Measurement Before The Metric System

by Randy Bancroft

This is an experiment. After working on a book about the history of the metric system in the US for almost six years, it has become obvious, that despite some small interest by one or two literary agents, of the thousand or so I’ve contacted over the years, that my work will not be accepted and published by a publishing house any time soon. I’m not inexperienced at looking for a publisher, and finding one willing to publish textbooks, but a trade book is a different animal these days.

I established a Patreon page as an alternative to finally wooing a literary agent. I plan to publish one chapter every other month of my book Death By A Thousand Cuts: A Secret History of The Metric System in The United States.  I am relying on readers who find this work valuable, to contribute to my Patreon page. It appears that in this age of the internet, this may be the only alternative for some writers.

Death By A Thousand Cuts has not been professionally copy-edited. I’ve done the best I can myself without the resources to employ one. I want to acknowledge Amy Young for reading and making useful suggestions of my early chapter drafts. The monograph is released only for non-commercial use. The copyright remains with the author.

I will post the first two pages of each chapter, and then a link below it pointing to a PDF of the entire chapter. Without further prose, here is Chapter 1:

Here is all of Chapter 1 – 2018-06-11

The entire book may be downloaded with this link:

Death By 1000 Cuts Full Monograph 2020-06-05

Please support this work by visiting the Metric Maven’s Patreon page.

5 thoughts on “Measurement Before The Metric System

  1. Thank you very much for this chapter Randy! I’m looking forward to reading it all today.

  2. Excellent reading!!!!!!! I am a history buff as well as interested in science. I do hope that you are able to find a publisher for this work. Anyone should be able to see that you have done considerable research.

  3. So, the English inch in 1668 was 27 mm and not 25.4 mm.

    Also, John Wilkins is not the father of the metric system. The English in the Pre-Norman times had a unit call the Wand that was equal to about 1 m and was decimally divided.

    The wand is also a pre-Norman unit of length used in the British Isles equal to approximately the modern metre, apparently dating from an early use as a yardstick (originally as a generic term). The ‘wand’ survived for a time under the Normans. Then when the yard was established, the wand came to be known as the ‘yard and the hand’, and then disappeared, either slowly or by being banned by law.

    The old English unit of 1007 mm was called a ‘wand’, and although the ‘yard’ was created to replace the wand, the wand was still used for some centuries because of its convenience as part of an old English decimal system that included:

    1 digit (base of long finger) about 20 mm

    10 digits = 1 small span (span of thumb and forefinger) 200 mm

    10 small spans = 1 armstretch (1 fathom from finger tip to finger tip) about 2 m

    10 fathoms = 1 chain about 20 m

    10 chains = 1 furlong about 200 m

    10 furlongs = 1 thus-hund of about 2 km

    The wand that has survived today as part of folklore may in fact be a rendition of the ancient British length unit. Thus a true wand would be 1 m in length and not 30 cm.

    If anything, Wilkins resurrected the ancient wand and gave it a new name.

  4. From the footnote on page 4:

    Metric quantities with magnifying prefixes, such as Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera and so on, will be capitalized (e.g. Kilogram, Megameter, Gigajoule Teraliter). Metric quantities with reducing prefixes such as milli, micro, nano, pico and so on will be rendered in lower case (e.g. millimeter, microgram, nanoliter, picojoule). A capital K will be used as the metric prefix symbol, so Kilometer will be abbreviated Km.

    This convention is not sanctioned by the BIPM. The symbol (not abbreviation) for kilometre is km, not Km.

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