SMT007 Magazine

SMT-Sept2016

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60 SMT Magazine • September 2016 The 18th century embodied the continua- tion of the scientific revolution, the Age of Rea- son and the Age of Enlightenment. It begged for a scientific solution to the problem. Improved measurement instruments like a better theodo- lite were now available to lend precision and ac- curacy to measurements. If only standard, uni- form units could be defined and accepted by the trading partners and the buyers and sellers of land. The starting point was to create a measur- able, repeatable basis as the datum for both weights and measures. Since trading was international, any new standardized system had to be approved and adopted by the major trading countries: Eng- land, France and the United States. England and France were archenemies. The new kid on the block, the United States of America, with strong traditional ties to British custom, had largely evolved from that culture. American in- dependence provided the opportunity to devel- op a standard weights and measures system that served U.S. interests. There was a sense of urgency in the U.S. be- cause of the building pressure to purchase and settle land, as well as to speculate in buying and selling massive amounts of land. It demanded a reliable way to measure and document a land buyer's purchase. In 1790, as the country's first Secretary of State under the new Federal constitution, Thomas Jefferson was tasked with the problem of resolving this mess. He had already essential - ly created a monetary decimal system for the new country with a new U.S. dollar equal to 100 cents as its basis—rejecting the English pound, shilling, pence system, where 12 pence equaled one shilling and 20 shillings equaled one pound. As a scientist, he knew the weight and mea- sure system solution needed to be built on a common, scientific foundation, and thought it essential that the resulting system should be simple enough so that the average citizen could understand it. Therefore, they would be able to compute for themselves whenever they had oc- casion to buy, to sell, or to measure, which the present complicated and difficult ratios place beyond their computation for the most part [3] . This would permit the average citizen to more easily improve his lot in life through trad- ing the excess goods they produced, and acquire the necessary wealth to buy land. In addition, it would add sanity to the business practices of an emerging middle class of business owners. Clearly, the decimal system provided the simplicity. So why in the U.S. are there still 12 inches in a foot, and not 10? The answer is France who, although totally committed to a decimal system, wanted to es- tablish the standard length by physically mea- suring the length of a meridian. Once the merid- ian's length was known, one ten-millionth part of it would be defined as a meter. The U.S. pre- ferred Jefferson's proposal of using the length of a pendulum with a period of one second. Why was France's National Assembly in favor of a standard length that was much more difficult to determine? The answer was they wanted to keep their scientists at work after their traditional gov- ernment home, the Academie, was abolished. Measuring a meridian on the earth was far more complex and time consuming than mea- suring the length of a pendulum with a period of one second in a laboratory (and, the more time, the more government money—the French legislative body, the National Assembly, voted to fund this project with an additional 300,000 livres) [4] . Politics trumps Occam! Remember, this was 1791. The Bastille in Paris had been stormed in 1789 (Jefferson was a firsthand witness). He lived in Paris as U.S. Min- ister to France from 1784–1789, soon to return to the U.S. after this early first rumbling of the French Revolution, arriving in New York in April 1790. THE CHILD IS FATHER OF THE MAN " The starting point was to create a measurable, repeatable basis as the datum for both weights and measures. "

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