Published December 1976 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Making the Metric Changeover It may not be too long before people start talking about how many kilometers their new car gets to the liter, or how many grams of meat they bought at the supermarket. America, after holding out for nearly 200 years, is converting- ever slowly and cautiously- to the worldwide metric system. The metric system uses a base of 10 and is patterned after the French units of weights and measures adopted in the 18th century. The basic units are grams, meters, and liters. Each measurement, progressively smaller or larger, bears the prefix deci-, centi-, milli-; or deka-, hecto-, kilo-, respectively. Although it may seem complicated, the metric system is used extensively throughout the world, and in some of the scientific, business, and education communities in this country. The system we use in America dates back to the early days of the Republic and was based upon the then prevailing British system. However, even at that time the French metric system was being used, and George Washington addressed the conversion issue in his first message to the Congress in 1790. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson also advocated conversion but were likewise unsuccessful. The U.S., in 1875, went so far as to sign the Treaty of the Meter, but the country never quite got around to converting. On December 23, 1975, the President signed into law the Metric Conversion Act which established as a national policy the conversion to metrics on a voluntary basis. This legislation was supported by a wide variety of businessmen, educators, and scientists who endorsed the uniform metric system. The metric changeover has already begun. Some of the country's largest 1•etailers are marking their merchandise in both systems, and individual states have erected metric road signs. Several states have metric conversion bills before their legislatures as the gradual move to conversion continues. Along with jet travel and instantaneous communications, metric conversion is an example of how much closer distant parts of the globe are becoming, The national plan to go metric on a voluntary basis is a wise and prudent method. That way, each section of the country and every sector in American life will adopt it when it is ready-and not before.