USA, its made in 8x 4 or 2400 x 1200. In UK stores, you have to be careful to measure what you get, sometimes its really 2400 x 1200, sometimes its 2440 x 1219

It is not about usablility.
It actually came from being dead simple so people can not cheat that easy.
Times changed, people even realised that other people have different shoe sizes - so why still estimate instead of measure?
But: It was never accurate, always caused confusion and people that use it mostly refuse to learn something proper with excuse of "why?"....

Ummmm....and the difference between "usability" (as Steve explained it) and "dead simple" is what, exactly?

People knew, three thousand years ago, that "other people have different shoe sizes." That's not some magical scientific knowledge that only we moderns have. The "foot" was defined as a specific distance "inspired by" (and therefore conveniently close to) the roughly average length of a human foot.

If you do a bit of research (*cough* Wiki *cough* pedia) you'll discover that the "foot" has had many different lengths under different governments. The Roman foot is not the French foot is not the English foot.

yup. Those are some good points. and I agree with you. :)

YES ! . . . . It really should be the logical 10 inches in a foot, so much more reasonable and easy to remember but then an inch would be just over 30 mm

really who cares? It's a lot easier to remember and if we knew nothing else, the length would make no difference to us, because that would be all that we would have known our whole lives!

Perhaps the guy who asked the question cares . . . _

Wait wait that guy is you !!

Well mr question, I grew up in Czechoslovakia and lived in France before coming to the USA and after a great deal of confusion, I can now visualize dimensions in inches....

True I don't care much for whatever someone thinks is better.

You have a lifetime left to argue with people and respectfully scientists point out your mind is still not fully formed until you are over 22 years old and your opinion may really change. . . . Subsequently, I'm definitely not interested in rewiring my brain for any old _ young guy :-)

yeah. I'm sorry if I said that wrong...

Don't worry about it, its fun to argue a point :)

Convenience and an established infrastructure based on the imperial system. Further, after WWII, our economy was strong and we poured money into rebuilding and protecting the rest of the world instead of refitting our own.




"On February 10, 1964, the National Bureau of Standards (former name of National Institute of Standards and Technology) issued a statement that it will use the metric system except where this would have an obvious detrimental effect"

All worth reading if your interested in this issue.

As a matter of interest USA measures are not exactly the same as UK Imperial.

Measurement is critical to fair trade. Way back in the pre Roman days we use many local measurements but post Roman we adopted their systems. Measurements were based on physical items everyone could check.

As for base 12 - well actually it's very useful. The number base you use is just familiarity, I grew up with base 12 for currency, I used base 8 frequently as a computer engineer, I gravitated to base 16 and base 2 in later years.

The thing that astonishes me is in UK schools we no longer teach children that other number bases exist (honestly).

It is Political and Economical, retrofitting is expensive however the US produces products in both. Then there is the law, most people don't understand but there are so many laws based in the regal system that it would take forever to approve the changes in government.


2 years ago

Thousands of machines are still graduated in inches.

My PCB layout software has to be able to accept SMD parts in inches and mm because different manufacturers are using one or the other or both systems and many machines my designs go into are inch centric for thirty years and it is not econ centric to revise every drawing and every supply manufacturing sub to make life metric. Let alone all the stockpile of hardware that would be thrown into the furnace