Metric System Demonstration Apparatus -- The Origin of the Metric System

The Origin of the Metric System

A set of seven copper-soldered wooden volumetric measures from largest to smallest, 1 dekaliter (a dekaliter is 10 liters), 1/2 dekaliter (5 liters), 2 liters, 1 liter, 5 deciliters (a deciliter is 1/10 of a liter or 100 cubic centimeters), 2 deciliters, and 1 deciliter.

After the revolution of 1789, French citizens sought uniform weights and measures throughout the nation. The National Assembly and subsequent national governments commissioned the Paris Academy of Sciences and its successor, the Institute of France, to develop entirely new units to measure distance, volume, weight, angles and even time. The units were interrelated. Units of one measure, such as length, increased by powers of ten (millimeters, centimeters, decimeters, meters). A liter was the volume of a cube 10 centimeters on a side. A liter of water at a standard temperature weighed one kilogram. No such simple relations existed in standard units of weight and measure among units of length (inches, feet, yards, miles) or among units of length, volume and weight. In other words, the French introduced not only national standards, but a system of standards. It survives today as the metric system.