Metric system  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The metric system is an international decimalised system of measurement that was originally based on the mètre des archives and the kilogramme des archives introduced by France in 1799. Over the years, the definitions of the metre and kilogram have been refined and the metric system extended to incorporate many more units. Although a number of variants of the metric system emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the term is now often used as a synonym for the "International System of Units" - the official system of measurement in almost every country in the world.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not use the metric system as its official system of measurement, although the metric system has been officially sanctioned for use there since 1866. Although the United Kingdom committed to officially adopting the metric system for many measurement applications, it is still not in universal use there and the customary imperial system is still in common and widespread use. Although the originators intended to devise a system that was equally accessible to all, it proved necessary to use prototype units under the custody of government or other approved authorities as standards. Until 1875, control of the prototype units of measure was maintained by the French Government when it passed to an inter-governmental organisation – the Conférence générale des poids et mesures (CGPM). It is now hoped that the last of these prototypes can be retired by 2014.

From its beginning, the main feature of the metric system was the standard set of inter-related base units and a standard set of prefixes in powers of ten. These base units are used to derive larger and smaller units and replaced a huge number of unstandardised units of measure that existed previously. While the system was first developed for commercial use, its coherent set of units made it particularly suitable for scientific and engineering purposes.

The uncoordinated use of the metric system by different scientific and engineering disciplines, particularly in the late 19th century, resulted in different choices of fundamental units, even though all were based on the same definitions of the metre and the kilogram. During the 20th century, efforts were made to rationalise these units and in 1960 the CGPM published the International System of Units ("Système international d'unités" in French, hence "SI") which, since then, has been the internationally recognised standard metric system.

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