Metric Demonstration Apparatus

In the wake of the Revolution of 1789, French scientists developed a new system of weights and measures known in English-speaking countries as the metric system. A handful of early 19th-century American mathematics textbooks discussed metric measurements. In the 1860s, metric measures were legalized in the United States, although they were not mandatory. A few advocates of the new system, most notably Columbia University president Frederick A. P. Barnard and librarian Melville Dewey, joined together to form the American Metrological Society and to advocate the use of metric measures. Dewey led the American Metric Bureau in Boston in the late 1870s. When the Bureau closed, the American Metrological Society took over distribution of its products.
One piece of Metric Bureau demonstration apparatus was a wooden cube similar to this one. It is 10 centimeters on a side. The top layer may be removed to represent 100 square centimeters (10 x 10 x 1). A 10 x 1 x 1 slice of square layer also breaks away and then a 1 x 1 x 1 cube to represent a cubic centimeter.
The wooden cube fits snugly into a hollow metal box. The volume of the cube is 1000 cubic centimeters or one liter in the metric system. A mark stamped on the box reads: LITER. If the box is filled with water, the water weighs one kilogram.
The apparatus has no maker’s mark. It has been at the Museum since at least 1963.
Currently not on view
Object Name
weights and measures - demonstration apparatus
Object Type
date made
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
tin (overall material)
cube: 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm; 3 15/16 in x 3 15/16 in x 3 15/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Measuring & Mapping
Metric System
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Chemistry
Metric System
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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