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The history of the
metric system The metric system is a system of measurement that succeeded the decimalised system based on the metre that had been introduced in France in the 1790s. The historical development of these systems culminated in the definition of the Interna ...
began during the
Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment or the Enlightenment; german: Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; it, L'Illuminismo, "Enlightenment"; pl, Oświecenie, "Enlightenment"; pt, Iluminismo, "Enlightenment"; es, La Ilustración, "Enlightenment" was an intel ...
with measures of
length Length is a measure of distance. In the International System of Quantities, length is a quantity with dimension distance. In most systems of measurement a base unit for length is chosen, from which all other units are derived. In the Inte ...
and
weight In science and engineering, the weight of an object is the force acting on the object due to gravity. Some standard textbooks define weight as a vector quantity, the gravitational force acting on the object. Others define weight as a scalar qua ...
derived from
nature Nature, in the broadest sense, is the physical world or universe. "Nature" can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. The study of nature is a large, if not the only, part of science. Although humans are ...
, along with their
decimal The decimal numeral system (also called the base-ten positional numeral system and denary or decanary) is the standard system for denoting integer and non-integer numbers. It is the extension to non-integer numbers of the Hindu–Arabic numer ...
multiples and fractions. The system became the standard of France and Europe within half a century. Other measures with unity ratiosratios of 1 between magnitudes of unit quantities were added, and the system went on to be adopted across the world. The first practical realisation of the metric system came in 1799, during the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France that began with the Estates General of 1789 and ended with the formation of the French Consulate in November 1799. Many of its ideas are consider ...
, after the existing system of measures had become impractical for trade, and was replaced by a decimal system based on the
kilogram The kilogram (also kilogramme) is the unit of mass in the International System of Units (SI), having the unit symbol kg. It is a widely used measure in science, engineering and commerce worldwide, and is often simply called a kilo colloquially. ...
and the
metre The metre ( British spelling) or meter ( American spelling; see spelling differences) (from the French unit , from the Greek noun , "measure"), symbol m, is the primary unit of length in the International System of Units (SI), though its pr ...
. The basic units were taken from the natural world. The unit of length, the metre, was based on the dimensions of the
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. While large list of largest lakes and seas in the Solar System, volumes of water can be found throughout the Solar System, only water distributi ...
, and the unit of
mass Mass is an intrinsic property of a body. It was traditionally believed to be related to the quantity of matter in a physical body, until the discovery of the atom and particle physics. It was found that different atoms and different eleme ...
, the kilogram, was based on the mass of a
volume Volume is a measure of occupied three-dimensional space. It is often quantified numerically using SI derived units (such as the cubic metre and litre) or by various imperial or US customary units (such as the gallon, quart, cubic inch). The de ...
of water of one
litre The litre (international spelling) or liter (American English spelling) (SI symbols L and l, other symbol used: ℓ) is a metric unit of volume. It is equal to 1 cubic decimetre (dm3), 1000 cubic centimetres (cm3) or 0.001 cubic metre (m3 ...
(a cubic
decimetre The decimetre (symbol dm) or decimeter (American English) is a unit of length in the International System of Units (SI), equal to one tenth of a metre, ten centimetres, 100 millimetres or 3.937 inches. The common non-SI metric unit of volume ...
). Reference copies for both units were manufactured in platinum and remained the standards of measure for the next 90 years. After a period of reversion to the '' mesures usuelles'' due to unpopularity of the metric system, the metrication of France and much of Europe was complete by the 1850s. In the middle of the 19th century,
James Clerk Maxwell James Clerk Maxwell (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish mathematician and scientist responsible for the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, which was the first theory to describe electricity, magnetism and ligh ...
conceived a coherent system where a small number of units of measure were defined as base units, and all other units of measure, called derived units, were defined in terms of the base units. Maxwell proposed three base units for length, mass and time. Advances in
electromagnetism In physics, electromagnetism is an interaction that occurs between particles with electric charge. It is the second-strongest of the four fundamental interactions, after the strong force, and it is the dominant force in the interactions of ...
in the 19th century necessitated additional units to be defined, and multiple incompatible systems of such units came into use; none could be reconciled with the existing dimensional system. The impasse was resolved by
Giovanni Giorgi Giovanni Giorgi (November 27, 1871 – August 19, 1950) was an Italian physicist and electrical engineer who proposed the ''Giorgi system'' of measurement, the precursor to the International System of Units (SI). Early Life Giovanni Giorgi was b ...
, who in 1901 proved that a coherent system that incorporated electromagnetic units required a fourth base unit, of electromagnetism. The seminal 1875
Treaty of the Metre The Metre Convention (french: link=no, Convention du Mètre), also known as the Treaty of the Metre, is an international treaty that was signed in Paris on 20 May 1875 by representatives of 17 nations (Argentina, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazi ...
resulted in the fashioning and distribution of metre and kilogram artefacts, the standards of the future coherent system that became the SI, and the creation of an international body ''
Conférence générale des poids et mesures The General Conference on Weights and Measures (GCWM; french: Conférence générale des poids et mesures, CGPM) is the supreme authority of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), the intergovernmental organization established ...
'' or CGPM to oversee systems of weights and measures based on them. In 1960, the CGPM launched the
International System of Units The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes Pleonasm#Acronyms and initialisms, pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system and the world's most wid ...
(in French the ''Système international d'unités'' or SI) with six "base units": the metre, kilogram,
second The second (symbol: s) is the unit of time in the International System of Units (SI), historically defined as of a day – this factor derived from the division of the day first into 24 hours, then to 60 minutes and finally to 60 seconds ...
,
ampere The ampere (, ; symbol: A), often shortened to amp,SI supports only the use of symbols and deprecates the use of abbreviations for units. is the unit of electric current in the International System of Units (SI). One ampere is equal to elect ...
, degree Kelvin (subsequently renamed the "kelvin") and
candela The candela ( or ; symbol: cd) is the unit of luminous intensity in the International System of Units (SI). It measures luminous power per unit solid angle emitted by a light source in a particular direction. Luminous intensity is analogous to ...
, plus 16 more units derived from the base units. A seventh base unit, the mole, and six other derived units were added later in the 20th century. During this period, the metre was redefined in terms of the speed of light, and the second was redefined based on the microwave
frequency Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also occasionally referred to as ''temporal frequency'' for clarity, and is distinct from ''angular frequency''. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz) which is eq ...
of a caesium atomic clock. Due to the instability of the
international prototype of the kilogram The International Prototype of the Kilogram (referred to by metrologists as the IPK or Le Grand K; sometimes called the '' ur-kilogram,'' or ''urkilogram,'' particularly by German-language authors writing in English) is an object that was used t ...
, a series of initiatives were undertaken, starting in the late 20th century, to redefine the ampere, kilogram, mole and kelvin in terms of invariant constants of physics, ultimately resulting in the
2019 redefinition of the SI base units In 2019, four of the seven SI base units specified in the International System of Quantities were redefined in terms of natural physical constants, rather than human artifacts such as the standard kilogram. Effective 20 May 2019, the 144t ...
, which finally eliminated the need for any physical reference artefacts—notably, this enabled the retirement of the standard kilogram.


Age of Enlightenment

Foundational aspects of mathematics, together with an increased understanding of the natural world during the Enlightenment, set the stage for the emergence in the late 18th century of a system of measurement with rationally related units and rules for combining them.


Preamble

In the early ninth century, when much of what later became France was part of the
Holy Roman Empire The Holy Roman Empire was a political entity in Western, Central, and Southern Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. From the accession of Otto I in 962 ...
, units of measure had been standardised by the Emperor Charlemagne. He had introduced standard units of measure for length and for mass throughout his empire. As the empire disintegrated into separate nations, including France, these standards diverged. In England,
Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for "Great Charter of Freedoms"), commonly called (also ''Magna Charta''; "Great Charter"), is a royal charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215. First drafted by t ...
(1215) had stipulated that "There shall be standard measures of wine, ale, and corn (the London quarter), throughout the kingdom. There shall also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russet, and haberject, namely two ells within the selvedges. Weights are to be standardised similarly." During the early medieval era,
Roman numerals Roman numerals are a numeral system that originated in ancient Rome and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe well into the Late Middle Ages. Numbers are written with combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet, ea ...
were used in Europe to represent numbers, but the
Arabs The Arabs (singular: Arab; singular ar, عَرَبِيٌّ, DIN 31635: , , plural ar, عَرَب, DIN 31635, DIN 31635: , Arabic pronunciation: ), also known as the Arab people, are an ethnic group mainly inhabiting the Arab world in Wester ...
represented numbers using the Hindu numeral system, a
positional notation Positional notation (or place-value notation, or positional numeral system) usually denotes the extension to any base of the Hindu–Arabic numeral system (or decimal system). More generally, a positional system is a numeral system in which the ...
that used ten symbols. In about 1202, Fibonacci published his book ''
Liber Abaci ''Liber Abaci'' (also spelled as ''Liber Abbaci''; "The Book of Calculation") is a historic 1202 Latin manuscript on arithmetic by Leonardo of Pisa, posthumously known as Fibonacci. ''Liber Abaci'' was among the first Western books to describe ...
'' (Book of Calculation) which introduced the concept of positional notation into Europe. These symbols evolved into the numerals "0", "1", "2" etc. At that time, there was dispute regarding the difference between
rational number In mathematics, a rational number is a number that can be expressed as the quotient or fraction of two integers, a numerator and a non-zero denominator . For example, is a rational number, as is every integer (e.g. ). The set of all rati ...
s and
irrational number In mathematics, the irrational numbers (from in- prefix assimilated to ir- (negative prefix, privative) + rational) are all the real numbers that are not rational numbers. That is, irrational numbers cannot be expressed as the ratio of two inte ...
s and there was no consistency in the way in which decimal fractions were represented. Simon Stevin is credited with introducing the decimal system into general use in Europe. In 1586, he published a small pamphlet called ''De Thiende'' ("the tenth") which historians credit as being the basis of modern notation for decimal fractions. Stevin felt that this innovation was so significant that he declared the universal introduction of decimal coinage, measures, and weights to be merely a question of time.


Body measures and artefacts

Since the time of Charlemagne, the standard of length had been a measure of the body, that from fingertip to fingertip of the outstretched arms of a large man,just under 2 metres in today's units from a family of body measures called ''fathoms'', originally used among other things, to measure depth of water. An artefact to represent the standard was cast in the most durable substance available in the Middle Ages, an iron bar . The problems of a non-reproducible artefact became apparent over the ages: it rusted, was stolen, beaten into a mortised wall until it bent, and was, at times, lost. When a new royal standard had to be cast, it was a different standard than the old one, so replicas of old ones and new ones came into existence and use. The artefact existed through the 18th century, and was called a ''teise'' or later, a ''
toise A toise (; symbol: T) is a unit of measure for length, area and volume originating in pre-revolutionary France. In North America, it was used in colonial French establishments in early New France, French Louisiana (''Louisiane''), Acadia (''Acad ...
'' (from Latin ''tense'': outstretched (arms)). This would lead to a search in the 18th century for a reproducible standard based on some invariant measure of the natural world.


Clocks and pendulums

In 1656, Dutch scientist
Christiaan Huygens Christiaan Huygens, Lord of Zeelhem, ( , , ; also spelled Huyghens; la, Hugenius; 14 April 1629 – 8 July 1695) was a Dutch mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, and inventor, who is regarded as one of the greatest scientists ...
invented the pendulum clock, with its pendulum marking the seconds. This gave rise to proposals to use its length as a standard unit. But it became apparent that the pendulum lengths of calibrated clocks in different locations varied (due to local variations in the acceleration due to gravity), and this was not a good solution. A more uniform standard was needed. In 1670, Gabriel Mouton, a French abbot and astronomer, published the book ''Observationes diametrorum solis et lunae apparentium'' ("Observations of the apparent diameters of the Sun and Moon") in which he proposed a decimal system of measurement of length for use by scientists in international communication, to be based on the dimensions of the Earth. The ''milliare'' would be defined as a
minute of arc A minute of arc, arcminute (arcmin), arc minute, or minute arc, denoted by the symbol , is a unit of angular measurement equal to of one degree. Since one degree is of a turn (or complete rotation), one minute of arc is of a turn. The na ...
along a meridian and would be divided into 10 centuria, the centuria into 10 decuria and so on, successive units being the virga, virgula, decima, centesima, and the millesima. Mouton used Riccioli's estimate that one degree of arc was 321,185 Bolognese feet, and his own experiments showed that a pendulum of length one virgula would beat 3959.2 timesThere were two beats in an oscillation. in half an hour.the pendulum would have had a length of 205.6 mm and the virgula was ~185.2 mm. He believed that, with this information, scientists in a foreign country would be able to construct a copy of the virgula for their own use. Mouton's ideas attracted interest at the time; Picard in his work ''Mesure de la Terre'' (1671) and Huygens in his work ''Horologium Oscillatorium sive de motu pendulorum'' ("Of oscillating clocks, or concerning the motion of pendulums", 1673) both proposing that a standard unit of length be tied to the beat frequency of a pendulum.


The shape and size of the Earth

Since at least the Middle Ages, the Earth had been perceived as eternal, unchanging, and of symmetrical shape (close to a sphere), so it was natural that some fractional measure of its surface should be proposed as a standard of length. But first, scientific information about the shape and size of the Earth had to be obtained. In 1669,
Jean Picard Jean Picard (21 July 1620 – 12 July 1682) was a French astronomer and priest born in La Flèche, where he studied at the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand. He is principally notable for his accurate measure of the size of the Earth, bas ...
, a French astronomer, was the first person to measure the Earth accurately. In a survey spanning one degree of latitude, he erred by only 0.44% ( Picard's arc measurement). In ''
Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (English language, English: ''Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy'') often referred to as simply the (), is a book by Isaac Newton that expounds Newton's laws of motion and his Newton's law of universal gravitation, law of universa ...
'' (1686), Isaac Newton gave a theoretical explanation for the "bulging equator",The acceleration due to gravity at the poles is 9.832 m/s−2 and at the equator 9.780 m/s−2, a difference of about 0.5

which also explained the differences found in the lengths of the "second pendulums", theories that were confirmed by the French Geodesic Mission to Peru undertaken by the
French Academy of Sciences The French Academy of Sciences (French: ''Académie des sciences'') is a learned society, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research. It was at the ...
in 1735.


Late 18th century: conflict and lassitude

By the mid-18th century, it had become apparent that it was necessary to standardise of weights and measures between nations who traded and exchanged scientific ideas with each other. Spain, for example, had aligned her units of measure with the royal units of France and
Peter the Great Peter I ( – ), most commonly known as Peter the Great,) or Pyotr Alekséyevich ( rus, Пётр Алексе́евич, p=ˈpʲɵtr ɐlʲɪˈksʲejɪvʲɪtɕ, , group=pron was a Russian monarch who ruled the Tsardom of Russia from t ...
aligned the Russian units of measure with those of England. In 1783, the British inventor
James Watt James Watt (; 30 January 1736 (19 January 1736 OS) – 25 August 1819) was a Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer, and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen's 1712 Newcomen steam engine with his Watt steam engine in 1776, which was f ...
, who was having difficulties in communicating with German scientists, called for the creation of a global decimal measurement system, proposing a system which used the density of water to link length and mass, and, in 1788, the French
chemist A chemist (from Greek ''chēm(ía)'' alchemy; replacing ''chymist'' from Medieval Latin ''alchemist'') is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties. Chemists carefully describe th ...
Antoine Lavoisier Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier ( , ; ; 26 August 17438 May 1794),
CNRS (
rench The Rench is a right-hand tributary of the Rhine in the Ortenau ( Central Baden, Germany). It rises on the southern edge of the Northern Black Forest at Kniebis near Bad Griesbach im Schwarzwald. The source farthest from the mouth is that of the ...
pound and decimal subdivisions thereof) for his experimental work. In 1790, a proposal floated by the French to Britain and the United States, to establish a uniform measure of length, a ''metre'' based on the period of a pendulum with a beat of one second, was defeated in the British Parliament and United States Congress. The underlying issue was failure to agree on the latitude for the definition, since gravitational acceleration, and, therefore, the length of the pendulum, varies (inter alia) with latitude: each party wanted a definition according to a major latitude passing through their own country. The direct consequences of the failure were the French unilateral development and deployment of the metric system and its spread by trade to the continent; the British adoption of the Imperial System of Measures throughout the realm in 1824; and the United States' retention of the British common system of measures in place at the time of the independence of the colonies. This was the position that continued for nearly the next 200 years.Much of the British Empire except the UK adopted the metric system early on; the UK partly adopted the metric system late in the 20th century.


Implementation in Revolutionary France


Weights and measures of the ''Ancien Régime''

It has been estimated that, on the eve of the Revolution in 1789, the eight hundred or so units of measure in use in France had up to a quarter of a million different definitions because the quantity associated with each unit could differ from town to town, and even from trade to trade. Although certain standards, such as the ''pied du roi'' (the King's foot) had a degree of pre-eminence and were used by scientists, many traders chose to use their own measuring devices, giving scope for fraud and hindering commerce and industry. These variations were promoted by local vested interests, but hindered trade and taxation.


The units of weight and length

In 1790, a panel of five leading French scientists was appointed by the ''Académie des sciences'' to investigate weights and measures. They were Jean-Charles de Borda,
Joseph-Louis Lagrange Joseph-Louis Lagrange (born Giuseppe Luigi LagrangiaPierre-Simon Laplace Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (; ; 23 March 1749 – 5 March 1827) was a French scholar and polymath whose work was important to the development of engineering, mathematics, statistics, physics, astronomy, and philosophy. He summarized ...
, Gaspard Monge, and Nicolas de Condorcet. Over the following year, the panel, after studying various alternatives, made a series of recommendations regarding a new system of weights and measures, including that it should have a decimal
radix In a positional numeral system, the radix or base is the number of unique digits, including the digit zero, used to represent numbers. For example, for the decimal/denary system (the most common system in use today) the radix (base number) is ...
, that the unit of length should be based on a fractional arc of a quadrant of the Earth's meridian, and that the unit of weight should be that of a cube of water whose dimension was a decimal fraction of the unit of length. The proposals were accepted by the French Assembly on 30 March 1791. Following acceptance, the ''Académie des sciences'' was instructed to implement the proposals. The ''Académie'' broke the tasks into five operations, allocating each part to a separate
working group A working group, or working party, is a group of experts working together to achieve specified goals. The groups are domain-specific and focus on discussion or activity around a specific subject area. The term can sometimes refer to an interdis ...
: *Measuring the difference in latitude between Dunkirk and
Barcelona Barcelona ( , , ) is a city on the coast of northeastern Spain. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within c ...
and triangulating between them *Measuring the baselines used for the survey *Verifying the length of the second pendulum at 45° latitude. *Verifying the weight in a vacuum of a given volume of distilled water. *Publishing conversion tables relating the new units of measure to the existing units of measure. The panel decided that the new measure of length should be equal to one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator ( Earth quadrant), measured along the
Paris meridian The Paris meridian is a meridian line running through the Paris Observatory in Paris, France – now longitude 2°20′14.02500″ East. It was a long-standing rival to the Greenwich meridian as the prime meridian of the world. The "Paris meridi ...
. Using
Jean Picard Jean Picard (21 July 1620 – 12 July 1682) was a French astronomer and priest born in La Flèche, where he studied at the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand. He is principally notable for his accurate measure of the size of the Earth, bas ...
's survey of 1670 and Jacques Cassini's survey of 1718, a provisional value of 443.44 '' lignes'' was assigned to the metre which, in turn, defined the other units of measure. While Méchain and Delambre were completing their survey, the commission had ordered a series of platinum bars to be made based on the provisional metre. When the final result was known, the bar whose length was closest to the meridional definition of the metre would be selected. After 1792, the name of the original defined unit of mass, "'' gramme''", which was too small to serve as a practical realisation for many purposes, was adopted, the new prefix "kilo" was added to it to form the name "'' kilogramme''". Consequently, the kilogram is the only
SI base unit The SI base units are the standard units of measurement defined by the International System of Units (SI) for the seven base quantities of what is now known as the International System of Quantities: they are notably a basic set from which all ...
that has an
SI prefix The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system and the world's most widely used system of measurement. E ...
as part of its unit name. A provisional kilogram standard was made and work was commissioned to determine the precise mass of a cubic decimetre (later to be defined as equal to one
litre The litre (international spelling) or liter (American English spelling) (SI symbols L and l, other symbol used: ℓ) is a metric unit of volume. It is equal to 1 cubic decimetre (dm3), 1000 cubic centimetres (cm3) or 0.001 cubic metre (m3 ...
) of water. The regulation of trade and commerce required a "practical realisation": a single-piece, metallic reference standard that was one thousand times more massive that would be known as the ''grave''.from Latin ''gravitas'': "weight" This mass unit defined by Lavoisier and René Just Haüy had been in use since 1793. This new, practical realisation would ultimately become the base unit of mass. On 7 April 1795, the ''gramme'', upon which the kilogram is based, was decreed to be equal to "the absolute weight of a volume of pure water equal to a cube of one hundredth of a metre, and at the temperature of the melting ice". Although the definition of the ''kilogramme'' specified water at 0 °C—a highly stable temperature point—it was replaced with the temperature at which water reaches maximum density. This temperature, about 4 °C, was not accurately known, but one of the advantages of the new definition was that the precise Celsius value of the temperature was not actually important. The final conclusion was that one cubic decimetre of water at its maximum density was equal to 99.92072% of the mass of the provisional kilogram. On 7 April 1795, the metric system was formally defined in French law.Article 5 of the law of 18 Germinal, Year III It defined six new decimal units: *The '' mètre'', for length—defined as one ten-millionth of the distance between the
North Pole The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is the point in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface. It is called the True North Pole to distinguish from the Mag ...
and the
Equator The equator is a circle of latitude, about in circumference, that divides Earth into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. It is an imaginary line located at 0 degrees latitude, halfway between the North and South poles. The term can a ...
through
Paris Paris () is the capital and most populous city of France, with an estimated population of 2,165,423 residents in 2019 in an area of more than 105 km² (41 sq mi), making it the 30th most densely populated city in the world in 2020. ...
*The '' are'' (100 m2) for area f land*The '' stère'' (1 m3) for volume of firewood *The ''
litre The litre (international spelling) or liter (American English spelling) (SI symbols L and l, other symbol used: ℓ) is a metric unit of volume. It is equal to 1 cubic decimetre (dm3), 1000 cubic centimetres (cm3) or 0.001 cubic metre (m3 ...
'' (1 dm3) for volumes of liquid *The ''
gram The gram (originally gramme; SI unit symbol g) is a unit of mass in the International System of Units (SI) equal to one one thousandth of a kilogram. Originally defined as of 1795 as "the absolute weight of a volume of pure water equal to th ...
me'', for mass—defined as the mass of one cubic centimetre of water *The '' franc, for currency. :''Historical note: only the metre and (kilo)gramme defined here went on to become part of later metric systems. Litres and to a lesser extent hectares (100 ares, or 1 hm2) are still in use, but are not official SI units.'' Decimal multiples of these units were defined by Greek prefixes: ''"
myria- Myria- (symbol my) is a now obsolete decimal metric prefix denoting a factor of 104 (ten thousand). It originates from the Greek μύριοι (''mýrioi'') ( myriad). The prefix was part of the original metric system adopted by France in 1795, b ...
"'' (10,000), ''"
kilo- Kilo is a decimal unit prefix in the metric system denoting multiplication by one thousand (103). It is used in the International System of Units, where it has the symbol k, in lowercase. The prefix ''kilo'' is derived from the Greek word (), ...
"'' (1000), ''" hecto-"'' (100), and ''" deka-"'' (10) and submultiples were defined by the Latin prefixes ''" deci-"'' (0.1), ''" centi-"'' (0.01), and ''"
milli- ''Milli'' (symbol m) is a unit prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one thousandth (10−3). Proposed in 1793, and adopted in 1795, the prefix comes from the Latin , meaning ''one thousand'' (the Latin plural is ). Since 1960, the pre ...
"'' (0.001). The 1795 draft definitions enabled provisional copies of the kilograms and metres to be constructed.


Meridional survey

The task of surveying the
meridian arc In geodesy and navigation, a meridian arc is the curve between two points on the Earth's surface having the same longitude. The term may refer either to a segment of the meridian, or to its length. The purpose of measuring meridian arcs is to d ...
, which was estimated to take two years, fell to
Pierre Méchain Pierre François André Méchain (; 16 August 1744 – 20 September 1804) was a French astronomer and surveyor who, with Charles Messier, was a major contributor to the early study of deep-sky objects and comets. Life Pierre Méchain was born ...
and Jean-Baptiste Delambre. The task eventually took more than six years (1792–1798) with delays caused not only by unforeseen technical difficulties but also by the convulsed period of the aftermath of the Revolution. Apart from the obvious nationalistic considerations, the
Paris meridian The Paris meridian is a meridian line running through the Paris Observatory in Paris, France – now longitude 2°20′14.02500″ East. It was a long-standing rival to the Greenwich meridian as the prime meridian of the world. The "Paris meridi ...
was also a sound choice for practical scientific reasons: a portion of the quadrant from Dunkirk to Barcelona (about 1000 km, or one-tenth of the total) could be surveyed with start- and end-points at sea level, and that portion was roughly in the middle of the quadrant, where the effects of the Earth's oblateness were expected to be the largest. The project was split into two parts—the northern section of 742.7 km from the Belfry, Dunkirk to Rodez Cathedral which was surveyed by Delambre and the southern section of 333.0 km from
Rodez Rodez ( or ; oc, Rodés, ) is a small city and commune in the South of France, about 150 km northeast of Toulouse. It is the prefecture of the department of Aveyron, region of Occitania (formerly Midi-Pyrénées). Rodez is the seat of t ...
to the Montjuïc Fortress,
Barcelona Barcelona ( , , ) is a city on the coast of northeastern Spain. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within c ...
which was surveyed by Méchain.Distances measured using Google Earth. The coordinates are:
– Belfry, Dunkirk
Rodez Rodez ( or ; oc, Rodés, ) is a small city and commune in the South of France, about 150 km northeast of Toulouse. It is the prefecture of the department of Aveyron, region of Occitania (formerly Midi-Pyrénées). Rodez is the seat of t ...
Cathedral
Montjuïc,
Barcelona Barcelona ( , , ) is a city on the coast of northeastern Spain. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within c ...
Delambre used a baseline of about 10 km in length along a straight road, located close to
Melun Melun () is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region, north-central France. It is located on the southeastern outskirts of Paris, about from the centre of the capital. Melun is the prefecture of the Seine-et-Ma ...
. In an operation taking six weeks, the baseline was accurately measured using four platinum rods, each of length two ''toises'' (about 3.9 m). Thereafter he used, where possible, the triangulation points used by Cassini in his 1744 survey of France. Méchain's baseline, of a similar length, and also on a straight section of road was in the
Perpignan Perpignan (, , ; ca, Perpinyà ; es, Perpiñán ; it, Perpignano ) is the prefecture of the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France, in the heart of the plain of Roussillon, at the foot of the Pyrenees a few kilometres from the M ...
area. Although Méchain's sector was half the length of Delambre, it included the
Pyrenees The Pyrenees (; es, Pirineos ; french: Pyrénées ; ca, Pirineu ; eu, Pirinioak ; oc, Pirenèus ; an, Pirineus) is a mountain range straddling the border of France and Spain. It extends nearly from its union with the Cantabrian Mountains to ...
and hitherto unsurveyed parts of Spain. After the two surveyors met, each computed the other's baseline in order to cross-check their results and they then recomputed the metre as 443.296 ''lignes'',All values in ''lignes'' are referred to the ''toise de Pérou'', not to the later value in '' mesures usuelles''. 1 ''
toise A toise (; symbol: T) is a unit of measure for length, area and volume originating in pre-revolutionary France. In North America, it was used in colonial French establishments in early New France, French Louisiana (''Louisiane''), Acadia (''Acad ...
'' = 6 '' pieds''; 1 ''pied'' = 12 '' pouces''; 1 ''pouce'' = 12 ''lignes''; so 1 ''toise'' = 864 ''lignes''.
notably shorter than the 1795 provisional value of 443.44 ''lignes''. On 15 November 1798, Delambre and Méchain returned to Paris with their data, having completed the survey. The final value of the ''mètre'' was defined in 1799 as the computed value from the survey. :''Historical note:'' It soon became apparent that Méchain and Delambre's result (443.296 ''lignes'') was slightly too short for the meridional definition of the metre. Méchain had made a small error measuring the latitude of Barcelona, so he remeasured it, but kept the second set of measurements secret.The modern value, for the WGS 84 reference spheroid of  m is  ''lignes''.


The French metric system

In June 1799, platinum prototypes were fabricated according to the measured quantities, the ''mètre des archives'' defined to be a length of 443.296 lignes, and the ''kilogramme des archives'' defined to be a weight of 18827.15 grains of the ''livre poids de marc'', and entered into the French National Archives. In December of that year, the metric system based on them became by law the sole system of weights and measures in France from 1801 until 1812. Despite the law, the populace continued to use the old measures. In 1812, Napoleon revoked the law and issued one called the '' mesures usuelles'', restoring the names and quantities of the customary measures but redefined as round multiples of the metric units, so it was a kind of hybrid system. In 1837, after the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire, the new Assembly reimposed the metric system defined by the laws of 1795 and 1799, to take effect in 1840. The metrication of France took until about 1858 to be completed. Some of the old unit names, especially the '' livre'', originally a unit of mass derived from the Roman ''libra'' (as was the English pound), but now meaning 500 grams, are still in use today.


Development of non-coherent metric systems

At the start of the nineteenth century, the French Academy of Sciences' artefacts for
length Length is a measure of distance. In the International System of Quantities, length is a quantity with dimension distance. In most systems of measurement a base unit for length is chosen, from which all other units are derived. In the Inte ...
and
mass Mass is an intrinsic property of a body. It was traditionally believed to be related to the quantity of matter in a physical body, until the discovery of the atom and particle physics. It was found that different atoms and different eleme ...
were the only nascent units of the metric system that were defined in terms of formal standards. Other units based on them, except the ''litre'', proved to be short-lived. Pendulum clocks that could keep time in seconds had been in use for about 150 years, but their geometries were local to both latitude and altitude, so there was no standard of timekeeping. Nor had a unit of time been recognised as an essential base unit for the derivation of things like force and acceleration. Some quantities of electricity, like charge and potential, had been identified, but names and interrelationships of units were not yet established.Ohm's Law wasn't discovered until 1824, for example. Both Fahrenheit (~1724) and Celsius (~1742) scales of temperature existed, and varied instruments for measuring units or degrees of them. The base/ derived unit model had not yet been elaborated, nor was it known how many
physical quantities A physical quantity is a physical property of a material or system that can be quantified by measurement. A physical quantity can be expressed as a ''value'', which is the algebraic multiplication of a ' Numerical value ' and a ' Unit '. For examp ...
might be interrelated. A model of interrelated units was first proposed in 1861 by the
British Association for the Advancement of Science The British Science Association (BSA) is a charity and learned society founded in 1831 to aid in the promotion and development of science. Until 2009 it was known as the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA). The current Chi ...
(BAAS) based on what came to be called the "mechanical" units (length, mass, and time). Over the following decades, this foundation enabled mechanical,
electrical Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. Electricity is related to magnetism, both being part of the phenomenon of electromagnetism, as described ...
, and
thermal A thermal column (or thermal) is a rising mass of buoyant air, a convective current in the atmosphere, that transfers heat energy vertically. Thermals are created by the uneven heating of Earth's surface from solar radiation, and are an example ...
units to be correlated.


Time

In 1832, German mathematician Carl-Friedrich Gauss made the first absolute measurements of the
Earth's magnetic field Earth's magnetic field, also known as the geomagnetic field, is the magnetic field that extends from Earth's interior out into space, where it interacts with the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun. The magnetic ...
using a decimal system based on the use of the millimetre, milligram, and second as the base unit of time. Gauss' second was based on astronomical observations of the rotation of the Earth, and was the sexagesimal second of the ancients: a partitioning of the solar day into two cycles of 12 periods, and each period divided into 60 intervals, and each interval so divided again, so that a second was 1/86,400th of the day.It is certain, however, that 170 years after the invention of pendulum clocks, that Gauss had sufficiently accurate mechanical clocks for his work. This effectively established a time dimension as a necessary constituent of any useful system of measures, and the astronomical second as the base unit.


Work and energy

In a paper published in 1843,
James Prescott Joule James Prescott Joule (; 24 December 1818 11 October 1889) was an English physicist, mathematician and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work (see energy). Th ...
first demonstrated a means of measuring the
energy In physics, energy (from Ancient Greek: ἐνέργεια, ''enérgeia'', “activity”) is the quantitative property that is transferred to a body or to a physical system, recognizable in the performance of work and in the form of heat ...
transferred between different systems when work is done thereby relating
Nicolas Clément Nicolas Clément (12 January 1779 – 21 November 1841) was a French physicist and chemist. He was a colleague of Charles Desormes, with whom he conducted the Clément-Desormes experiment. The two chemists are also credited with determining a ...
's
calorie The calorie is a unit of energy. For historical reasons, two main definitions of "calorie" are in wide use. The large calorie, food calorie, or kilogram calorie was originally defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of on ...
, defined in 1824 as "the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water from 0 to 1 °C at 1 atmosphere of pressure" to
mechanical work In physics, work is the energy transferred to or from an object via the application of force along a displacement. In its simplest form, for a constant force aligned with the direction of motion, the work equals the product of the force stre ...
. Energy became the unifying concept of nineteenth century
science Science is a systematic endeavor that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Science may be as old as the human species, and some of the earliest archeological evidence f ...
, initially by bringing
thermodynamics Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, work, and temperature, and their relation to energy, entropy, and the physical properties of matter and radiation. The behavior of these quantities is governed by the four laws of t ...
and
mechanics Mechanics (from Ancient Greek: μηχανική, ''mēkhanikḗ'', "of machines") is the area of mathematics and physics concerned with the relationships between force, matter, and motion among physical objects. Forces applied to objects r ...
together and later adding electrical technology.


The first structured metric system: CGS

In 1861, a committee of the
British Association for the Advancement of Science The British Science Association (BSA) is a charity and learned society founded in 1831 to aid in the promotion and development of science. Until 2009 it was known as the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA). The current Chi ...
(BAAS) including William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin),
James Clerk Maxwell James Clerk Maxwell (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish mathematician and scientist responsible for the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, which was the first theory to describe electricity, magnetism and ligh ...
, and
James Prescott Joule James Prescott Joule (; 24 December 1818 11 October 1889) was an English physicist, mathematician and brewer, born in Salford, Lancashire. Joule studied the nature of heat, and discovered its relationship to mechanical work (see energy). Th ...
among its members was tasked with investigating the "Standards of Electrical Resistance". In their first report (1862), they laid the ground rules for their work—the metric system was to be used, measures of electrical energy must have the same units as measures of mechanical energy, and two sets of electromagnetic units would have to be derived—an electromagnetic system and an electrostatic system. In the second report (1863), they introduced the concept of a coherent system of units whereby units of length, mass, and time were identified as "fundamental units" (now known as '' base units''). All other units of measure could be derived (hence '' derived units'') from these base units. The metre, gram, and second were chosen as base units. In 1861, before a meeting of the BAAS, Charles Bright and Latimer Clark proposed the names of ohm,
volt The volt (symbol: V) is the unit of electric potential, electric potential difference (voltage), and electromotive force in the International System of Units (SI). It is named after the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta (1745–1827). Defi ...
, and
farad The farad (symbol: F) is the unit of electrical capacitance, the ability of a body to store an electrical charge, in the International System of Units (SI). It is named after the English physicist Michael Faraday (1791–1867). In SI base unit ...
in honour of Georg Ohm,
Alessandro Volta Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (, ; 18 February 1745 – 5 March 1827) was an Italian physicist, chemist and lay Catholic who was a pioneer of electricity and power who is credited as the inventor of the electric battery and th ...
, and
Michael Faraday Michael Faraday (; 22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867) was an English scientist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include the principles underlying electromagnetic induction ...
respectively for the practical units based on the CGS absolute system. This was supported by Thomson (Lord Kelvin). The concept of naming units of measure after noteworthy scientists was subsequently used for other units. In 1873, another committee of the BAAS (which also included Maxwell and Thomson) tasked with "the Selection and Nomenclature of Dynamical and Electrical Units" recommended using the cgs system of units. The committee also recommended the names of "
dyne The dyne (symbol: dyn; ) is a derived unit of force specified in the centimetre–gram–second (CGS) system of units, a predecessor of the modern SI. History The name dyne was first proposed as a CGS unit of force in 1873 by a Committee of ...
" and " erg" for the cgs units of force and energy. The cgs system became the basis for scientific work for the next seventy years. The reports recognised two centimetre–gram–second based systems for electrical units: the Electromagnetic (or absolute) system of units (EMU) and the Electrostatic system of units (ESU).


Electrical units

In the 1820s, Georg Ohm formulated
Ohm's Law Ohm's law states that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the voltage across the two points. Introducing the constant of proportionality, the resistance, one arrives at the usual mathematical equa ...
, which can be extended to relate power to current, electric potential (voltage), and resistance. During the following decades, the realisation of a coherent system of units that incorporated the measurement of electromagnetic phenomena and Ohm's law was beset with problems—several different systems of units were devised. In the three CGS systems, the constants k_\text and k_\text and consequently \epsilon_0 and \mu_0 were dimensionless, and thus did not require any units to define them. The electrical units of measure did not easily fit into the coherent system of mechanical units defined by the BAAS. Using
dimensional analysis In engineering and science, dimensional analysis is the analysis of the relationships between different physical quantities by identifying their base quantities (such as length, mass, time, and electric current) and units of measure (such as mi ...
, the dimensions of voltage \mathsf^\frac\mathsf^\frac\mathsf^ in the ESU system were identical to the dimensions of current in the EMU system, while resistance had dimensions of velocity in the EMU system, but the inverse of velocity in the ESU system.


Electromagnetic (absolute) system of units (EMU)

The Electromagnetic system of units (EMU) was developed from
André-Marie Ampère André-Marie Ampère (, ; ; 20 January 177510 June 1836) was a French physicist and mathematician who was one of the founders of the science of classical electromagnetism, which he referred to as "electrodynamics". He is also the inventor of num ...
's discovery in the 1820s of a relationship between currents in two conductors and the force between them now known as Ampere's law: : \frac = 2 k_\text \frac where k_\text = \frac \ (SI units) In 1833, Gauss pointed out the possibility of equating this force with its mechanical equivalent. This proposal received further support from Wilhelm Weber in 1851. In this system, current is defined by setting the magnetic force constant k_\mathrm to unity and electric potential is defined in such a way as to ensure the unit of power calculated by the relation P = VI is an erg/second. The electromagnetic units of measure were known as the abampere, abvolt, and so on. These units were later scaled for use in the International System.


Electrostatic system of units (ESU)

The Electrostatic system of units (ESU) was based on Coulomb's quantification in 1783 of the force acting between two charged bodies. This relationship, now known as Coulomb's law, can be written :F_\mathrm = k_\text \frac, where k_\text = \frac (SI units) In this system, the unit for charge is defined by setting the Coulomb force constant (k_\text) to unity and the unit for electric potential was defined to ensure the unit of energy calculated by the relation E = QV is one erg. The electrostatic units of measure were the statampere, statvolt, and so on.


Gaussian system of units

The Gaussian system of units was based on
Heinrich Hertz Heinrich Rudolf Hertz ( ; ; 22 February 1857 – 1 January 1894) was a German physicist who first conclusively proved the existence of the electromagnetic waves predicted by James Clerk Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism. The unit ...
's realisation, while verifying
Maxwell's equations Maxwell's equations, or Maxwell–Heaviside equations, are a set of coupled partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electromagnetism, classical optics, and electric circuits. ...
in 1888, that the electromagnetic and electrostatic units were related by: :c^2 = \frac Using this relationship, he proposed merging the EMU and the ESU systems into one system using the EMU units for magnetic quantities (subsequently named the gauss and maxwell) and ESU units elsewhere. He named this combined set of units "
Gaussian units Gaussian units constitute a metric system of physical units. This system is the most common of the several electromagnetic unit systems based on cgs (centimetre–gram–second) units. It is also called the Gaussian unit system, Gaussian-cgs uni ...
". This set of units has been recognised as being particularly useful in theoretical physics.


Quadrant–eleventhgram–second (QES) or International system of units

The CGS units of measure used in scientific work were not practical for engineering, leading to the development of a more applicable system of electric units especially for telegraphy. The unit of length was 107 m (the hebdometre, nominally the Earth quadrant), the unit of mass was an unnamed unit equal to 10−11 g and the unit of time was the second. The units of mass and length were scaled incongruously to yield more consistent and usable electric units in terms of mechanical measures. Informally called the "practical" system, it was properly termed the quadrant–eleventhgram–second (QES) system of units according to convention. The definitions of electrical units incorporated the magnetic constant like the EMU system, and the names of the units were carried over from that system, but scaled according to the defined mechanical units. The system was formalised as the International system late in the 19th century and its units later designated the "international ampere", "international volt", etc.


Heaviside–Lorentz system of units

The factor 4\pi that occurs in Maxwell's equations in the gaussian system (and the other CGS systems) comes from the 4\pi steradians surrounding a point, such as a point electric charge. This factor could be eliminated from contexts that do not involve spherical coordinates by incorporating the factor into the definitions of the quantities involved. The system was proposed by Oliver Heaviside in 1883 and is also known as the "rationalised Gaussian system of units". The SI later adopted rationalised units based on Heaviside's rationalisation scheme.


Thermodynamics

Maxwell and Boltzmann had produced theories describing the interrelationship of temperature, pressure, and volume of a gas on a microscopic scale but otherwise, in 1900, there was no understanding of the microscopic nature of temperature. By the end of the nineteenth century, the fundamental macroscopic laws of thermodynamics had been formulated and, although techniques existed to measure temperature using empirical techniques, the scientific understanding of the nature of temperature was minimal.


Convention of the metre

With increasing international adoption of the metre, the shortcomings of the ''mètre des Archives'' as a standard became ever more apparent. Countries which adopted the metre as a legal measure purchased standard metre bars that were intended to be equal in length to the ''mètre des Archives'', but there was no systematic way of ensuring that the countries were actually working to the same standard. The meridional definition, which had been intended to ensure international reproducibility, quickly proved so impractical that it was all but abandoned in favour of the artefact standards, but the ''mètre des Archives'' (and most of its copies) were "end standards": such standards (bars which are exactly one metre in length) are prone to wear with use, and different standard bars could be expected to wear at different rates. In 1867, it was proposed that a new international standard metre be created, and the length was taken to be that of the ''mètre des Archives'' "in the state in which it shall be found". The International Conference on Geodesy in 1867 called for the creation of a new international prototype of the metreThe term "prototype" does not imply that it was the first in a series and that other standard metres would come after it: the "prototype" of the metre was the one that came first in the logical chain of comparisons, that is the metre to which all other standards were compared. and of a system by which national standards could be compared with it. The international prototype would also be a "line standard", that is the metre was defined as the distance between two lines marked on the bar, so avoiding the wear problems of end standards. The French government gave practical support to the creation of an International Metre Commission, which met in Paris in 1870 and again in 1872 with the participation of about thirty countries. On 20 May 1875, an international treaty known as the ''Convention du Mètre'' (Metre Convention) was signed by 17 states. This treaty established the following organisations to conduct international activities relating to a uniform system for measurements: :*''
Conférence générale des poids et mesures The General Conference on Weights and Measures (GCWM; french: Conférence générale des poids et mesures, CGPM) is the supreme authority of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), the intergovernmental organization established ...
'' (CGPM or General Conference on Weights and Measures), an intergovernmental conference of official delegates of member nations and the supreme authority for all actions; :*'' Comité international des poids et mesures'' (CIPM or International Committee for Weights and Measures), consisting of selected scientists and metrologists, which prepares and executes the decisions of the CGPM and is responsible for the supervision of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures; :*'' Bureau international des poids et mesures'' (BIPM or International Bureau of Weights and Measures), a permanent laboratory and world centre of scientific metrology, the activities of which include the establishment of the basic standards and scales of the principal physical quantities, maintenance of the international prototype standards, and oversight of regular comparisons between the international prototype and the various national standards. The international prototype of the metre and
international prototype of the kilogram The International Prototype of the Kilogram (referred to by metrologists as the IPK or Le Grand K; sometimes called the '' ur-kilogram,'' or ''urkilogram,'' particularly by German-language authors writing in English) is an object that was used t ...
were both made from a 90%  platinum, 10% 
iridium Iridium is a chemical element with the symbol Ir and atomic number 77. A very hard, brittle, silvery-white transition metal of the platinum group, it is considered the second-densest naturally occurring metal (after osmium) with a density of ...
alloy which is exceptionally hard and which has good electrical and thermal conductivity properties. The prototype had a special X-shaped ( Tresca) cross section to minimise the effects of torsional strain during length comparisons and the prototype kilograms were cylindrical in shape. The London firm
Johnson Matthey Johnson Matthey is a British multinational speciality chemicals and sustainable technologies company headquartered in London, England. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. History Early years Jo ...
delivered 30 prototype metres and 40 prototype kilograms. At the first meeting of the
CGPM The General Conference on Weights and Measures (GCWM; french: Conférence générale des poids et mesures, CGPM) is the supreme authority of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), the intergovernmental organization established i ...
in 1889, bar No. 6 and cylinder No. X were accepted as the international prototypes. The remainder were either kept as BIPM working copies or distributed to member states as national prototypes. Following the Convention of the Metre, in 1889, the BIPM had custody of two artefacts—one to define length and the other to define mass. Other units of measure which did not rely on specific artefacts were controlled by other bodies. Although the definition of the kilogram remained unchanged throughout the 20th century, the 3rd CGPM in 1901 clarified that the kilogram was a unit of
mass Mass is an intrinsic property of a body. It was traditionally believed to be related to the quantity of matter in a physical body, until the discovery of the atom and particle physics. It was found that different atoms and different eleme ...
, not of
weight In science and engineering, the weight of an object is the force acting on the object due to gravity. Some standard textbooks define weight as a vector quantity, the gravitational force acting on the object. Others define weight as a scalar qua ...
. The original batch of 40 prototypes (adopted in 1889) were supplemented from time to time with further prototypes for use by new signatories to the Metre Convention. In 1921, the Treaty of the Metre was extended to cover electrical units, with the CGPM merging its work with that of the IEC.


Measurement systems before World War II

The 20th century history of measurement is marked by five periods: the 1901 definition of the coherent MKS system; the intervening 50 years of coexistence of the MKS, cgs and common systems of measures; the 1948 ''Practical system of units'' prototype of the SI; the introduction of the SI in 1960; and the evolution of the SI in the latter half century.


A coherent system

The need for an independent electromagnetic dimension to resolve the difficulties related to defining such units in terms of length, mass, and time was identified by Giorgi in 1901. This led to Giorgi presenting a paper in October 1901 to the congress of the Associazione Elettrotecnica Italiana (A.E.I.) in which he showed that a coherent electro-mechanical system of units could be obtained by adding a fourth base unit of an electrical nature (e.g., ampere, volt, or ohm) to the three base units proposed in the 1861 BAAS report. This gave physical dimensions to the constants ''k''e and ''k''m and hence also to the electro-mechanical quantities ''ε''0 (permittivity of free space) and ''μ''0 (permeability of free space). His work also recognised the relevance of energy in the establishment of a coherent, rational system of units, with the
joule The joule ( , ; symbol: J) is the unit of energy in the International System of Units (SI). It is equal to the amount of work done when a force of 1 newton displaces a mass through a distance of 1 metre in the direction of the force applied ...
as the unit of energy, and the electrical units in the International System of Units remaining unchanged. However, it took more than thirty years before Giorgi's work was accepted in practice by the IEC.


Systems of measurement in the industrial era

As industry developed around the world, the cgs system of units as adopted by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1873 with its plethora of electrical units continued to be the dominant system of measurement, and remained so for at least the next 60 years. The advantages were several: it had a comprehensive set of derived units which, while not quite coherent, were at least homologous; the MKS system lacked a defined unit of electromagnetism at all; the MKS units were inconveniently large for the sciences; customary systems of measures held sway in the United States, Britain, and the British empire, and even to some extent in France, the birthplace of the metric system, which inhibited adoption of any competing system. Finally, war, nationalism, and other political forces inhibited development of the science favouring a coherent system of units. At the 8th CGPM in 1933, the need to replace the "international" electrical units with "absolute" units was raised. The IEC proposal that Giorgi's 'system', denoted informally as MKSX, be adopted was accepted, but no decision was made as to which electrical unit should be the fourth base unit. In 1935, J. E. Sears proposed that this should be the ampere, but
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing ...
prevented this being formalised until 1946. The first (and only) follow-up comparison of the national standards with the international prototype of the metre was carried out between 1921 and 1936, and indicated that the definition of the metre was preserved to within 0.2 µm. During this follow-up comparison, the way in which the prototype metre should be measured was more clearly defined—the 1889 definition had defined the metre as being the length of the prototype at the temperature of melting ice, but, in 1927, the 7th CGPM extended this definition to specify that the prototype metre shall be "supported on two cylinders of at least one centimetre diameter, symmetrically placed in the same horizontal plane at a distance of 571 mm from each other". The choice of 571 mm represents the Airy points of the prototype—the points at which the bending or droop of the bar is minimised.


Working draft of SI: ''Practical system of units''

The 9th CGPM met in 1948, fifteen years after the 8th CGPM. In response to formal requests made by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and by the French government to establish a practical system of units of measure, the CGPM requested the CIPM to prepare recommendations for a single practical system of units of measurement, suitable for adoption by all countries adhering to the Metre Convention. The CIPM's draft proposal was an extensive revision and simplification of the metric unit definitions, symbols, and terminology based on the MKS system of units. Following astronomical observations, the second was set as a fraction of the year 1900. The electromagnetic base unit, as required by Giorgi, was accepted as the ampere. After negotiations with the CIS and IUPAP, two additional units—the degree kelvin and the candela—were also proposed as base units. For the first time, the CGPM made recommendations concerning derived units. At the same time, the CGPM adopted conventions for the writing and printing of unit symbols and numbers and catalogued the symbols for the most important MKS and CGS units of measure.


Time

Until the advent of the
atomic clock An atomic clock is a clock that measures time by monitoring the resonant frequency of atoms. It is based on atoms having different energy levels. Electron states in an atom are associated with different energy levels, and in transitions betwee ...
, the most reliable timekeeper available to humanity was the Earth's rotation. It was natural, therefore, that the astronomers under the auspices of the
International Astronomical Union The International Astronomical Union (IAU; french: link=yes, Union astronomique internationale, UAI) is a nongovernmental organisation with the objective of advancing astronomy in all aspects, including promoting astronomical research, outreach ...
(IAU) took the lead in maintaining the standards relating to time. During the 20th century, it became apparent that the Earth's rotation was slowing down, resulting in days becoming 1.4 milliseconds longer each century—this was verified by comparing the calculated timings of eclipses of the Sun with those observed in antiquity going back to Chinese records of 763 BC. In 1956, the 10th CGPM instructed the CIPM to prepare a definition of the second; in 1958, the definition was published stating that the second (called an ''ephemeris'' second) would be calculated by extrapolation using Earth's rotational speed in 1900.


Electrical unit

Per Giorgi's proposals of 1901, the CIPM also recommended that the ampere be the base unit from which electromechanical units would be derived. The definitions for the ohm and volt that had previously been in use were discarded, and these units became derived units based on the ampere. In 1946, the CIPM formally adopted a definition of the ampere based on the original EMU definition and redefined the ohm in terms of other base units. The definitions for the absolute electrical system, based on the ampere, were formalised in 1948. The draft proposed units with these names are very close, but not identical, to the international units.


Temperature

In the Celsius scale from the 18th century, temperature was expressed in degrees Celsius with the definition that ice melted at 0 °C and (at standard atmospheric pressure) water boiled at 100 °C. A series of lookup tables defined temperature in terms of interrelated empirical measurements made using various devices. In 1948, definitions relating to temperature had to be clarified. (The degree, as an angular measure, was adopted for general use in many countries, so, in 1948, the
General Conference on Weights and Measures The General Conference on Weights and Measures (GCWM; french: Conférence générale des poids et mesures, CGPM) is the supreme authority of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), the intergovernmental organization established i ...
(CGPM) recommended that the degree Celsius, as used for the measurement of temperature, be renamed the degree Celsius.) At the 9th CGPM, the Celsius temperature scale was renamed the
Celsius The degree Celsius is the unit of temperature on the Celsius scale (originally known as the centigrade scale outside Sweden), one of two temperature scales used in the International System of Units (SI), the other being the Kelvin scale. The ...
scale, and the scale itself was fixed by defining the triple point of water as 0.01 °C, though the CGPM left the formal definition of absolute zero until the 10th CGPM when the name "
Kelvin The kelvin, symbol K, is the primary unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), used alongside its prefixed forms and the degree Celsius. It is named after the Belfast-born and University of Glasgow-based engineer and ...
" was assigned to the absolute temperature scale, and the triple point of water was defined as being 273.16 °K.


Luminosity

Before 1937, the
International Commission on Illumination The International Commission on Illumination (usually abbreviated CIE for its French name, Commission internationale de l'éclairage) is the international authority on light, illumination, colour, and colour spaces. It was established in 1913 a ...
(CIE from its French title, the ''Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage''), in conjunction with the CIPM, produced a standard for luminous intensity to replace the various national standards. This standard, the
candela The candela ( or ; symbol: cd) is the unit of luminous intensity in the International System of Units (SI). It measures luminous power per unit solid angle emitted by a light source in a particular direction. Luminous intensity is analogous to ...
(cd), which was defined as "the brightness of the full radiator at the temperature of solidification of platinum is 60 new candles per
square centimetre The square metre ( international spelling as used by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures) or square meter ( American spelling) is the unit of area in the International System of Units (SI) with symbol m2. It is the area of a square ...
", was ratified by the CGPM in 1948.


Derived units

The newly accepted definition of the ampere allowed practical and useful coherent definitions of a set of electromagnetic derived units, including farad, henry, watt, tesla, weber, volt, ohm, and coulomb. Two derived units, lux and lumen, were based on the new candela, and one, degree Celsius, equivalent to the degree Kelvin. Five other miscellaneous derived units completed the draft proposal: radian, steradian, hertz, joule, and newton.


International System of Units (SI)

In 1952, the CIPM proposed the use of wavelength of a specific light source as the standard for defining length, and, in 1960, the CGPM accepted this proposal using radiation corresponding to a transition between specified energy levels of the krypton 86 atom as the new standard for the metre. The standard metre artefact was retired. In 1960, Giorgi's proposals were adopted as the basis of the ''Système International d'Unités'' (International System of Units), the SI. This initial definition of the SI included six base units, the metre, kilogram, second, ampere, degree Kelvin, and candela, and sixteen coherent derived units.


Evolution of the modern SI

The evolution of the SI after its publication in 1960 has seen the addition of a seventh base unit, the ''mole'', and six more derived units, the ''pascal'' for pressure, the ''gray'', ''sievert'', and ''becquerel'' for radiation, the ''siemens'' for electrical conductance, and ''katal'' for catalytic (enzymatic) activity. Several units have also been redefined in terms of physical constants.


New base and derived units

Over the ensuing years, the BIPM developed and maintained cross-correlations relating various measuring devices such as thermocouples, light spectra, and the like to the equivalent temperatures. The mole was originally known as a gram-atom or a gram-molecule—the amount of a substance measured in grams divided by its atomic weight. Originally chemists and physicists had differing views regarding the definition of the atomic weight—both assigned a value of 16  atomic mass units (amu) to oxygen, but physicists defined oxygen in terms of the 16O isotope whereas chemists assigned 16 amu to 16O, 17O and 18O isotopes mixed in the proportion that they occur in nature. Finally, an agreement between the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and the
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC ) is an international federation of National Adhering Organizations working for the advancement of the chemical sciences, especially by developing nomenclature and terminology. It is ...
(IUPAC) brought this duality to an end in 1959/60, both parties agreeing to define the atomic weight of 12C as being exactly 12 amu. This agreement was confirmed by ISO and in 1969 the CIPM recommended its inclusion in SI as a base unit. This was done in 1971 at the 14th CGPM.


Start of migration to constant definitions

The second major trend in the post-modern SI was the migration of unit definitions in terms of physical constants of nature. In 1967, at the 13th CGPM, the degree Kelvin (°K) was renamed the "kelvin" (K). Astronomers from the US Naval Observatory (USNO) and the National Physical Laboratory determined a relationship between the frequency of radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom and the estimated rate of rotation of the earth in 1900. Their atomic definition of the second was adopted in 1968 by the 13th CGPM. By 1975, when the second had been defined in terms of a physical phenomenon rather than the earth's rotation, the CGPM authorised the CIPM to investigate the use of the speed of light as the basis for the definition of the metre. This proposal was accepted in 1983. The candela definition proved difficult to implement so, in 1979, the definition was revised and the reference to the radiation source was replaced by defining the candela in terms of the power of a specified frequency of monochromatic yellowish-green visible light, which is close to the frequency where the human eye, when adapted to bright conditions, has greatest sensitivity.


Kilogram artefact instability

After the metre was redefined in 1960, the kilogram remained the only SI base defined by a physical artefact. During the years that followed, the definitions of the base units and particularly the ''mise en pratique'' to realise these definitions have been refined. The third periodic recalibration in 1988–1989 revealed that the average difference between the IPK and adjusted baseline for the national prototypes was 50 μg—in 1889, the baseline of the national prototypes had been adjusted so that the difference was zero. As the IPK is the definitive kilogram, there is no way of telling whether the IPK had been losing mass or the national prototypes had been gaining mass. During the course of the century, the various national prototypes of the kilogram were recalibrated against the
international prototype of the kilogram The International Prototype of the Kilogram (referred to by metrologists as the IPK or Le Grand K; sometimes called the '' ur-kilogram,'' or ''urkilogram,'' particularly by German-language authors writing in English) is an object that was used t ...
(IPK) and, therefore, against each other. The initial 1889 starting-value offsets of the national prototypes relative to the IPK were nulled, with any subsequent mass changes being relative to the IPK.


Proposed replacements for the IPK

A number of replacements were proposed for the IPK. From the early 1990s, the International Avogadro Project worked on creating a 1 kg, 94 mm, sphere made of a uniform silicon-28 crystal, with the intention of being able replace the IPK with a physical object which would be precisely reproducible from an exact specification. Due to its precise construction, the Avogadro Project's sphere is likely to be the most precisely spherical object ever created by humans. Other groups worked on concepts such as creating a reference mass via precise electrodeposition of gold or bismuth atoms, and defining the kilogram in terms of the
ampere The ampere (, ; symbol: A), often shortened to amp,SI supports only the use of symbols and deprecates the use of abbreviations for units. is the unit of electric current in the International System of Units (SI). One ampere is equal to elect ...
by relating it to forces generated by electromagnetic repulsion of electric currents. Eventually, the choices were narrowed down to the use of the Watt balance and the International Avogadro Project sphere. Ultimately, a decision was made not to create any physical replacement for the IPK, but instead to define all SI units in terms of assigning precise values to a number of physical constants which had previously been measured in terms of the earlier unit definitions.


Redefinition in terms of fundamental constants

At its 23rd meeting (2007), the CGPM mandated the CIPM to investigate the use of natural constants as the basis for all units of measure rather than the artefacts that were then in use. The following year, this was endorsed by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). At a meeting of the CCU held in Reading, United Kingdom, in September 2010, a resolution and draft changes to the SI brochure that were to be presented to the next meeting of the CIPM in October 2010 were agreed in principle. The CIPM meeting of October 2010 found that "the conditions set by the General Conference at its 23rd meeting have not yet been fully met. For this reason the CIPM does not propose a revision of the SI at the present time". The CIPM, however, presented a resolution for consideration at the 24th CGPM (17–21 October 2011) to agree to the new definitions in principle, but not to implement them until the details had been finalised. In the redefinition, four of the seven SI base units—the
kilogram The kilogram (also kilogramme) is the unit of mass in the International System of Units (SI), having the unit symbol kg. It is a widely used measure in science, engineering and commerce worldwide, and is often simply called a kilo colloquially. ...
,
ampere The ampere (, ; symbol: A), often shortened to amp,SI supports only the use of symbols and deprecates the use of abbreviations for units. is the unit of electric current in the International System of Units (SI). One ampere is equal to elect ...
,
kelvin The kelvin, symbol K, is the primary unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), used alongside its prefixed forms and the degree Celsius. It is named after the Belfast-born and University of Glasgow-based engineer and ...
, and mole—were redefined by setting exact numerical values for the
Planck constant The Planck constant, or Planck's constant, is a fundamental physical constant of foundational importance in quantum mechanics. The constant gives the relationship between the energy of a photon and its frequency, and by the mass-energy equiva ...
('), the elementary electric charge ('), the
Boltzmann constant The Boltzmann constant ( or ) is the proportionality factor that relates the average relative kinetic energy of particles in a gas with the thermodynamic temperature of the gas. It occurs in the definitions of the kelvin and the gas constan ...
(), and the
Avogadro constant The Avogadro constant, commonly denoted or , is the proportionality factor that relates the number of constituent particles (usually molecules, atoms or ions) in a sample with the amount of substance in that sample. It is an SI defining con ...
(), respectively. The
second The second (symbol: s) is the unit of time in the International System of Units (SI), historically defined as of a day – this factor derived from the division of the day first into 24 hours, then to 60 minutes and finally to 60 seconds ...
,
metre The metre ( British spelling) or meter ( American spelling; see spelling differences) (from the French unit , from the Greek noun , "measure"), symbol m, is the primary unit of length in the International System of Units (SI), though its pr ...
, and
candela The candela ( or ; symbol: cd) is the unit of luminous intensity in the International System of Units (SI). It measures luminous power per unit solid angle emitted by a light source in a particular direction. Luminous intensity is analogous to ...
were already defined by
physical constant A physical constant, sometimes fundamental physical constant or universal constant, is a physical quantity that is generally believed to be both universal in nature and have constant value in time. It is contrasted with a mathematical constant, ...
s and were subject to correction to their definitions. The new definitions aimed to improve the SI without changing the value of any units, ensuring continuity with existing measurements. This resolution was accepted by the conference, It was not expected to be adopted until some prerequisite conditions are met, and in any case not before 2014. See and, in addition, the CGPM moved the date of the 25th meeting forward from 2015 to 2014. At the 25th meeting on 18 to 20 November 2014, it was found that "despite rogress in the necessary requirementsthe data do not yet appear to be sufficiently robust for the CGPM to adopt the revised SI at its 25th meeting", thus postponing the revision to the next meeting in 2018. Measurements accurate enough to meet the conditions were available in 2017 and the redefinition was adopted at the 26th CGPM (13–16 November 2018), with the changes finally coming into force in 2019, creating a system of definitions which is intended to be stable for the long term.


See also

* History of the metre


Notes


References


External links

{{DEFAULTSORT:History of the Metric System Metrication History of science History of measurement