If the United States were more like the rest of the world, a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder might be known as the McDonald’s 113-Grammer, John Henry’s 9-pound hammer would be 4.08 kilograms, and any 800-pound gorillas in the room would likely weigh 362 kilos. NPR explores: One reason this country never adopted the metric system might be pirates. Here’s what happened: In 1793, the brand new United States of America needed a standard measuring system because the states were using a hodgepodge of systems. “For example, in New York, they were using Dutch systems, and in New England, they were using English systems,” says Keith Martin, of the research library at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This made interstate commerce difficult. The secretary of state at the time was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson knew about a new French system and thought it was just what America needed. He wrote to his pals in France, and the French sent a scientist named Joseph Dombey off to Jefferson carrying a small copper cylinder with a little handle on top. It was about 3 inches tall and about the same wide. This object was intended to be a standard for weighing things, part of a weights and measure system being developed in France, now known as the metric system. The object’s weight was 1 kilogram. Crossing the Atlantic, Dombey ran into a giant storm. “It blew his ship quite far south into the Caribbean Sea,” says Martin. And you know who was lurking in Caribbean waters in the late 1700s? Pirates.
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