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Jan 20, 2022

Why Americans still use Fahrenheit

With all these freezing days I wondered, why do we, the US, still use Fahrenheit thermometers and seemingly everyone else uses Celsius.

I came across this based article on yahoo.

Virtually every country on earth aside from the United States measures temperature in Celsius. ; Celsius is a reasonable scale that assigns freezing and boiling points of water with round numbers, zero and 100. In Fahrenheit, those are 32 and 212.

 America's unwillingness to get rid of Fahrenheit temperatures is part of its refusal to change over to the metric system, which has real-world consequences. One conversion error between US and metric measurements sent a $125 million NASA probe to its fiery death in Mars' atmosphere.

Why does the United States use Fahrenheit? British colonialism and Congress.

Fahrenheit was a great temperature system 300 years ago

Back in the early 18th century, the Fahrenheit measurement system was actually pretty useful. It comes from Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a German scientist born in Poland in 1686.

As a young man, Fahrenheit became obsessed with thermometers. No one had really invented a consistent, reliable way to measure temperature objectively. "Fahrenheit was still only twenty-eight years old when he stunned the world by making a pair of thermometers that both gave the same reading

As an early inventor of the thermometer as we know it, Fahrenheit naturally had to put something on them to mark out different temperatures. The scale he used became what we now call Fahrenheit.

Fahrenheit set zero at the lowest temperature he could get a water and salt mixture to reach. He then used a (very slightly incorrect) measurement of the average human body temperature, 96 degrees, as the second fixed point in the system. The resulting schema set the boiling point of water at 212 degrees, and the freezing point at 32 degrees.

In 1724, Fahrenheit was inducted into the British Royal Society, at the time a preeminent Western scientific organization, and his system caught on in the British Empire.

As Britain conquered huge chunks of the globe in the 18th and 19th centuries, it brought the Fahrenheit system (and some other peculiar Imperial measurements, such as feet and ounces) along with it. Fahrenheit became a standard temperature in much of the globe.

Why America still uses it

By the mid-20th century, most of the world adopted Celsius, the popular means of measuring temperature in the modern metric system. Celsius was invented in 1742 by Swedish astronomer

Around 1790 Celsius was integrated into the metric system — itself an outgrowth of the French revolution's desire to unify the country at the national level. The metric system's simplicity and scientific utility helped spread it, and Celsius, throughout the world.

The Anglophone countries finally caved in the second half of the 20th century. The UK itself began metrication, the process of switching all measurements to the metric system, in 1965. It still hasn't fully completed metrication, but the modern UK is an overwhelmingly metric country.

Virtually every other former British colony switched over as well. These events prompted the US to consider going metric itself.

It made sense to switch over, and Congress passed a law, the 1975 Metric Conversion Act, that was supposed to begin the process of metrication. It set up a Metric Board to supervise the transition.

But the law crashed and burned. Because it made metric system voluntary rather than mandatory, the public had a major say in the matter. And lots of people didn't want to have to learn new systems for temperatures or weights.

President Reagan dismantled the Metric Board in 1982, its work in tatters. Congress's dumb implementation of the law ensured that America would keep measuring temperature in Fahrenheit.

Today, the US is virtually alone in the world in staying off the metric system, joined only by Burma and Liberia