The decimal metric system

The decimal metric system


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  • Handwritten table of the "General system of republican measures"

  • Platinum standard of the meter manufactured by Lenoir in 1799 and another old standard, with their wooden cases.

  • Wood capacity measures.

  • The pint and the liter, old and new pewter liquid measure.

To close

Title: Handwritten table of the "General system of republican measures"

Author :

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: November 24, 1794

Dimensions: Height 85.5 - Width 46.5

Technique and other indications: "deduced from the size of the terrestrial meridian", 5 Frimaire Year II (November 24, 1794). Manuscript; drawing; ink; wash

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: NN / 12 / Pce16

Handwritten table of the "General system of republican measures"

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Platinum standard of the meter manufactured by Lenoir in 1799 and another old standard, with their wooden cases.

Author :

Creation date : 1799

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / VIn / 1 and 2

Platinum standard of the meter manufactured by Lenoir in 1799 and another old standard, with their wooden cases.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Wood capacity measures.

Author :

Creation date : 1799

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / VIn / 6 to 11

Wood capacity measures.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: The pint and the liter, old and new pewter liquid measure.

Author :

Creation date : 1700

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AE / VIn / 17; AE / VIn / 21

The pint and the liter, old and new pewter liquid measure.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The variety of measures under the Ancien Régime

On the eve of the Revolution, the measures in use in France (more than 800) present a great diversity: perch, height, foot, inch, alder, muid, setier, bushel, pint, pound, ounce, grain, etc. Not only do they vary from one region to another, but even the same name can cover very different realities according to the localities: thus, the surface of the arpent of Paris (equivalent to 34.19 ares) is it less to that of the common arpent (equivalent to 42.21 ares) and, in the north of France, there are eighteen kinds of alder, varying from 62 to 84 centimeters.

Such a system, a source of confusion and embarrassment, hinders trade and industry, the development of which calls for a unified system. Under the Ancien Régime, several attempts at simplification and standardization had already been made, unfortunately without success, and the reform of weights and measures remains one of the demands most frequently expressed in the books of complaints.

Image Analysis

Standardization of weights and measures

From May 8, 1790, the Constituent Assembly adopted, on the proposal of Talleyrand, the idea of ​​the unification of the measurement system and entrusted its study to a commission of the Academy of Sciences, where we find Lagrange, Laplace and Monge for celestial mechanics, Borda for physics and navigation calculations, Lavoisier for chemistry.

In May 1793, the Academy made a report proposing to adopt the ten-millionth part of the quarter of the terrestrial meridian arc, measured in the previous century by Lacaille and Cassini, as the length of the “meter”, a term proposed by Borda and derived from greek metron (measured).

By adopting this new unit of measurement as well as the decimal division, recommended from 1790, it is the metric system that the law of August 1, 1793 adopts. The new units of measurement are called meter, gravet (then gram) and cade ( then cubic meter).

These provisions being mandatory for the whole of France on July 1, 1794, the Academy of Sciences (which will also be abolished on August 8) is responsible for overseeing the construction of standards; only a few prototypes will be made first.

The implementation of the metric system is accompanied by operations that we would call “communication”, as evidenced by this very educational table of the “General system of republican measurements deduced from the size of the terrestrial meridian”, published in Frimaire year II [ November 1794]: “Few people understand the connection which exists between the determination of the length of the meridian and the creation of the new system of weights and measures […] and it is nothing so frequent as to hear one ask what relation there is between a circle of the sphere and a measuring rod, and an alder, a bushel […]. We thought that it was a very simple means of solving this problem for a very large number of our fellow citizens, and that this means consisted in speaking in their eyes, by making them traverse, by sensitive images, all the degrees of the generation of measurements […]. ”

Interpretation

Long resistances

After the Terror, which seriously disrupted the implementation of these reforms, work resumed and resulted in the law of 18 Germinal Year III (7 April 1795) which fixes the current nomenclature of units of measurement of area, capacity and weight. A temporary agency of weights and measures is also created in charge of carrying out the replacement of the old measures by the new ones.

The standards of weight and length, ready in June 1799, were legalized on December 10, 1799 and became compulsory in December 1801. Spread throughout Europe thanks to the revolutionary and Napoleonic conquests, the decimal metric system did not become exclusive of everything another measurement system in France than in 1840.
The elaboration and the establishment of the metric system participate in the construction of the “sovereign nation”, as well as the remodeling of the territory of France by its division into departments of an almost identical area and organized according to the same administrative structure, and efforts to unify the language and destroy patois. They are part of the ideological struggle of the Revolution; the first article of the law of 18 germinal year III calls on citizens to show “proof of their attachment to the unity and indivisibility of the Republic, by using the new measures in calculations and transactions commercial ”.

  • Convention
  • innovation
  • French Revolution
  • Old regime
  • Talleyrand-Périgord (Charles-Maurice de)
  • Academy of Sciences
  • Monge (Gaspard)
  • Terror

Bibliography

Denis GUEDJ The Meridian , 1792-1799Paris, Seghers, 1987.Louis MARQUET The Epic of the Meter: History of the Decimal Metric System Paris, Delegation for Information and Communication, 1989. The Meter Adventure Paris, National Museum of Techniques-CNAM, 1989.

To cite this article

Christiane DOUYÈRE-DEMEULENAERE, "The decimal metric system"

Glossary

  • Academy: the Institut de France was created by the law of 25 October 1795 on the organization of public education.In the Palace of the Institut de France, five academies work: the Académie française (founded in 1635) the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (founded in 1663) the Académie des sciences (founded in 1666) the Académie des beaux-arts (created in 1816 by the union of the Académie de peinture et de sculpture, founded in 1648, of the Academy of Music, founded in 1669 and of the Academy of Architecture, founded in 1671) the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (founded in 1795, abolished in 1803 and re-established in 1832) Source: http: //www.institut-de-france.fr/fr/une-institution-de-la-république

  • Video: Convert Decimals to Higher and Lower Units of Measurements. Maths for Kids. Grade 5. Periwinkle


    Comments:

    1. Afework

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    2. Creketun

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