Tag Archives: Metric System

How simple can you make it?

I proposed therefore, instead of this, to adopt the Dollar as our Unit of account and payment, and that it’s divisions and sub-divisions should be in the decimal ratio … This was adopted the ensuing year and is the system which now prevails … The division into dimes, cents & mills is now so well understood, that it would be easy of introduction into the kindred branches of weights & measures. I use, when I travel, an Odometer of Clarke’s invention which divides the mile into cents, and I find every one comprehend a distance readily when stated to them in miles & cents; so they would in feet and cents, pounds & cents, &c.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders simplify, so everyone can understand.
In the early 1780s, there was no common system of money. The British pound was prominent, and there was trade in foreign coins. Several states had their own money, often in paper form, with little or no backing in gold or silver.

A plan was presented to the Continental Congress for a unified system, based on grains of silver, with 1440 units per dollar. Jefferson thought the system sound and ingenious but impractical, “too minute for ordinary use, too laborious for computation either by the head or in figures … entirely unmanageable for the common purposes of society.”

He proposed instead a decimal system, with a dollar based on 100 units, easily divisible “into dimes, cents and mills” (1,000th of a dollar). He cited the example of an odometer on his carriage, which divided a mile “into cents,” or 100ths of a mile. He found everyone could understand a measurement expressed so simply.

Nearly decade later, he proposed a national decimal system to President Washington for both money and distance. His always-opponent Alexander Hamilton countered with English measurements for both. To satisfy his feuding lieutenants, the President adopted Jefferson’s decimal system for money and Hamilton’s feet-and-inches system for distance.

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