In front of the Ministry of Justice in Paris, just below a window on the ground floor, there is a horizontal line and a marble plate engraved with the word ‘MÈTRE’.
This is seldom noticed at the Grand Place Ventom – in fact, of all the tourists in the square, I was the only one standing and thinking about it.
But this board is the last one ‘Criterion’ Placed around the city 200 years ago (standard meter bars) in an attempt to introduce a new universal measurement system.
This is one of the many places in Paris that has a long and fascinating history of the metric system.
“Measuring is one of the most common and common things, but in fact the things we take for granted are very interesting and have a history of controversy,” said Ken Alder, professor of history and professor at Northwestern University in the United States. The scale of everything, Book on Metro Creation.
Now, in most places it is natural: the metric system developed in France is the official measurement system for all countries in the world except the United States, Liberia and Myanmar. Even there, the metric system is still used for purposes such as global trade.
But imagine a world you travel to every time, we have to use different variations for measurements just like coins.
Before the French Revolution in the late 18th century, weights and measures varied not only from one country to another but also from country to country.
In France alone, it is estimated that thousands of different weights and sizes were in use at the time.
The French Revolution changed that.
During the turbulent years from 1789 to 1799, the revolutionaries not only sought to overthrow politics and seize power from the monarchy and the Church, but also to change the basis of society and to change old traditions and customs.
To do this, they introduced the Republican calendar in 1793, which consisted of 10 hour days consisting of 100 minutes per hour and 100 seconds per minute.
Eliminating the religious influence of the calendar made it difficult for Catholics to observe Sundays and holy days, which helped to introduce the decimal system in France.
But even though decimal time has not moved forward, we still have the new decimal measurement system based on meters and kilograms.
The task of developing a new measurement system was given to the most important scientific thinkers of enlightenment.
These scientists were more interested in creating a new harmonious system based on reason than the will of traditions or local authorities.
Therefore, it was determined that the meter was based entirely on nature. It should be one tenth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator.
The longitudinal line from the pole to the equator is used to determine the length of the new shape, which is the Paris Meridian.
This line was drawn by two astronomers who departed from Paris in 1792: Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre, who traveled north to Dunkirk, and Pierre Machein, who traveled south to Barcelona.
They used the latest technology at the time and the mathematical process of the triangle to measure the meridian curve between these two places at sea level.
Then, widening the distance between the North Pole and the equator, the curve was extended to the ellipse, and the two astronomers met in Paris within a year and arranged to propose a new global measurement standard.
However, the process took seven years. Finally, in 1799, Delambre and Méchain presented their results, and based on this, a 1 meter long platinum bar was developed to act as the basis for the metric system.
As Alder describes in his book, measuring this meridian curve proved to be an epic endeavor in times of great political and social turmoil.
Both astronomers were often greeted with suspicion and hostility; They fell into the grace and disgrace of the state; They were also injured while engaged in climbing work on high places such as church domes.
Originally ordained as a church by Louis XVIII, the Pantheon became the central geographical center of Paris – from its dome, triangulating every point around the city of Delambre.
Today, it serves as a graveyard for Republican heroes such as Voltaire, Rene Descartes and Victor Hugo. But in the days of Delambrey it served as another kind of tomb — a repository of old weights and measures sent from cities across France in anticipation of the new system.
But despite all the efforts and technologies invested in defining the new measure, no one wants to use it.
People were reluctant to abandon the old measurement methods because they were inherently linked to local rituals, customs and economies.
For example, an L, the amount of fabric, is usually equal to the width of the local looms, while arable land is often measured in days, indicating the amount of land a farmer can produce at that time.
Paris officials were outraged when people refused to abandon the old measure, sending police inspectors to the markets to make sure they were using the new system.
Finally, in 1812, Napoleon abandoned the metric system; Although it is still taught in school, it was not until the reintroduction of the metric system in 1840 that people were allowed to use the measurements they wanted.
According to Ken Alder, “It took about 100 years for all French people to start using it.”
But this is not just due to the diligence of the government.
France was rapidly advancing towards the Industrial Revolution; Mapping for military purposes requires greater precision; And in 1851 the first major world fair took place, in which nations were to compare industrial and scientific knowledge.
Of course, it would be tricky to do this without clear standard measurements like meters and kilograms.
For example, the Eiffel Tower was built for the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889, and at 324 m, it was the tallest man – made building in the world.
All this led to the creation of one of the oldest international companies in the world: the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (PIPM, abbreviation in French).
The BIPM is located on the Sèvres, a quiet Paris suburb, surrounded by parks and gardens. His unpretentiousness reminded me again Criterion We went in place; It may be hidden, but it is fundamental to the world we live in today.
Originally established to protect international standards, BIPM promotes the uniformity of seven international units of measurement: meters, kilograms, second, ampere (measuring intensity of electricity), kelvin (temperature unit), and candela (light intensity).
This is where the standard platinum master meter bar is used to carefully measure the copies, which are then shipped to various national capitals.
In the 1980s, BIPM redefined meters as the distance light travels in a vacuum over a period of time, which is more accurate than ever.
Since then, defined by the universal laws of physics, it has finally become a truly natural-based activity.
The building in Sèvres has the original kilogram, which is under three domes in the basement, which can only be accessed using three different keys placed by three different people.
Now, the kilogram is calculated by the kibble (or watt) scale, a tool that allows you to compare mechanical and electromagnetic energy using two separate tests.
This method of measuring kilos does not change, it cannot be damaged or lost as it can be done with a physical object.
Moreover, a standard-based definition – not an object – makes the exact kilogram measurement, at least in theory, available to anyone from anywhere on the planet, not just those who have access to the original kilos stored in France.
As with the Meridian project of the 18th century, defining measurements is one of our most important and difficult challenges.
What started in the metro laid the foundation of our modern economy and led to globalization. This paved the way for high-precision engineering and is essential for science and research and our understanding of the universe.
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