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

21 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.

      • Jonathan B on said:

        The U.S. should “grow up?” Are you retarded? Changing to the metric system would cost billions upon billions of dollars, and it wouldn’t really be all that useful considering Americans use the metric system for complex math, science, and physics. You’re so ignorant about what you’re talking about that it hurts.

        • Kevin on said:

          All I can say is that the north Americans are the most retarded country on earth in that they stick with such an outdated system while the rest of the world has long changed to a more logical system. Only two countrys on this earth still use your outdated system and both of them are 3rd world.

      • James on said:

        Americans are smart enough to use both, its not that difficult.

  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

  5. Kennykinneeim on said:

    I’m pretty sure u r off when u said that a kilogram is under two lbs its 2.2 lbs

  6. Nicolas on said:

    System should be everywhere. Living in the United States is hell for me, a European.
    Unfortunately, Americans are so stubborn and ignorant, that they don’t care that whole world already uses Metric System, because it “for all people and all times”, and just normal and convenient.
    I ask all people who really care, let’s make Metric Revolution in the US and physically switch everything to Metric Units. Let’s remove outdated units from here, otherwise the country can collapse. And the US will collapse if it will not switch to Metric System near future. It’s simple economy. And even more. Just life and sanity. You cannot go against the whole world. Because whole world will win. It is the world.
    Only because of the US, we still have stupid inches as measurement of screen sizes around the world. And not only this. Unbelievable.
    It is 21st century already! Why do we still have outdated imperial system in the world? Crazy.
    Thank you for reading my plea. I love you people. All the best.

    • Macho on said:

      Ever heard the saying “When in Rome do as the Romans”. Guess you could go back to where you came from if you do not like it here.

    • Jonathan B on said:

      Why are there so many ignorant Europeans on this page? You claim that Americans are ignorant for using a different system of measurement [which is pretty stupid in itself], but yet you go on and say something else even more stupid. America will collapse if we don’t switch to the metric system? …Are you stupid? You’re talking about the wealthiest nation in the entire world; the strongest military in the world. A nation filled with opportunity, and we have the best colleges in the world. And this will all collapse if we don’t switch to metric? Some Europeans are just so ignorant and arrogant these days. They think they’re better because they’re European.

      • you do realize that the only way the u.s is a wealthy country is because of capitalism.

      • Kevin on said:

        American economy will collapse within the next 2 years as China holds your debts. China owns the USA. The dollar will be worth nothing soon. Also see what FEMA are preparing you for. Your country is already a police state. Wake up…your so called freedom is gone.

  7. Jeni John on said:

    and we wil all be 160 m tall weigh 8stone self reproducing vote only on Fridays etc whatever happened to the diverse world. Wise up and start living as a normal human being and finding a place in society where you do not stick out like a sore thumb

  8. Willowbel on said:

    I have had to use both systems in my job with land surveying as Australia used to work with imperial, the. In the 60′s they went metric so a lot of land was surveyed under the imperial system but I can’t deny the metric is a cleaner, easier more efficient system to use.

  9. JimboSlice on said:

    These comments are entertaining. All these people giving the U.S crap for using a different system. It’s an easy system, the metric system is just as easy and I’m pretty sure 80-90% of Americans use and or know both systems. The article mentions foreigners coming to America not knowing a thing about Americas system. And America is the dumb country. It would be pointless to convert the entire country over now, but at least they know the metric system, one more thing you super smart Europeans don’t.
    {GO POLAND}

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