I Can Quit Anytime I Want

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

In 1967 cigarettes were advertised on television. One of the most successful ad campaigns was for Benson and Hedges 100’s cigarettes. The commercial started out saying “Oh the disadvantages of the new Benson and Hedges 100’s. They’re a lot longer than King Size, and that takes some getting used to.” (If you actually watch some of these commercials look for Ken Mars of Young Frankenstein and McLean Stevenson of M*A*S*H.)

One of the humorous vignettes that follow shows the driver of a Volkswagen Beetle rotating his head quickly to view an attractive woman passing by, only to smash the end of his cigarette into the closed driver side window. The song “Disadvantages of You,” by The Brass Ring plays as another man lights his cigarette, at an inappropriately short distance from the end of the cigarette. To his surprise, a vendor of balloons pops one as he fills it from a tank. Humorous scenes continue until the narrator ends with:

Benson and Hedges 100’s are the new longer filter cigarettes, three puffs longer, four
puffs longer, maybe five puffs longer than king size–once you get the hang of them.

Chesterfield 101 Cigarettes — A Silly Millimeter Longer

It was clear from the commercial that puffs were not a very accurate way to measure cigarettes. In the 1960s people had no idea what the 100 in Benson and Hedges 100’s was, but that was about to change. Chesterfield then provided an educational service via advertising, by introducing their Chesterfield 101 cigarettes. That classic 1960s commercial started out at the scene of a wedding in which a woman asserts she always cries at weddings. The narrator then states:

“One-o-one, one millimeter longer than the 100’s.”

Man: “One millimeter longer?—must be a joke.”

Second Man: “I was the first guy that ever dated her.”

Woman: “Doesn’t look any longer”

Man: “It’s silly.”

Chorus: “A silly millimeter longer, one-o-one. A silly millimeter longer, one-o-one.”

Man: “Good—it sure tastes good.”

Second Woman: “I’d like it even if it wasn’t one millimeter longer.”

Narrator: “One-o-one it tastes one better.”

At that point it was known that cigarettes are 100 mm long, and 101’s were a millimeter longer than that, which is a very small dimension. Benson & Hedges also advertised it had a king size version. They marketed these as Benson & Hedges 85’s. Wow, didn’t any one see the irony in having imperial titled “King Size” cigarettes which are 85 millimeters in length? Well, Americans didn’t seem to realize they were smoking metric sized products with a French name either. The word cigarette is French for “small cigar.”

The battles with public smoking had only dawned when these commercials were aired. Many people when confronted about their smoking would often say “I can quit anytime I want.” This indicated that they were really in control, not addicted to nicotine, and smoked by choice. If they became convinced smoking was a bad idea, they would just quit–no problem. Amazingly over the next few decades Americans began to give up cigarettes until it now appears to be a minority activity in the US.

When I took machine shop class a couple of years back, there was a fellow there who had been a Navy machinist. He would become visibly annoyed at my metric assertions. One day in frustration he walked over to a milling machine with a digital read-out and said “look we can quit using inches whenever we want, just poke the button.” He did so and millimeters were displayed. What I later realized from Pat Naughtin’s essays and videos was this was a perfect example of how dual scales prohibit metrication rather than promote it. His assertion also made me think of the old cigarette commercials, and how as long as cigarettes were available everywhere, people had a hard time quitting. In those days a smoker who was without cigarettes, and trying to quit, could always “bum a cigarette” from a person nearby. Cold turkey was the only way to quit smoking, but the availability of cigarettes made it hard. In those days there were even cigarette machines, like soda dispensing machines, in most malls—and anyone–even minors–could purchase cigarettes from them.

The machine shop teacher didn’t realize that changing to metric was not just a matter of millimeters, but also milliliters, grams, kilograms, newtons, pascals, and so on. Like a smoker who knew how  to quit, but never tried, he had no idea just how much was involved with embracing metric, and as long as he had the old way nearby and accessible, he would make no change. He was “just blowing smoke.” This sort of delusion is why anti-metric people, including the former Director of NIST, David Gallagher, feel comfortable to dismiss metric by saying “use it if you want, you have that choice.” They are essentially saying they can quit Olde English whenever they like, and yet never do. Dual measurement devices are as effective at promoting the metric system as the non-smoking sections of restaurants were at keeping out smoke.

My Measurements Can Beat Up Your Measurement System

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

One day while discussing architecture and engineering with Sven, the subject gravitated to Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), and his iconic tower in Paris. Sven pointed out that The Eiffel Tower is generally called by that name here in the US, but elsewhere was originally known as the 300 Meter Tower. I had no idea. The tower itself was so reviled by the art establishment of the time in Paris that they created “The Committee of Three Hundred,” which symbolically had one member for each meter of the egregious tower’s height. Like any good committee they created a petition which asserted (Wikipedia):

“We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years…we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal”

One had no trouble detecting their displeasure at this creation. It is strangely ironic that the tower had not yet been constructed, and so the artists were all judging from drawings. Eiffel responded by comparing his work with that of the Egyptian pyramids. There was more irony to be found with other people who did more than compare their ideas to the pyramid, but asserted it was the basis for a sacred measure. Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900) was not one to settle for mere similarity. He traveled to Egypt and took measurements of the pyramid, from which he derived the pyramid inch. The pyramid also allowed for the derivation of the pyramid pint and a pyramid temperature scale. The pyramid inch was in C.P. Smyth’s view handed down to us by God himself. The introduction of the metric system in to Britain would therefore be unthinkable. C.P. Smyth continued his anti-metric activities throughout much of his life. He was also one of the Vice Presidents of the International Institute for Preserving and Perfecting Anglo-Saxon Weights and Measures.

The President of this organization was American engineer Charles Latimer (1827-1888). He also had a problem with Gustave Eiffel, and did not like one of his creations: The Statue of Liberty. In a bimonthly publication called the International Standard  they state: “There is only one thing we do not like about the statue: We prefer a statue of liberty measured in good earth-commensurable Anglo-Saxon inches, not in French millimeters, the result of caprice…” This statement was quoted in part five of the newspaper series Everyday Guide to the Metric System published in the late 1970s.

Eiffel’s works were criticized using the metric system in France (The Committee of Three Hundred) and in the US because they were built with the metric system. The more things change the more they remain the same. The World Trade Center twin towers were described by Norman Mailer as two fangs rising up into the New York skyline. They did not fit, he argued, within the wondrous architecture and beautiful skyline which surrounded them. They were a blight on Manhattan. Building One had an antenna which protruded 526 meters from the ground, and building two was 415 meters in height. Very long fangs indeed. The criticisms of the past were long forgotten following September 11, 2001 when they were both destroyed by terrorists.

One World Trade Center -- Wikipedia Commons

The discussion of a replacement for the World Trade Center buildings has been politically heated, and took considerable time to begin. The replacement is called One World Trade Center and is scheduled to open in 2014. I was chagrined when I found out its architectural height is 1776 feet. It was like the Eiffel Tower (excuse me the 300 meter tower) and The Statue of Liberty all over again. Measurement units tied to cultural identity, which enforce cultural intransigence concerning the metric system. Denver cannot help being The Mile High City (it was originally the Queen City), nor Colorado being The Kilometer High State, but we could have chosen a different architectural manner to express our “Americaness” other than something as anachronistic as a height in feet, tied to a year associated with the birth of the US. We had a choice, and once again we chose to memorialize the past with anachronistic measure. Will we ever again choose the future?