Imperial vs. Metric System

There are two main systems for measuring distances and weight, the Imperial System of Measurement and the Metric System of Measurement. Most countries use the Metric System, which uses the measuring units such as meters and grams and adds prefixes like kilo, milli and centi to count orders of magnitude. In the United States, we use the older Imperial system, where things are measured in feet, inches and pounds. It might be confusing if you are living in the U.S for the first time and are not used to this system. If you ask someone for directions, they will probably tell you something is a certain number of miles away. Or you may be told to move a few feet… But, whose feet?

The Imperial System is also called The British Imperial because it came from the British Empire that ruled many parts of the world from the 16th to the 19th century. After the U.S gained independence from Britain, the new American government decided to keep this type of measurement, even though the metric system was gaining in popularity at the time.

We are one of the few countries in the world that still use this system, and first time visitors may find it confusing. Here are a few things to remember that will come in handy day to day:

  • 1 mile equals 1.6 Kilometers.
  • 1 inch is about 25 millimeters.
  • A 3-foot measurement is almost exactly 1 meter.
  • 1 Kilogram is just a little under 2 pounds
  • 1 pound is about 454 grams
  • For British visitors, 100 pounds = 7.14 stone

Complicated measurements, used in the sciences for example, will be in the metric system so no need to worry if you are planning to do an internship in engineering or chemistry.

By the way, the temperature scales are different too. We didn’t want to make things too easy for you! Though not technically part of the metric system, Americans measure temperature in Fahrenheit, not Centigrade. You may turn on the television and listen for the weather and hear that it is 70 degrees outside. No, you won’t pass out and be vaporized by the sun; 70 degrees Fahrenheit is actually very pleasant, about 21 degrees Centigrade. Centigrade has been used around the world from the mid 20th century but again, Americans held fast to the original Fahrenheit system.

Here are some more handy conversions for temperature:

  • 0 degrees Celsius is equal to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. (The freezing point)
  • 24 degrees Celsius is equal to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. (A very pleasant day)

There is no reason to expect that we will change over to the Metric System and Centigrade anytime soon. The chances that we will make the switch during your short-term stay in the United States are slim, so your best bet is to try to adjust as much as possible. Or, if you have a smart phone, you can do what I do when I travel– download a conversion app. The company World Wide Metric has a comprehensive and easy to use conversion webpage: http://www.worldwidemetric.com/measurements.html

8 comments on “Imperial vs. Metric System

  1. nosipho on said:

    what are the similarities of imperial and metric system

    • James C. Field on said:

      It amazes me that Americans (USA)(not the entire rest of the TWO continents) persist in retaining this outdated and inferior measurement system.
      Few Americans reali[z]se that their entire measurement system is based entirely upon the European [metric] system.

      Did you know that an inch is EXACTLY 2.54 centimeters?

      The US should grow up.

      • I guess we should all learn spanish too. What other things can we change to make non-citizens happy? Obumma will support them I guarantee.

  2. Josephf on said:

    I like the comments as contained here-in. It made me think-”would not be wonderful if USA adopted metric system today?”
    The idea relates to job creation in today’s economy. It is now easy to commend efficiency rather than how many jobs an industry introduces. May be we would turn our welfare around if we talked in numbers of jobs, rather than dollars, to be created. Just a thought!

  3. adrian on said:

    where is the similarities????

  4. anonymous on said:

    this two statements contradict each other
    1 Kilogram is just a little under 2 pounds
    1 pound is about 454 grams

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