In front of the Ministry of Justice in Paris, just below a ground floor window, there is a marble slab engraved with a horizontal line and the word ‘MÈTRE’.
It’s very impressive in the great place Vendom – in fact, of all the tourists in the square, I was the only one who stopped and reflected on it.
But this template is one of the last ‘Criteria’ (Standard meter bars) were installed throughout the city over 200 years ago in an attempt to introduce a new universal measurement system.
It is just one of many sites in Paris that point to a long and fascinating history of the metric system.
“Measurement is one of the most common and common things, but the things we take for granted are the most interesting and controversial histories,” said Ken Alder, professor of history and author at Northwestern University in the US. The scale of it all, A book about the work of Metro.
Now in most places it is definitely a topic: the metric system created in France is the official measurement system in almost every country in the world except the United States, Liberia and Myanmar. Even there, the metric system is still used for purposes such as global trade.
But every time you travel, imagine a world where you have to use different conversions for measurements, as we do in currencies.
Before the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, weights and measures varied not only from one country to another but also within countries.
In France alone, it is estimated that thousands of units of different sizes and weights were in use at the time.
The French Revolution changed that.
During the unstable years from 1789 to 1799, the revolutionaries not only sought to overthrow politics and seize power from the monarchy and the Church, but also to subvert the old traditions and customs and fundamentally change society.
To this end, they introduced the Republican calendar in 1793, which consisted of 10 hours of days, 100 minutes per hour and 100 seconds per minute.
In addition to eliminating the religious influence of the calendar, it was difficult for Catholics to keep track of Sundays and holy days, which helped to introduce the tithe system in France.
But even though the decimal hour has not moved forward, the new decimal system based on meters and kilograms still exists among us today.
The task of creating a new measurement system was given to the most prominent scientific thinkers of the Enlightenment.
These scientists were eager to create a new unified system based on logic rather than tradition or the will of local authorities.
Therefore, it was decided that the meter would be completely nature based. It was only one tenth of a mile from the North Pole to the equator.
The longitudinal line from the pole used to determine the length of the new standard to the equator was the Paris Meridian.
This document was drawn by two astronomers who left Paris in 1792: Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre, who traveled to Dunkirk in the north, and Pierre McCain, who traveled to Barcelona in the south.
They used the latest technology of the time and the mathematical process of triangulation to measure the meridian arc between these two places at sea level.
Subsequently, the distance between the North Pole and the equator was extended to the ellipse, and the two astronomers agreed to set a new universal yardstick in Paris within a year.
However, the process took seven years. Finally, in 1799, Delambre and McCain presented their results, based on which they created a 1 m long platinum bar to serve as the basis for the metric system.
According to Alder in his book, the measurement of this meridian arc proved to be a legendary undertaking during the great political and social upheaval.
The two astronomers often met with suspicion and enmity; They fell into the mercy and humiliation of the government; They were even injured in work involving climbing high places like the domes of the church.
Pantheon, first commissioned as a church by Louis XIV, became the central geodesic station in Paris – from its dome, all points around the city of Delambrey into a triangle.
Today, it serves as the tomb of the heroes of the Republic, Voltaire, Rene Descartes and Victor Hugo. But in Delambrey’s day it served as a different kind of tomb — a storehouse of all the old weights and measures sent from cities across France in anticipation of the new system.
But despite all the efforts and technology invested in defining the new criteria, no one wanted to use it.
People were reluctant to abandon the old measurement methods because they were intertwined with local customs, traditions, and economies.
For example, the size of a bone and cloth is usually equal to the width of the local loom, while arable land is often measured in days, indicating the amount of land a farmer can prepare at that time.
The Paris authorities were outraged when the public refused to abandon the old procedure, and they sent police inspectors to the markets to make sure the new system applied.
Finally, in 1812, Napoleon abandoned the metric system; Although it was still taught in schools, he allowed people to use the measurements they needed until the metric system was restored in 1840.
According to Ken Alder, “It took almost 100 years for almost all French people to start using it.”
But this is not just because of the persistence of the government.
France was rapidly advancing into the Industrial Revolution; Mapping for military purposes requires more precision; In addition, in 1851, the first of the great world fairs was held to present and compare industrial and scientific knowledge.
Of course, it would be strategic to do this without clear standard measurements such as meters and kilograms.
For example, the Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. At 324 meters, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world.
All this led to the creation of one of the oldest international institutions in the world: the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM, abbreviated in French).
BIPM is located on the outskirts of Sevres in Paris and is surrounded by parks and gardens. Your lack of luxury reminded me again Measurement Location on Vendom; It may be hidden, but it is fundamental to the world we live in today.
Originally established to maintain international standards, BIPM promotes the integration of seven international measurements: meters, kilograms, second, ampere (measurement of intensity of electric current), kelvin (unit of temperature), and candela (light intensity).
This is where the Platinum Master Standard meter bar is used to carefully calibrate copies, which are then shipped to various other country capitals.
In the 1980s, the BIPM meter was redefined as the distance light travels in a vacuum at regular intervals, making it more accurate than ever before.
After that, it was defined by the universal laws of physics, and eventually it became a measure based on what is actually nature.
The building in Sevres has the original kilogram, which sits in an underground vault under three domes, which can only be accessed by three different people with three different keys.
Currently, the kilogram is a device that allows you to compare mechanical and electromagnetic energy using two different experiments, called the kibble (or watt) balance.
This method of measuring kilos does not change, as can happen in the case of a physical object, and cannot be damaged or lost.
Also, a definition based on a constant – not an object – the exact amount per kilo, at least in theory, would be available to anyone anywhere on the planet, not just those with access to the actual kilo stored in France.
As with the 18th century meridian project, defining dimensions is one of our most important and difficult challenges.
What started in the metro has become the foundation of our modern economy and has led to globalization. This paved the way for high-precision engineering, which continues to be essential for science and research, as well as our understanding of the universe.
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