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Why the metric system makes sense

The Story

Fred Rimrott thinks the British imperial system is just plain complicated. In this 1963 Speaking Personally feature, the Toronto engineering professor makes a thoughtful argument for Canada switching to metric. Since most of the world measures in metric, he says, our use of the imperial system could be hindering Canada in terms of international trade. The economic rewards of switching to metric sooner rather than later "could be very great indeed," he says. His arguments aren't just economic. Rimrott also points out that adopting the much simpler metric system will make the often-despised elementary school math classes easier for children. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Speaking Personally
Broadcast Date: Dec. 9, 1963
Guest(s): Fred Rimrott
Duration: 9:16

Did You know?

• In comparison with metric, which is all based on simple multiples of 10, the imperial system is unquestionably more complicated. Here are a few examples of imperial measures:
- 12 inches = one foot
- three feet = one yard
- 5.5 yards = one rod
- 40 rods = one furlong
- eight furlongs = one mile

• Since its inception, metric did undergo a number of slight changes and refinements. In 1960, all the metric nations came together to define what was called le système international d'unités, or SI for short, which was essentially the "last word" in metric. This is the refined version of the metric system that Canada eventually adopted.
• The words "metre" and "metric" came from the Greek and Roman (Latin) words for "measure" - "metron" in Greek and "metrum" in Latin.

• When this radio piece was recorded in 1963, most English-speaking countries and former British colonies - including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and a number of African countries - were still using the imperial system. Most non-English-speaking countries, however (including almost all countries in Europe, Asia, South and Central America, and in the Middle East) used the metric system. This meant the majority of the world's population used metric in 1963.

• In 1965, Britain caused a big stir when it announced plans to completely convert to metric by 1975. This was in response to demands from British industry. Following Britain's announcement, South Africa, Ireland, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda decided to do the same in 1968. In 1969, New Zealand and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) followed suit; and in 1970, Australia, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Zambia and Canada decided to go metric.

• By 1970, well over 90 per cent of the world's population was either using the metric system or was in the process of converting to it, according to Frank Donovan's 1970 U.S.-published book Prepare Now for a Metric Future.

• Prime Minister John A. Macdonald first made the metric system legal for use in Canada (in addition to the British imperial system) in 1871. But since metric was purely voluntary and the imperial system was also legal, only the scientific community - such as physicists, chemists and pharmacists - used metric regularly in Canada before 1970.

• Canadian hospitals also began going metric early, with Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children leading the pack by switching over in 1965. By 1974, almost 85 per cent of all Canadian hospitals used only metric, according to the book Canada Goes Metric.



For Good Measure: Canada Converts to Metric more