Following a report finding that the United States customary system of measurement costs the economy an estimated $19 billion every year on relabeling, conversion costs, manufacturing mistakes and trade alone, America has decided to undergo metrication.
With the massive global economic changes of the past 10 years, America has found itself needing to work more and more in collaboration with international partners. In doing so, recent years have seen many difficulties arise as a result of the metric / imperial divide.
Inaccuracies due to misread conversions (including two fatal space missions), mistakes in manufacturing, relabeling costs on an increasing number of imported goods, and millions of additional daily calculations in cross-border dealings meant that it was time to make the switch to the system that the rest of the world uses.
It came to a point where the old system was causing more problems than it was solving. It made sense to make the switch.
In reality, the initial changeover hasn’t affected people as much as first expected.
People were already use the decimal system for calculating with money, so that part of the switch has been easy. According to initial reports, the three main changes that people have seen in their daily lives are in temperature reading, driving and food preparation.
Temperature conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius has traditionally been one of the more difficult parts of the conversion process, but now that people mostly read the weather from their mobile device, accompanied by graphics which ‘show’ the temperature, it has made it easier to adjust. For example, a figure of “35°C” didn’t used to mean much to Americans, but 35°C accompanied by a picture of a blazing hot sun suddenly makes sense.
Driving along a new US road, one very visible sign of metric conversion has been the change in road signs. With careful planning, almost every road sign across the U.S. was converted within a month. This was achieved by installing covered metric signs beneath the customary signs before the change and then removing the customary sign to uncover the metric sign during the month of conversion.
Broad public education efforts have ensured that everyone knows about the changes.
For years now, motor car manufacturers have fitted dual speedometers to their vehicles. Newer vehicles with electronic speedometers can be changed to metric readings with the flick of a switch. Several kinds of speedometer conversion kits are available for any older cars still on the road.
As a result of all these changes, conversion on the roads has occurred without major incident so far.
In the kitchen
In the kitchen, those who still cook are noticing the change. Though really, for most people, this is only the fraction of people working with old recipes from books. Any modern recipe found online or in a recipe app will have already been automatically converted to the new measurements. It’s a small adjustment, but nothing people haven’t been able to handle.
Making the switch
Most people have adjusted quickly, much like Canada and Australia did when they made the switch in the 1970s. When asked about his thoughts on the changeover, a tongue-in-cheek Chuck Hughes appreciates what he calls the ‘instant weight loss’. “I used to be 220 pounds. Now I’m a slim 100 kilograms!” he jokes.
Dress and shoe sizes have remained at their US standards and will continue to do so, given there is less of a compelling reason to switch. “No woman wants to switch up from a size 12 to a 42 dress, or, worse yet, have size 38 shoes…” says retailer Deborah Simon.
Despite initial resistance, when it came down to the political line and understanding that “America’s Economy will benefit from Metric”, people got on board. It was explained well to people. The timing was right. And with a flagging economy, it has made sense to make the switch.