The History of the Metric System – The Kilogram
46 Comments


In 1790, amidst the fires, violence and decapitation of the French Revolution, The Marquis of Condorcet meets up with his four science bros – de Borda, Laplace, Lagrange, and Monge, and tells them: “You know what France needs right now?” “Hmm” “It needs the metric system bros.” By now, you’ve probably heard that the kilogram as we know it is dead and will be replaced next year, on May 20th, by its new definition. But what even is the kilogram and how did it come to be the International standard to weigh anything, whether it’s groceries or yo mama? Our story starts at the eve of the French Revolution. By then, France was far from Charlemagne’s standardized units, which used cutting-edge measurements such as the length of the outstretched arms of a large man. Instead, the French used 800 different units with a quarter million variations in function of towns, industries, or even on a trade by trade basis. So it was clear France, nay, the world needed a better system of measurement. And that’s where our five scientists come in. In 1790, “L’académie des Sciences” tasked them to come up with such a system, which they would do over the following year. After trying various alternatives, they settled on three core recommendations to define this new system of weights and measures. On March 1791, the French Assembly approved these recommendations, later thanked de Condorcet for his work by putting him in prison, where he would die before he could be guillotined, and task the Academy with his development. To do so, the Academy split the task into three parts. First: Find the meter. Second: Derive the grave from that meter. And Third: publish conversion tables to relate these new measurements to the 800 currently used. After the meter was incorrectly measured, Lavoisier and UEYE I can’t say it. AOU. HA-U. A-YOU. E-YOU. were able to derive the grave, which was later renamed ‘gramme’ after the Latin word gamma, which itself comes from the Greek word for letter – gamma. To thank him for his work, Lavoisier, per French customs, was later guillotined. On April 7 1795, the gram was defined in French law as the absolute weight of the volume of pure water equal to the cube of the hundredth part of a meter and at the temperature of melting ice; that is, zero degrees, which was later increased to four degrees since is the temperature at which water is its densest. However, they realized the gram was just too small to weigh yo mama and so added ‘kilo’ – Greek for thousand – for more practical uses. Hence why it’s the only measure of the Système International with a prefix, which was cool to know because I had always wondered why. In June 1799, a ‘Kilogramme des Archives’ was created, weighing precisely 18,827.5 grains, which the scientists then proudly showed to the world. only to be met, like a child showing his drawing to his mother, with indifference. Despite being made by law the sole system of weights in France, nobody used it, preferring the old system of measurements. And in 1812, a decade’s worth of work was totally gutted as Napoleon removed the law. But thankfully for the rest of Europe, the metric system and France’s male population, Napoleon didn’t last long. And it was reinstated such that by 1858, the metrication of the country had been completed. The “Kilogram des Archives” would be use another few decades before it was replaced by the International Prototype Kilogram, the IPK, in 1899. The new prototype was made of a platinum alloy and kept on the outskirts of Paris in the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures under two protective glass bells in a vote requiring three independent keys to open. Serious stuff! And for more than a century, the IPK, was good enough since it’s still the kilogram we use today. The problem is that over time, its mass is varied by 50 micrograms, which is the mass of a fingerprint and while that is not enough to explain how you took five kilos during Thanksgiving, it’s enough to impact the precision of scientific research. Evidently something had to be done. in 1960, the metre was redefined using a physical constant. And so in, 2005 at the 94th meeting of the International Committee for Weights and Measures, which apparently is a thing, it was recommended to do the same with the kilogram. In 2010, at the General Conference on weights and measures, which apparently is also a thing, it was noted that the kilogram could be defined using Planck’s constant, ‘h’. And after a few years of measurements and experimentation to ensure its viability, Planck’s constant was finally approved by the BIPM on the 16th of November 2018, as the new definition of the kilogram. Goodbye little platinum alloy with a weird yet necessarily degree of precision. You served us well. Hello everyone, I hope you enjoyed this video. If you did, please consider leaving a like, sharing, commenting and if you haven’t yet, subscribe. This was Barris! I will see you next week, but until then, Merde!

46 thoughts on “The History of the Metric System – The Kilogram

  1. 1790 was a perfect year for this indeed. But I admire them. Only pure revolutionaries could do such a thing.

    And yes that whistle flute in the end…It was remarkable. I really enjoyed this.

    Perfect work.

  2. The metric system is a good revenge for English becoming the lingua franca.
    I know that the English world is still using their weird non scalable imperial units, but every time they do so outside their countries they are pure laughing stock.

  3. Hello everyone,

    For our American viewers, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and haven't been trampled to death while buying a new TV! This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for Ron Swanson, but most of all, each and one of my subscribers. I stopped thanking my new subs at the end of the video because it made the outro too long but that doesn't mean I don't personally acknowledge and love you. So again, thank you!

    Merde to y'all!

    (Leaves without mentioning the fact that he uploaded two days late in hopes no one realizes.)

  4. I love the work you do with the text. What program do you use to edit? Also, congrats on 200 subscribers man! You’ve certainly earned them.

  5. Yeah, metric baby! Now that I live in the USA, I am CONSTANTLY frustrated by their use of pounds, F temperature, miles etc. Lol at not being able to pronounce his name. I also know a weird fact about this topic. Apparently the US government was to receive a French envoy to have the metric system explained (and then voted on/accepted by government) but pirates attacked the French envoy boat, and thus the USA stayed in the land of the ignorant and imperial. This video was total GOLD. Bravo!!! claps excitedly Viva la metric! PS I posted this on TIL on reddit for you – fingers crossed it goes viral, because it deserves to for the amount of research and editing involved!

  6. The editing is truly amazing, and I feel that this is the type of video that ought to go viral.

    How did you research this? This video was filled with lots of new (to me) interesting information. I am always happy to have it confirmed that post-revolutionary France adequately thanked their leading scientists and innovators… (and that these men had their priorities in check: when the country is burning, implementing the metric system is the only logical conclusion).

    Perhaps you could do a video on the mesures usuelles? People do not know about it, but you have basically laid the basis to do a short video on that (which also definitely will have the potential to go viral).

    Félicitations à 200 abonnés. absolument bien mérité!

  7. "To thank him for his work, as is French custom, he was guillotined." Note to self: don't invent/change anything in France. =D

  8. Barris my love! I have just created a best of reddit thread after reviewing 150 channels. You are the top of educational. Just letting you know in case people come here

  9. Bloody love these videos and finally found time from work to sit down and properly watch!!

    Loved the running mama joke, hilarious! Also, the editing is so good – some real skill coming through when you made various assets disappear in the video, top notch! Have fun at the brothel, you've earned it!

  10. Holy shit, the quality of the video: research, scripting, editing and humour; they are all on point .

    You prove that subscriber count is not the only indication of quality.

    Instant subscription.

  11. Je trouve que tu fait bien d'apprendre l'histoire de France aux anglophones, bien joué ! Même si j'avoue j'y comprend rien, je suis pas très fort dans votre langue.. XD

  12. Ici de WCE Slack. Ton editing (montage?) est crazy man, really impressive. Subscribed. I mean, souscrit. Subscribé. Subbé. Whatever.

  13. I enjoyed, a lot…Beautiful, clever, funny, and informative video, excellent…And what's more, I'm French, so …👌👌👌

  14. Hey! Just found your channel through your comment on a Half as interesting video.
    Subscribed! You have good content, I've learned quite a few things and I'm looking forward to your next video 😀

  15. I am actually suprised how good this video is. Especially when you have "only" 306 subscribers and the only reason why I am here is your witty comment under Half as Interesting video.Keep it up fam! I'll watch your career with great interest.

  16. I watched this a when it came out, but only commenting now – LOVE this video! It could be the start of a French Inventions series? Keep it up!

  17. The marquis of Condorcet and his comades weren't the only French individuals to change the world- there's daft punk, too. Also maaaan your editing never fails to atonish me , if this was on a tv show i'd still be as impressed

  18. The Mount & Blade Siege video brought me to your channel, and as a French I have to subscribe
    You have a true skill in editing man

  19. Excellent video! You’re very talented. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Thanks to Mr Beat for his link.
    Haüy? Sans blague? Pauvre mec… Joking aside Wiki says it’s pronounced [ayi]. Like « à lui » without the L.
    To you United-Statesians: you actually ARE using the metric system. But it’s disguised, “sanitized for your protection.”
    The pound is officially defined as exactly 0.45359237 kg. The inch is exactly 2.54 cm.

  20. Man, after hearing about the rocky early history of the metric system, I feel slightly less bad about my (mumble mumble) own country not adopting it! But only slightly.

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