The Nylon Curtain (Made Elsewhere)

By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

My friend Pierre has an uncanny ability to come across unusual measurement use in the US. Apparently he had taken an interest in ballistic nylon and had done some research.  Recently he sent me this bit of prose after asking me rhetorically if I had heard of  a denier:

But I’m right here to help. Denier is an entirely metric measurement that means:
1 |dəˈni(ə)r, ˈdenyər|a unit of weight by which the fineness of silk, rayon, or nylon yarn is measured, equal to the weight in grams of 9,000 meters of the yarn and often used to describe the thickness of hosiery: 840 denier nylon.

Tell me that’s not a random way to measure your pantyhose and backpack fabric. Grams/meter or threads/inch isn’t enough for you? It has to be 9000 meters worth of yarn thickness or weight? Nobody knows which.

So, where’d the 9000 come from? I’m thinking the Euros came up with this when they
ran out of polyester sheep.  Can they really make 9000 meter long yarn? Why not just 1 meter’s worth?

I recalled that a number of times Pat Naughtin mentioned the textile industry as one which seems to be incorrigible when it comes to converting to metric. Naughtin pointed to their attempt to embrace the centimeter as a contributing cause of delay. After I did some reading, I suspected it was centimeters and a desire for the use of archaic insider speak which acts as a barrier to entering the textile trade.

When I looked up denier on Wikipedia I found an amazing entry:

Denier /ˈdɛnjər/ or den is a unit of measure for the linear mass density of fibers. It is defined as the mass in grams per 9000 meters.[1] The denier is based on a natural reference—i.e., a single strand of silk is approximately one denier. A 9000-meter strand of silk weighs about one gram. The term denier comes from the French denier, a coin of small value (worth 112 of a sou). Applied to yarn, a denier was held to be equal in weight to 124 of an ounce. The term microdenier is used to describe filaments that weigh less than one gram per 9000 meters.

My mind almost had a momentary black-out when it contemplated the smoothly inserted euphemism: “The denier is based on a natural reference.” Well, so is the foot, it’s very natural, and also ill-purposed for providing a measurement standard. The use of a single strand of silk (apparently from a standard silkworm) which is 9000 meters (9 Km) long, that weighs “nearly” one gram, as an industrial standard is just so 17th century. This is a “standard from nature” which makes about as much sense as using three barleycorns to an inch.

This absurdity caused me to think about Samuel S. Dale, who was Fredrick Halsey’s partner in anti-metric mischief early in the twentieth century. Halsey wrote the “book” The Metric Fallacy in 1904, but it is actually two monographs bound into one. The second monograph is The Metric Failure, written by textile enthusiast Samuel Dale. I had not read Dale’s half of their anti-metric tome, but it now seemed high time to do so.

When reading Dale’s work it reminds one of numerology, where, given enough numbers, one can construct any scenario against the metric system one wants. Dale admits that the US has four different ways that it numbers yarn, and that a single method would be desirable, but he makes clear that replacing them with a metric method would be absurd:

Evidently the fabric to which they referred was spun from such stuff as dreams are made of, woven on the loom of imagination and designed to cover the nakedness of the metric and not of the human system. (pg 146)

Yes, within Dale’s flourish you can clearly hear the echoing of John Quincy Adams’ castigations of “the metric” from some seventy years earlier. The measures of the metric system are inhuman and antiseptic! The statement is almost a vestigial cry against creeping heliocentrism seeping into our culture. Dale sees the icy hand of the government forcing at least 1 000 000 textile workers to attend night school to learn the metric system. He further warns: “…that our textile weights and measures can be eradicated only by exterminating all who use them and by destroying all our textile records.” (pg 165)

Dale finally explains the basis of measurement for textiles: “In manufacturing textiles the ratio between weight and length or area takes the place of cubic measurements.” He goes on to explain:

In textile manufacturing measurements are employed for weight, distance and area only, and those for distance are in turn limited by reason of the elimination of all measurements of thickness. The volume and thickness of textile materials, finished and in process of manufacturing, are indicated by the ratio between weight and length. The bulk of cloth, for example, is expressed, not in cubic inches, but in either the weight per yard of a given width or in the number of yards per pound.

Dale explains that if cotton is spun so that one pound has a length of 840 yards, the count is 1, and if it weights one pound and has a length of 1680 yards it is number 2. This is the English standard for measuring cotton yarn. He explains that if 16 000 yards of silk weigh one ounce (he does not indicate troy or avoirdupois) its length is No. 1. If two threads of silk are side by side and weigh two ounces when 16 000 yards long they are No. 2. I will spare you the explanation of Hanks of different lengths, and the 300 yard system. In my view these examples do not provide evidence for the simplicity of traditional textile “measurements.”

Finally we encounter Dale’s discussion of the deneir:

The modern silk industry was first established in France and Italy, and their various systems of numbering silk yarn were adopted and became so firmly rooted long before the birth of the metric system that they have resisted all attempts to change them and are to-day the world’s standards for what is known as raw silk. These systems of numbering were based upon the weight in deniers of 9,600 aunes of silk, the denier being a coin weighing 24 Paris grains.

Dale explains that 400 aunes is equivalent to 476 meters. A Paris grain is 53.11 mg. So the length of 9600 aunes in metric is 11 424 meters and the mass would be  1.2746 grams. Now if we divide to get the length needed for one gram we have 8962.53 meters. This is a good approximation to 9000 meters for a gram. The exact mass expected  for 9000 meters in this situation is 1.004 180 grams, which is probably close enough to one gram for even the exacting requirements of Mr. Dale. It is an interesting metric coincidence that 9000 meters of a single silk thread is almost exactly 1 gram. This is precisely what Dale would argue could never happen, as metric is not a natural system for textiles—ever.

I had now solved Pierre’s mystery as to why 9000 meters is the length used for a denier, and how it is actually a byproduct of non-metric “standard.” I could end this essay here, but, I just couldn’t. I continued reading The Metric Failure and found that Samuel S. Dale has a section in his millitome where he “compares”  English measures with the Metric ones. Before he gets to his comparison, he cleverly trots out an interesting argument against metric by citing the prefix cluster around unity:

Such is the present condition of our textile weights and measures. The metric proposition means that our fundamental standards, the yard, inch, pound, ounce, grain and dram shall be abolished and their places taken by the metre, decimetre, centimetre, millimetre, gramme, decigramme, centigramme and milligramme.

Throughout my copy of The Metric Failure someone with an India ink pen has corrected the text. That person found many typos or errors between mass and length and diligently corrected them. Here are a couple of examples:

I must admit I laughed out loud when some person (probably in the 1930s) seems to have called out Mr. Dale for using the prefix cluster around unity as an argument against metric (pg 197):

I think he probably should have argued for three: gram, meter and millimeter, but that is in hindsight and before Naughtin’s Laws.

Dale has a metric Goldilocks moment, where, just like in that fairy tale, all the metric measurements he finds on the table are of an appalling magnitude, and only the English measures, with which he is familiar, are “just right.”  Dale points out that John Quincy Adams was also a metric Goldilocks, but on a scale much grander than Dale’s:

None of the successive decimal divisions of the metre are suited for either the commercial or manufacturing widths of textile fabrics. For the finished widths of the wide goods the decimetre is too long, the centimetre too short. For narrow fabrics the millimetre in turn is too long and its decimal divisions too short. For all of these widths the inch, divided to suit the particular case, answers every purpose perfectly. Could there be any stronger confirmation of the following extract from John Quincy Adams’ report?
`Thus, then, it has been proved, by the test of experience, that the principle of decimal divisions can be applied only with many qualifications to any general system of metrology; that its natural application is only to numbers; and that time, space gravity and extension inflexibly reject its sway.’

I have to congratulate Mr. Dale, he used an absurd quotation from the report by John Quincy Adams that did not make it into my tome of an essay about it.

Dale tries to cram centimeters into textile usage and shows they just don’t fit, and then quickly dismisses a logical option as impractical: “The objection to the use of the millimetre is that it necessitates the use of four figures to express the width of wide cloths.” Dale earlier argued that loom widths of 1/10 of an inch are all the finer divisions one would need, so apparently 2.5 mm is just too much accuracy. I sure hope his porridge isn’t getting cold with all this long winded puffery blowing over it. He further indicates that:

The centimetre is too short for the finished widths of wide fabrics. Inches express such widths as closely as is necessary.

By the metric system the finished goods are expressed in centimetres. This necessitates the use of three figures for all goods 40 inches or more in width.

Dale asserts over and over that he is a practical man and not some lofty wooly brained academic:

The contrast between the two systems in this respect illustrates the difference between English practice and metric theory.

Believe me, I’m not going to confuse Samuel S. Dale with a professor of mathematics.

Then, I find one of the earliest examples of the “technical Darwinism” argument against metric when Dale states (pg 220):

The choice lies between these two systems, English and metric. One has been adapted to mill work by a process of natural selection. The other is the result of the artificial scheme of French geometers and is unsuited for textile processes. It is inconceivable that America should abandon the first and accept the last.

Dale then launches into a history of metric, argues that metric is only suited for effete scientists, and then begins attacking a pronoun:

The eminent scientists who designed that system were able to solve the most difficult problems in higher mathematics, but they failed to comprehend what system of weights and measures was best suited for the carder, spinner, weaver and finisher of wool, cotton, linen and silk. The glamor of their fame failed to make the centimetre suitable for counting picks. Their system had to stand or fall on its merits, and falling has proved that the highest of mathematical abilities is not inconsistent with a dense ignorance of the practical affairs of every-day life. The most eminent of the mathematicians who designed the metric system exhibited an utter disregard of principle in both private and public life and the most complete incompetency when placed in an administrative office.The son of a farm laborer he owed his education to wealthy neighbors, and as soon as he became distinguished ignored both his relatives and benefactors. Although his discoveries in mathematics were sufficient to make his name immortal, he appropriated the work of others as his own.

So who is this pronoun? It is Pierre Simon Laplace (1749-1827), one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Wow, Dale could not even bring himself to use his name?—even when attacking Laplace for plagiarism? This is just a sad ad hominem attack on a person involved with the creation of the metric system and not actually a criticism of said system. Dale just seems to get more and more deranged and finally launches into a Goldilocks on steroids assertion of the metric system’s unsuitability as he writes:

This man could demonstrate that the “lunar acceleration was independent of the secular changes in the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit” but did not know that a weaver requires a unit of length approximating the inch. He could formulate the theory of probabilities with mathematical precision, but was ignorant of the certainty that exclusively decimal divisions of weights and measures are unsuited for manufacturing cloth. He was the first to introduce potential and spherical harmonics into analysis, but failed to recognize the advantage of the English cotton system for numbering yarn. He could prove the stability of the solar system, but failed to recognize the stability of a people’s established weights and measures. He was familiar with theories of infinity, but ignorant of the wants, necessities and limitations of textile manufacturing. The co-workers of this man in constructing the metric system differed from him only in degree. They were a party of mathematical prodigies, ignorant of the essentials of textile weights and measures.

The artificial system they evolved has failed to meet the requirements of the textile trade. Nearly every one of its standards of length, area and weight is either too large or too small, and it has no units corresponding to the inch, foot, ounce and pound, approximations of which are found in every system of natural origin and for which the human mind appears to have some innate need. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that the system thus conceived has failed, even in France where’ it was so greatly favored.

At the end of his work Dale warns the US:

It would be a plunge into chaos to emerge no one knows when, how or where. The generation introducing the metric system into the United States would not see the beginning of that chaos. In all probability no other generation would ever see the end.

Well, there is no need to fear the metric system causing the demise of the US textile industry, just metric countries. It is my understanding that at the end of World War II the US had the largest domestic textile industry on the planet. Now we import about 97% of our garments. Imagine how much worse it might have been if Samuel S. Dale did not protect the industry by halting metric in 1904.

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Nested Units


By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

My friend Kat once told me this joke:

Einstein, Newton and Pascal decided to play hide and seek. Einstein put his head against a nearby tree and began counting. Newton only traverses a couple of paces, then reaches into his coat and produces a piece of chalk. He draws a perfect one meter square on the pavement, and then steps into it.

Einstein finishes counting, looks up, and immediately sees Newton standing near him. Einstein says with surprise, “Newton, you really suck at hide and seek, I immediately found you.”

Newton replies “No, no, no you haven’t, you found one Newton per square meter!—-you found Pascal!”

Longtime readers may recall that I’m very much against the adoption of unit identifiers which are the names of persons. If memory serves, Isaac Asimov argued that the names of units should provide a clue as to what they might be. I’m very much of the same mind. As you might imagine I have a first order aversion to the “nesting” of units named after famous scientific persons. When I was taking some long forgotten class in engineering mechanics, I recall a number of problems which defined pressure in pascals. I didn’t question the pascal, but it always seemed a bit remote as far as gaining an intuitive understanding of the amount of pressure present.

I had not really thought much about those ancient exercises in engineering until recently. I was visiting my father in my small hometown, and he was working with another person installing a new Japanese printing press. A technician was installing air for the pneumatics, but was familiar with using pounds per square inch (PSI). He asked me “what is the conversion between pascals and PSI?” to which I could only reply that I could not recall it off the top of my head. The conversion is 1 PSI = 6894.757 pascal. The PSI is so removed in magnitude from a pascal, that one would need to deal in Kilopascals to obtain 1 PSI = 6.895 Kilopascals. But at that moment I was at a loss and could only blurt out what I thought was a useless statement: “well, a pascal is a newton per square meter.” The countenance of the technician brightened. It was clear that my statement actually helped him to understand that the metric system was not somehow creating a mysterious and esoteric alternative to force over area, but that a pascal could actually be related to a pound per square inch in terms of a newton per square meter.

What struck me was that SI, in its quixotic rush to further fete scientists who will never be forgotten as long as the scientific endeavor and humanity continues, have obscured meaning. When I was a boy and first heard pounds per square inch, I understood the concept immediately. The Ye Olde English unit expressed itself within its name. If I had a small one inch square of wood, and I stood on it and weighted 100 pounds, it would be 100 pounds per square inch. If the cross-section of the wood became smaller and smaller the pressure in pounds per square inch would increase. When the area is reduced to a small point it can puncture objects with little applied force. The spear, and arrow rely on an understanding of this principle, and they are some of the first technological tools used by humans. Understanding force over an area, allows one to comprehend why women in high heels attempt to avoid walking on grass, and when they do, they ramble across it on their toes. The pounds per square inch of their heels will easily puncture the sod and form a vacuum that might capture their shoes in place. When neighborhood boys taught me how to patch the inner tubes of my bicycle tires, there was no confusion when they told me how many pounds per square inch were needed for proper inflation. The concept was very intuitive.

The use of the word newton to describe a kilogram-meter per second squared makes as much sense as the pound, and has a name which cannot claim to be a superior nomenclature. The cgs unit of force, the dyne, at least used a word which was not that of a person, and also attempted to use a word which is similar to dynamic. It attempted to describe in words what the unit describes mathematically. In my view SI then doubles down on anthropomorphism at the expense of explanation by calling a newton per square meter a pascal. If a newton per square meter was abbreviated as NSM for newton per square meter, and dual scale gauges found in the US had PSI and KNSM a person who was transitioning to metric could understand that metric was at least on the same planet as the Ye Olde English units. A pascal is an abstract notion by comparison and only serves to conceal information, and not express it.

When I did EMI testing in a GTEM years ago, the amount of noise generated by electrical equipment (often horrible tones) were measured with a device which required the computation of dBspl (decibels Sound Pressure Level) and I recall immediately converting to newtons per square meter for the math used to process the data. The pascal was never really expressive in a way that attracted its direct use. In my view for SI to become more intuitive and useful, questions like this need to be examined, and possible simplifications should be considered, and if they make sense, instituted. If Einstein could not see an obvious relationship between a Newton per square meter and Pascal—why should we?

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