Why the Imperial System of Measurements is Actually Pretty Terrible

As an engineer myself, I have spent a disappointingly large portion of my life converting units from imperial to metric and vice versa. This is the very real truth of the matter when one of the world’s largest countries and top producers of scientific minds uses a system of measurements completely different from every nation. When I say completely different from every nation, I am of course excluding Burma and Liberia, because these two very small countries use the imperial system of measurements as well.

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Even with all of the frustration that comes along with converting units from or to metric, which just makes sense, to imperial, which just doesn’t, I have to say that I’m fairly attached to good old imperial. This is likely due to the fact that I grew up in the US and studied here. Even though I may be attached to the imperial system, I still understand that it is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the most terrible systems of measurements in existence.

Before you get all up and arms if you don’t agree, we need to lay out a few easily acceptable ground rules about measurements. Generally, it is a good thing with units convert orders of magnitude easily. When this rule is followed, it isn’t hard to measure something when the number increases.  Usually, it is a good idea when units of mass and volume are based on something absolute. This is good so that we don’t have things like the “New York inch” or the “California Ounce” because someone decided to base their inch or ounce respectively off of something different. For the most part, it is a good thing when different units in one measurement system can easily combine together to create other units, such as forces. When this occurs, it results in fewer errors within physics and engineering calculations due to wrong units of mass/volume/weight etc. When all of these “generally good” rules are followed, using a system of measurements is easy and understandable. If the imperial system were a child told to follow these rules, it would be in perpetual time out.

Still don’t believe me?

The video below will give you a closer look at all the various units of the imperial system and what some of them were based on. Just to get you started, if you didn’t already know, 1 inch was created as the equivalent of 3 barley corns. How big, is a barley corn? Well, it depends on the plant that grew it. Check out even more hilarity below.

Profile photo of Trevor English
Trevor is a civil engineer by trade and an accomplished internet blogger with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author whose most recent book, ZOOM Go the Vehicles, is aimed at inspiring young kids to have an interest in engineering.


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